Will the Real Moderate Imams Please Stand Up?

Despite the violence, murder, and persecution of Ahmadi Muslims worldwide, all imams have been silent.

He turned away with a look of disgust. “You’re a kafir, an apostate,” he said. “I do not need to touch your filthy hand, and I do not need to say any salaam to you. Come back when you’re not a filthy kafir.”

My heart sank. “But, the Qur’an says to respond to salaam with a better salaam,” I insisted, still trying to smile, my hand still hanging in the air.

“Do not speak of the noble Qur’an, you filthy kafir,” he replied. “Be gone now.”

I was stunned. This didn’t happen long ago in some dark, faraway land — it happened in broad daylight at the Miami International Book Fair last November. The imam saw my “Muslims for Life Blood Drive” t-shirt with “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community” written underneath. That was enough. For him, I was worse than scum.

Let me offer some context.

I am a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Ahmadi Muslims believe in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. We believe Ahmad was that Messiah foretold by Muhammad (sa) to revive Islam and re-establish peace with dialogue, service to humanity, and pluralism.

For accepting Ahmad as the Messiah, Ahmadi Muslims suffer untold persecution, murder, torture, and imprisonment at the hands of extremist Mullahs and governments. I chronicle this extremism in my book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim. In Pakistan, for example, Ahmadi Muslims face arrest and the death penalty from the government and censorship from the press — only for their faith. Any Ahmadi caught “acting” Muslim is liable to be sent to prison or worse. Newspapers in Pakistan have capitulated to extremist demands and do not dare call Ahmadis Muslim. A British Ahmadi recently spent more than 70 days in prison for reading the Qur’an, i.e. for posing as Muslim.

Meanwhile, Ahmadi Muslims continue to speak up for all Muslims persecuted or discriminated against — in Palestine, Syria, Burma, Central Africa, and in the United States and Europe — because dogmatic differences must never hinder civility and universal human rights. This is what Prophet Muhammad taught.

But in the last 40 years, despite the violence, murder, and persecution of Ahmadi Muslims worldwide, all imams have been silent. Now this dangerous intolerance is growing in the West.

In early April, the Luton, England chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community published a two-page advertisement in the Luton on Sunday paper to mark our worldwide community’s 125th anniversary. In response, the imams of 22 British mosques, representing some 40,000 British Muslims in Luton, protested. They were offended that these “Qadianis” (a derogatory term for Ahmadi Muslims) dared to publicly call themselves Muslim. Luton on Sunday subsequently published an editorial “completely disassociating” themselves from “the Ahmadiyyas” and telling “real” Muslims that they did not mean to hurt their feelings.

On April 17, British imams published another editorial “categorically rejecting the Ahmadiyya” and expressing “offense and sincere distress and regret at the publication and distribution of the Ahmadiyya advert . . . ” and “emphasiz[ing] that it is the consensus of all the schools of thought of Islam that Ahmadiyya falls outside our religion. This position is held by everyone [including] Shaikh Hamza Yusuf . . . . ”

Indeed, by their own words these imams paint the entire Muslim world on one side, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on the other. By contrast, some Muslims in secular academia, like Professor Tayyab Mahmud, Professor Akbar Ahmed, and Reza Aslan, have categorically condemned the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims (while some others certainly play dumb). Regardless, it seems imams have no regard for Muslims in secular academia.

And this is where allegedly moderate imams like Shaikh Hamza Yusuf enter the conversation.

Shaikh Hamza Yusuf is an American imam and founder of Zaytuna College in California. He is known for his moderate and progressive values. Just the same, he displays stunning intolerance towards Ahmadi Muslims. In 2012 Shaikh Yusuf publicly excommunicated the world’s tens of millions of Muslims belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, claiming that since Al Azhar University said so, he could not question them. Not content with playing God, Shaikh Yusuf next lied and declared that, “over ten thousand Pakistanis lost their lives [trying to] remove the Qadiani minister Zafar Allah Khan from office.” The Shaikh shamelessly fabricated history (no such event occurred) while increasing antagonism and hatred against Ahmadi Muslims. But the story does not stop here.

The late American Imam W. Deen Muhammad, though known for his pluralism, actively promoted hatred and violence towards Ahmadi Muslims. First, Imam W. Deen Muhammad also excommunicated all Ahmadi Muslims. Second, in 1989 he spoke in Chicago at an extremist conference — since banned — and declared that Muslims should have murdered Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the holy founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, for his faith. Pakistan annually holds this extremist conference — “The Finality of Prophethood Conference”– which promotes violence, hatred, and ongoing baseless propaganda against Ahmadi Muslims. And third, to this day these extremists cite Imam W. Deen Muhammad as a supporter — indeed he never retracted his edicts of death and excommunication.

