The two Muslim narratives

The Muslim world finds itself amidst a battle of two narratives — one of oppression and one of justice.

The oppressive narrative enforces death for blasphemy and/or apostasy and wants government that rejects the democratic ideal of separation of mosque and state. It relegates women to second class status and likewise, seeks to establish a Khalifa to unite Muslims in their oppressive cause.

The just narrative uses service to humanity and the pen to present Islam’s true essence. It presents no shortage of scholarly literature to repudiate oppressive interpretations of Islam; see this brilliant work by a twentieth century Islamic scholar and another brilliant work by a former UN President and President of the International Court of Justice. Likewise, the just narrative inspires Muslims to remain at the cutting edge of service to humanity through organizations like Humanity First and the “Muslims for Life” annual blood drive. It inspires women to pursue higher education and become leaders in science, scholarship, and yes, motherhood. This demonstrates that the justice based narrative is not just some theological exegesis of Qur’anic interpretation and theory, but instead it is based in hard reality.

But the oppressive narrative is certainly influential. In a recent Pew survey 75% of Pakistanis replied that Islam needs blasphemy laws and that the government must punish blasphemers. Before his ignoble demise, Pakistan’s Dictator General Zia built and enforced these blasphemy laws with dreams of becoming the Khalifa. Since, this narrative has spread as far east as Indonesia and far west as Canada. Yes, even in Canada clerics like Mullah Tahir ul Qadri, while claiming to be a moderate, teach that blasphemers and apostates must be executed. Women suffer under unconscionable illiteracy, poverty, and abuse. This narrative is not necessarily comprised of monolithic Muslims, but it is united in this oppressive ideology and in the desire to galvanize that oppression with a Khalifa.

So what does the just narrative on Islam have to say about this?

Contrary to the oppressive narrative, the just narrative implores pluralism and democracy. It actively rejects the medieval notions that Islam in any way approves any punishment for blasphemy or apostasy, or that Islam allows mixture of mosque and state. It champions free speech and free expression while imploring self-control, personal civility, and universal service to humanity. It elevates women to an equitable status, ensuring above all the right to self-determination. This just narrative is also not necessarily comprised of monolithic Muslims, but is united in the cause of justice and democracy. Incidentally, many Muslims supporting this narrative welcome a Khalifa to spiritually unite Muslims on the tenets of justice — not oppression.

Maintaining our theme of practical solutions rather than abstract theory — the reality is that such just Muslims are increasingly uniting under a Khalifa who upholds justice and democracy.

His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifa of Islam and head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is not only the world’s only Khalifa, but also continues an unbroken chain of peaceful progress through Khilafat that spans over 120 years. Indeed, Muslims in over 200 nations worldwide find unity under the Khalifa’s leadership. His Holiness continues to open and fund numerous educational institutions for young children, especially girls, of all faiths and backgrounds. Likewise, His Holiness continues to advocate for a moderate Islam while logically and practically refuting irrational, extremist, and unjust interpretations. When asked just a few days ago on whether his spiritual office of the Khalifa and influence over tens of millions of Muslims worldwide is compatible with secular democratic governance, His Holiness emphatically replied, “Khilafat has no relation to government or politics. When [Islam] Ahmadiyyat spreads far and wide the Khilafat will play no role in government and will never interfere with matters of State. We have no political ambitions or desires. We believe entirely in a separation of religion and matters of State.”

Critics attempt to dismiss His Holiness’ leadership and influence, remarking that he commands no army and rule no nation. Such foolish critics forget, that is the whole point of separation of mosque and state. Without worldly force, His Holiness wields immense influence for the good of humanity by maintaining absolute justice in all affairs and relentlessly serving humanity through altruism.

Ultimately, the oppressive narrative of Islam destroys itself, and any hope of ever establishing a Khalifa. Meanwhile, Muslims who follow the just Islamic narrative create an undeniably progressive present, and an equitable future worthy of envy for all mankind.

Thus, the Khalifa of Islam presents a pristine, practical, and correct example of what Islam represents—personal spirituality, secular based just governance, gender equity, and universal service to humanity.

May the best narrative win.

Qasim Rashid is a national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and author of the recent book The Wrong Kind of Muslim. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimIQ.

His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad

Before His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, entered the gilded ballroom of the Montage Beverly Hills last Saturday afternoon, a spokesman took the microphone and explained the rules to the 500 or so acolytes, dignitaries and invited guests. 

