Chet Greason, firstname.lastname@example.org
In response to the Charlie Hebdo magazine shootings in France, ongoing clashes with ISIL in Syria and Iraq, and an overall rise in tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in Western countries, missionaries from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community held an open house Saturday at Stratford Library to spread understanding about the Qur’an and the teachings of Islam.
The Stratford event was part of a national campaign called Stop the CrISIS. Similar information sessions were held in libraries and university campuses across Canada.
Amid placards printed with quotations of Islam’s holy book meant to illustrate the peaceful aspects of the religion, the missionaries met with the public to discuss world events, belief structures, and the points where the two intersect.
Shakoor Ahmad was one of those missionaries.
“We do something like this, but the media doesn’t cover us,” he said. “But when a hateful man does violence, the media shows up and says, ‘Islam did this.’”
“What ISIL is doing has nothing to do with Islam,” he added.
Instead, he blames the spread of the militant group on ignorance.
“(ISIL members) live in tribal areas and do not have much education. When they grow up, they have nothing.”
He said he received a number of questions about the shootings in Paris at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had a history of printing cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Like many Muslims, Ahmad finds depictions of his prophet deeply offensive.
“It’s like if your father or mother was insulted. How would you feel? If you insult them, it hurts us,” he said.
Despite this, he still condemns the extreme actions taken by those who perpetrated the massacre.
“Our feelings are hurt, but we do not react with violence.”
The Ahmadiyya faith is actually a comparatively recent offshoot of Islam, whose followers see founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in India in 1908, as a messiah. Because of this, they are persecuted in some Islamic countries, such as Ahmed’s homeland of Pakistan. He points to how, in some Middle Eastern countries, your religion is included on your passport. Ahmadiyya are identified as “non-Muslims.”
“If we say ‘assalamo alaikum’ (an Arabic term meaning "peace on you" that is used as a greeting and is often used in sermons and lectures), we can be arrested,” said Ahmed, explaining that using the term could make them guilty of impersonating a Muslim.
“If I keep my beard, I can go to jail. We cannot call our mosque a mosque. Even our graveyards are vandalized.”
Because of their "non-Muslim" passports, Ahmadiyya are also barred from entering the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
When asked how it feels to be labelled a non-Muslim, Ahmed shrugs.
“Shiites say Sunnis are not real Muslims all the time, and vice versa,” he noted. "Even in Christianity, the same thing happens."
Ahmed added that he’s thankful for the freedoms offered to his faith here in Canada.
“Canada’s been very generous,” he said. “Here you have freedom of speech, freedom to worship.”
He said that anti-Islamic sentiments are less extreme here than in the US or Europe, although they do happen. He tells of one mosque that was vandalized in westernCanada as an example.
"Everybody that's come in today has questions: Why is ISIS doing that? Why is radicalization going on? What happened at Charlie Hebdo?
“We want to educate people on the peaceful nature of Islam,” he said.