Joining them is Sheikh Ahmed Deedat of South Africa, a well-known evangelist who was adamant that Islam teaches religious freedom. Meanwhile, he openly supported the brutal persecution and murder of Ahmadi Muslims. Deedat declared that Ahmadis who dared call themselves Muslim committed treason, punishable by death.

Canada’s Mullah Tahir ul Qadri is also adamant that Ahmadi Muslims must be killed for their blasphemous faith, proudly declaring that he was the brainchild behind Pakistan’s infamous death for blasphemy law.

And yet, while imams continue to profess their offense at Ahmadis who dare call themselves Muslim, no imam worldwide has condemned violence against Ahmadi Muslims.

This May marks the four-year anniversary of terrorists killing 86 Ahmadi Muslims in cold blood in Lahore, Pakistan. No imam has condemned the attacks. This June marks 12 years since Ahmadi Muslims were forbidden from voting in Pakistan on account of their faith. No imam has spoken up. This October, it will be 28 years since Pakistan passed anti-Ahmadi laws to arrest or kill Ahmadis for their faith. No imam has condemned these laws. This September marks the 40-year anniversary of extremists declaring Ahmadi Muslims “non-Muslim” in Pakistan. All imams are silent or celebrate.

Since that declaration 40 years ago, hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims have been murdered in cold blood, thousands injured, and to this day millions live under an oppressive regime that would imprison or kill them simply for saying “I am a Muslim.” The epidemic is worldwide.

In April, Malaysia arrested 30 Ahmadi Muslims for their crime of offering Friday prayers. In January 2011 a mob of extremists in Indonesia beat three Ahmadi Muslims to death in broad daylight for their faith. In Saudi Arabia, Ahmadi Muslims currently sit in prison for their faith, as they do in Egypt and Libya. In 1984 Detroit, Michigan, a young Ahmadi physician and father of two, Dr. Muzaffar Ahmad, was shot dead and the local Ahmadi mosque set on fire at a local cleric’s behest. Just recently, near Lahore, Pakistan, Khalil Ahmad, a 65-year-old father of four, was arrested on trumped-up blasphemy charges and murdered. On May 26, Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar, a U.S. citizen, father of three, was murdered in Pakistan​ while on a three-week mission to provide free cardiac care.

Nearly 300 Ahmadi Muslims have been murdered for their faith over the past 30 years without a peep of protest from any imam. Now the same imams who’ve remained silent on these atrocities speak up to convey their “offense, sincere distress, and regret” at Ahmadis calling themselves Muslim.

My fellow Muslims, your imams won’t speak up, but I pray you will.

Ask your imams why they are silent on the worldwide persecution and discrimination of Ahmadi Muslims? Ask how they can condemn Islamophobia yet promote the same (and worse) propagandized lies about Ahmadi Muslims? Ask what differentiates their hatred and intolerance of Ahmadi Muslims from the hatred and intolerance the Meccans showed the early Muslims? Ask why the Ummah is splintered into countless sects but shamelessly united only on their violent hatred and judgment of Ahmadi Muslims?

If imams worldwide claim to stand for human rights and equality, then they must stand for all people, not just those whom they dogmatically agree with. Their silence makes them complicit in the persecution and violence against the world’s tens of millions of Ahmadi Muslims. To combat this, imams must condemn anti-Ahmadi laws, condemn death for blasphemy laws, condemn calls to excommunicate those disagree with dogmatically, and condemn any and all violence against Ahmadi Muslims.

So here I go once more — smiling, extending my hand, and saying Asalaamo Alaikum to my fellow Muslims and imams of all sects. Do you stand with Ahmadi Muslims and universal human rights, or extremists who promote intolerance and violence? Do you stand on the right side of history or the blind side of history?

It’s your move.


The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.

Image courtesy of Ceddyfresse.

