Qasim Rashid, who writes for the Huffington Post, is frustrated with the mainstream media (join the club).
There exist two scenarios where no one can hear you scream. The first is of course, in space because there’s no oxygen. And the second is on Earth, but only if you’re a global Muslim leader condemning ISIS and promoting universal religious freedom.
Such was the result of the landmark address His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, delivered last week in London before 1,000 dignitaries, politicians, faith and thought leaders, and academics at the 2014 Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Symposium.
To Mr. Rashid’s chagrin, the event didn’t get a ton of press, despite the fact that Mr. Ahmad condemned forced conversions (“all people are free to believe or not to believe”) and, without naming names, called upon “certain powers,” including, possibly, “oil-rich states,” to stop financing extremist groups. Admittedly, that’s decent-to-good stuff.
The term “His Holiness” appears 13 times in Rashid’s 800-word article, by the way, so it’s fair to say that he’s quite the fan.
But here’s the rub: the Ahmadi sect is also far outside the Muslim mainstream, having, generously speaking, between 10 to 20 million followers worldwide — between 0.6 and 1.2 percent of the world’s Muslim population. After a doctrinal schism a hundred years ago, most Ahmadis now belong to either the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, led by Mirza Masroor Ahmad, or the smaller Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement. But (wouldn’t you know it) there are various schools of Ahmaddiyya Islam, and at least six other contenders who claim to be the Ahmadis’ legitimate leader.
Collectively, the Ahmadis are to Islam roughly what Mormons are to Christianity: a 19th-century fringe faith that’s pretty alien to (give or take) 95 percent of the main body of believers.
But while Mormons can worship in relative peace, being an Ahmadi means risking persecution and death. Especially in Pakistan, Ahmadis are reviled and attacked by “real” Muslims (of the Sunni and Shia variety), as we’ve documented on this blog several times. And it’s not just devout street goons who take part; it’s the government. A 1984 Pakistani law declared that Ahmadis are non-Muslims; and that they can be jailed for three years for “posing as a Muslim” (which is held to be the case if they read or recite the Qur’an) or for “outraging Muslims’ feelings” (we know how hard that is).
In that context, the true-enough words of Mirza Masroor Ahmad carry a bit less weight than Qasim Rashid is comfortable acknowledging, no matter how many times Rashid calls Ahmad “His Holiness” and, preposterously, “the Caliph of Islam.”
Look: I’m grateful to any Muslim, fringe or otherwise, who openly and strongly condemns Islamist violence. If he or she has a substantial following, so much the better. And yes, there’s some truth to what Rashid says. The media, which (rightfully) report on actions more than words, are more inclined to feature the murderous evil that is the so-called Islamic State, than to cover a peaceable speech by a low-visibility religious leader.
But let’s not get carried away. Mirza Masroor Ahmad’s address, delivered at a symposium organized by his own movement, was hardly a major news event that the media maliciously chose to ignore. It got about at much press as a presentation by LDS Church president Thomas Monson would. Due to their comparatively small sects and the pariah status of their beliefs among mainstream people of faith, that’s just the way it is.
I’d be chuffed if Ahmaddiyya Islam grew and eventually began to dwarf the much more dangerous forms of Islam advanced by conservative Sunnis, Shia, Salafists, Wahhabis, and so on.
I’d also be pretty happy if I won the lottery.
Despite his fancy honorifics, Mr. Ahmad is, alas, on the outside. Though it does help when people like him speak out, Islam has to be reformed from within.