First, when His Holiness the khalifa, or spiritual leader, enters a room, it is customary to stand. Moreover, he said, His Holiness will not set foot inside until the audience is fully seated. Not just seated, he added, but quiet.

People sat. They kept still — no one even sipped their iced tea. The only person you could hear whispering was me.

I leaned to my tablemates, both followers of His Holiness, and said: “This is so not a Jewish audience.”

Estimates vary widely about the number of Ahmadiyya Muslims spread throughout the world.  Some experts put the number at 13 million — about the same as the number of Jews in the world.  The group itself claims 70 million followers. Either way it is a fraction of the 1.6 billion Muslims, though, by all accounts, growing. 

The sect was founded in India in 1889, by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, referred to as Promised Messiah, who preached nonviolence and claimed to be the second coming of the Messiah. 

That belief set Ahmadis at odds with mainstream Muslims, who maintain that no messiah or prophet has succeeded Muhammad.

They are concentrated in Pakistan, Southeast Asia and Africa, with just 30,000 Ahmadis residing in the United States. In Southern California they have two mosques, one in Chino, the other in Hawthorne.

In Pakistan, Ahmadis are not considered Muslims, and they are barred from voting. Attacks on the community in 2010 in Pakistan left 99 dead.  Since 1984 the khalifa, or successor to the Promised Messiah, has resided in London.  Security at the Montage was Israel-heavy.

“This cannot stop us from doing our assigned task,” Ahmad, who is the fifth khalifa, said during a press conference before his appearance. “We are the true Islam.”

On the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks of 9/11, Ahmadis in the United States started a blood drive that collected 12,000 units. Humanity First, a nonsectarian charity created by the fourth khalifa and run by the community as a volunteer organization, performs disaster relief worldwide. In his speeches, the khalifa stresses that “true Islam” equals peace.

Yes, even when it comes to Israel.

On Saturday, the khalifa singled out Israeli President Shimon Peres for praise in his vision of a new Middle East. There is a longstanding Ahmadi community in Haifa, as well. I asked Ahmadi spokesman Nasim Rehmatullah whether the khalifa supports the boycott of Israel. 

“No, we don’t have that policy,” he said. “We treat them as normal human beings.”

Elected officials, eager to join hands with Muslims to demonstrate that they are anti-terror, not anti-Islam, gravitate toward the Ahmadiyya. 

The khalifa was honored with many speeches by many federal, state and local representatives. Both Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti turned up, proving the khalifa’s peacemaking power. 

Still, it’s not clear whether the Ahmadiyya community’s existence is proof that “true Islam” is a religion of peace, or whether their brutal persecution at the hands of fellow Muslims might just prove the opposite.

When the khalifa rose to speak, we rose too, then sat. He wore an ornate white turban and a black Nehru-style jacket. He spoke softly, in heavily accented Pakistani English. His followers were enthralled. 

“I believe in that One God who is the Lord of all nations, all races and all religions, and so it becomes impossible that I could ever develop any hatred in my heart for any nation, any race or any religion,” he said.

No wonder Ahmadis are the West’s chosen Muslims.

In fact, it struck me that Ahmadiyya seems to have as much, or more, in common with late 19th century religious movements as it does with mainstream Islam. 

Like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it has a strict hierarchy; a zealous, upbeat proselytizing effort with sophisticated media; and a healthy system of tithing. 

Like the liberal Jewish movements, Ahmadis stress their save-the-world projects — tikkun olam. They also emphasize secular achievement across gender lines. At my table, I was the only non-Ph.D. 

Like Chabad, the driving force is devotion to one leader. Ahmadis flew in from around the world to see the khalifa in California. They are granted a few minutes in his presence, during which he will answer questions, offer advice, give blessings. 

“I am a scientist,” Dr. Abdus Malik, a nephrologist who traveled from Columbus, Ohio, told me. “But I can’t explain it. Around him you feel a spiritual air. When you meet him you feel you’re being touched by a holy spirit.”

I can’t say I felt that — but I’m not predisposed. As a tribe, we Jews seem to both revere and resist leaders. A Jewish khalifa, a Jewish pope, sounds oxymoronic. With some exceptions, we who proclaim God’s Oneness are leery of Him speaking through one voice. “If we all pulled in one direction,” the Yiddish proverb goes, “the world would keel over.”

But we pay for our lack of blind devotion with constant contentiousness.

I don’t know whose is the “true Islam,” but disputation is, I’m sure, the true Judaism.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.