Qasim Rashid
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  • Shabashir

    Thanks Qasim for your well-researched piece. And I would say add to this list, Imam Zakir Naik, the founder of “Peace TV”. He quotes the Qur’an very eloquently and answers questions from his audience but openly and publicly condemns the Ahmadi Muslims calling them apostates. According to his explanation apostasy is punishable by death because it is an act of treason which calls for death penalty in the Islamic law. Yes, I too am looking for imams and Muslim leaders to come out and protest the injustice against the Ahmadi Muslims. The very first time I told and Arab friend that I have become a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community she stopped saying Salaam to me and disassociated from me. The opposition in fact is what has made me stronger in my belief and faith in Ahmadiyya.

  • Yvonne Davis

    As-salaamu alaikum. I don’t believe that God allowed a way for us to exclude anyone who bears witness that God is One and Muhammad is His Messenger. God wants us to come together as a single community and so He does not call one to account for the words or actions of another. No excuses—embrace all who embrace Shahada.

    • Tayyab Pirzada

      Explain that to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf then

      • Yvonne Davis

        Do you disagree with me because I’m not in agreement with Qur’an or because I’m not in agreement with the shaykh?

  • polistra24

    The problem has nothing to do with Islam or even religion. Replace Imam with any sort of human function or job and you’ll see the problem “Will moderate drivers please stand up?” “Will moderate homeowners please stand up?”

    People who do things in a quiet and normal way aren’t going to “stand up” or “stand out” by definition. More importantly, even if they do decide to speak out for careful driving or compact houses or quiet practice of Islam, THE MEDIA WON’T NOTICE THEM.

    The media is always going to trumpet the most outrageous or dramatic example of reckless driving or giant McMansions or loud violent imams.

    That’s the way the world works.

    • Rashid.M

      So are you saying that there are indeed Imams vocally opposed to the persecution of Ahmadis, but they’re just not getting exposure and we’re just not hearing about them in the media? If that’s so, well at least you’ve heard about them right?. So give us some examples. Saying that quiet people don’t stand out and assuming they’re their because there’s silence are two very different things.
      “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” – Edmund Burke

      • Virekitourne

        You appear to hold the position of imams quite supreme in your discourse on the ” Muslim status of Ahmadiyas”. Why don’t you just call yourself Muslim, for this is what the followers of Islam are, aren’t they?

        • Rashid.M

          I’m not at all sure what you mean by holding “the position of imams quite supreme in your discourse on the ” Muslim status of Ahmadiyas”. “. Imams are leaders of Muslims and therefore influence, teach and inspire those who look up to them as such. If they are virulent in their opposition to the status of Ahmadis as Muslims, what influence will this have on those who listen to them? If they are silent on the treatment of Ahmadis by those (Imams and followers) who are virulently opposed, what unspoken message do these silent Imams convey?
          The issue is not what whether or not we do or don’t call ourselves Muslim – clearly Muslim is exactly how we see ourselves. The issue is the violence and discrimination which is visited upon us by other Muslims when we do.

  • Russ Dewey

    This will not help you, Rashid M, but you can step back and see a larger pattern here, and it is a pattern that occurs in every single faith. If you assume the truth is revealed once, permanently, and from that point on the revelation must be defended but not changed, then (automatically) everybody with a different version of the revealed truth is your enemy. This is why there are schisms, often to the point of killing, in every religion (see “the troubles” in Ireland, or the many bombings of Shiite pilgrims by Sunnis, and on and on). The real problem is fundamentalism: the belief in a single fixed truth. If you believe in a particular package of ideas, and it must not be challenged, then every other fixed truth all over the world is by definition wrong, dangerous, and threatening if it competes with you.

    As far as I know only science, as an institution, is deliberately lacking in dogma. To scientists, belief systems are models, similar to maps. They are checked by gathering data, and they are improved as necessary when new evidence emerges, which means they are always changing. There is no fixed truth, only approximations and schematic renderings (again: think of maps). No map shows the whole truth, but each map can be accurate for its own type of information, and no accurate map can contradict any other accurate map, or else one (or both) are incorrect. This is resolved by gathering more data. This is an alien way of thinking for fundamentalists, and scientists themselves had to discover the importance of using evidence to resolve competing claims (after centuries of futile philosophizing). But the scientific method works and improves its models, as a result of this approach that embraces evolution and change of ideas. It works…so well that a world-wide, international, cross-cultural scientific culture is already in place and increasingly important as a driver of social change.

    Obvious, right? But maybe not so obvious, because people continue to believe in exclusive belief systems that are NOT corrected by contradictory evidence, NOT subject to modification, and always specific to a particular culture. If these are regarded as expressions of religious experience, then fine, everybody should be tolerated and respected. If these belief systems are regarded as fixed maps of reality, they are incompatible and people who regard the meaning of their lives as dependent on the success of one and only one belief system are often told they are obligated to kill the infidel, and indeed, their God demands it.

