Ahmadiyya Muslims in Philadelphia are speaking out with the hopes of reversing some of the negative feelings associated with Islam and terrorism.
Last week, a Philadelphia man was gunned down in Pakistan, and Ahmadiyya Muslims are calling his death a state-sanctioned persecution. They allege that Pir Habib-ur Rehman is the first American Ahmadiyya killed for his faith in almost two years.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community says it does not align itself with the war-entangled Sunni or Shia Muslims. But Ahmadiyya Muslims say they are treated like extremists, claiming they were denied aid and relief for Pakistan’s recent floods.
For dozens of years, many Ahmadiyya Muslims have been flocking to America, which they boast as an “almost ideal” host for the Muslim lifestyle. They say they are grateful for the United States’ religious tolerance.
“We try to work for the unity of this country,” says Khalil Malik, a leader in the Ahmadiyya community. Although he says some people assume that all Muslims are terrorists due to “those extremists [who] have hijacked the name of Islam,” he says that most Muslim sects have a long history of nonviolence.
But even without inciting violence, Muslims are again the center of a controversial debate after plans to build a mosque two blocks away from the World Trade Center came to light.
While visiting Philadelphia last week to endorse Joe Sestak for the U.S. Senate, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: “Another mosque in NYC would add to its diversity and be good for the city. But if you want the terrorists to win without firing a shot, then you take away the very freedoms that our young men and women around the world are fighting for.”
But many Muslims say that associating their faith with terrorism only perpetuates an already strong anti-American bias against the religion.
“We cannot allow these emotions to be manipulated to equate the entire Muslim community with terrorists. That would be a great shame and a great injustice,” says Malik, adding that people are usually afraid of ideas they are unfamiliar with.
For the past 120 years, Malik says, his community has no record of any violence. He adds that Americans who are born in this country are often ignorant of all the freedoms they are afforded.
Malik suggests that the Sufi Muslims in New York, the ones who are behind the WTC mosque, should be afforded the opportunity to build it, but speculates that moving it further away from the World Trade Center memorial site might make it less controversial. He also suggests they make it “an international house where any kind of person can come and worship that would make it a symbol of tolerance and respect.”
And that’s exactly what Ahmadiyya Muslims plan on doing here in Philadelphia. Early next year, they are erecting the city’s first Ahmadiyya Muslim-built mosque, which will include a large prayer area that can hold up to 1,000 people, a college-sized gym that will be used as a multipurpose facility, and many other features for all of the community to enjoy, no matter if one identifies as Muslim or Jewish or Christian.
“The principle that all people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure,” President Obama said last week in response to the mosque controversy.