    So the road has a fork in it. On the one side go the fundamentalisms of every type, each different, each necessarily intolerant of the others. On the other side is religion-as-metaphor, that is, recognizing religion as an expression of human experience, never completely wrong, never exclusively right.

    The implications are that (1) nobody who is committed to a fixed belief system can afford to be open to yours, so get used to it. (2) If your own belief system has fundamental principles that cannot be challenged, you are in the same boat as everybody else, disagreeing with almost everybody else in the world. And (3) maybe Joseph Campbell had a point when saying religions and myths are metaphors that express inner truths, not maps of reality to be contested. In that case, everybody should get along and try to learn from each other, instead of killing the messengers who try to spread incompatible “fixed truths.”

    • Rashid.M

      You are wrong Russ Dewey. Not only was your post helpful to me in understanding your viewpoint, but I enjoyed reading it as well, though not with perhaps complete agreement.

      “…it is a pattern that occurs in every single faith. If you assume the truth is revealed once, permanently, and from that point on the revelation must be defended but not changed, then (automatically) everybody with a different version of the revealed truth is your enemy.”

      I, like other Muslims, believe truth has been scripturally revealed a number of times through the course of history. Two of the six articles of faith incumbent on all Muslims are a belief in all of God’s prophets (not just Muhammad(sa)) and a belief in the divine origin of all his revealed books (not just the Quran). I don’t believe that Muslims or anyone else has a monoply on truth. Any Muslim who thinks they do is not following the same Islam as me. And it’s not by some incredible coincidence that the major religions of the world agree on and share certain basic truths. Nor is it a coincidence that these truths are shared even by non theists. For example, the principle that one should not lie but be truthful is a shared, fixed truth. As far as the truth of this principle goes, whether you read it in the Quran, the Bible, the Torah, or subjectively reason it for yourself, does not change its truthful status.

      Of course there are obvious points of difference between faiths as well, but I don’t think that anyone who believes in a fixed, unchangeable truth is necessarily going to be led to violence against those who challenge it, or even regard such persons as their enemies.The Quran does not state anywhere that those holding different beliefs to Muslims should be regarded as enemies for this reason. On the contrary, the Quran instructs Muslims to allow Christians and Jews to follow their own books and make their judgements accordingly. It also makes it clear that these differences serve the purpose of testing the behaviour of believers of the different faiths. The ‘competition’ that you suggest leads to conflict is, according to God in the Quran, to be regarded as a competition to do the good which each faith has had revealed to them.

      “And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, fulfilling that which was revealed before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel which contained guidance and light, fulfilling that which was revealed before him in the Torah; and a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing.”

      “And let the People of the Gospel judge according to what Allah has revealed therein, and whoso judges not by what Allah has revealed, these it is who are the transgressors.”

      “And we have revealed unto thee the Book, and as a guardian over it. Judge, therefore, between them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their evil desires, turning away from the truth which has come to thee. For each of you We prescribed a clear spiritual Law and a manifest way in secular matters. And if Allah had enforced His Will, He would have made you all one people, but He wishes to try you by that which He has given you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works. To Allah shall you all return; then will He inform you of that wherein you differed” – Holy Quran, Surah Al-Maidah 5:47-49

      The very definitions of reasoning and rationality demand that teachings, revelations etc. be discussed, compared and judged. How else is an enquiring mind supposed to decide? As a ‘believer’, to not do this is to blindly accept and follow dogma without regard for the philosophy underpinning it. That simply reduces religion to a list of do’s and dont’s, can’s and cant’s. Certainly no wisdom in that.

      There are of course those who are so convinced of the exclusive truth of their own beliefs that they are not open even to contemplating the idea of shared truth, let alone truth which challenges their own position. For some of them, even God and heaven are exclusively for their own benefit. They make distinctions along the lines of Muslim God, Christian God etc., and make absolutist claims about who will enter heaven and hell based on religious and sectarian lines rather than good and evil.

      And yes, some of them are even violently disposed towards those they see as a threat to their own established beliefs. But this is not necessarily the fault of fundamentalism. It could also be explained as an outcome of scriptural (mis)interpretation. And in many instances, challenge to their religious orthodoxy is also a threat to their political power.

      • Yvonne Davis

        Well said, Rashid!