Abid Khan, UK
What is a Jama’at? What is a community?
These questions have become increasingly pertinent as racial tensions that had long been simmering in the United States ignited recently following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor earlier this year.
Such examples of police brutality have led to increased awareness and support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Founded in 2013, the movement aims to increase awareness of the injustices that have been perpetrated against the black community in the United States. It has since garnered support from people in other countries as well, while raising complex questions about communities, support systems and principles.
So, is a community something where members gather together only to enjoy the good times and to reap the blessings of when all is well? Or is it that when there are struggles, people of a community stick together and, above all, they stick to their principles – adhering to them without fear, without an inferiority complex and without weakening their resolve.
I have particularly wondered about what distinguishes Ahmadiyyat as a Jama`at. Why do Ahmadis consider themselves different from other Muslims and non-Muslims? Why is it that Ahmadis are not inclined towards terrorism or extremism?
Instead, the Ahmadiyya Jama’at’s unremitting response to hatred is to show love, peace and to bow our heads in the worship of Allah rather than returning hatred with hatred and a desire for vengeance.
At a time when religion is being abandoned across the world, our community has continued to grow and flourish. It has spread to all corners of the world. It has been embraced by people of all races, nationalities and socio-economic status. Most Ahmadis, if not all, know that unity is what distinguishes us.
Together we are united at the hand of one: the hand of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (His Holiness, the Fifth Caliph) (aba).
To remain united requires faith in how our spiritual bond with the Promised Messiah (as), his Khulafa (Caliphs), and, above all, with the Holy Qur’an and the blessed teachings of the Prophet of Islam (sa), is of paramount importance in our lives. This spiritual bond far exceeds any political and worldly movement that may gain prominence from time to time.
When I first came across the news of George Floyd’s murder whilst scrolling social media, I was honestly unsurprised that a black man had been killed by a white police officer in America. There was something incredibly ordinary about it. As horrific as that sounds, it did not even register as big news.
However, a little while later when I saw the video of what had actually transpired, I was left in complete shock. There was nothing new about a black person being killed in the United States, but my shock was provoked by the sense of impunity amongst those white police officers. ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ said George Floyd repeatedly, begging for mercy, as an officer had his knee firmly lodged onto his neck. And when no mercy was forthcoming, he called out in his dying moments for his mother, just as the last light of his life was cruelly extinguished. The look not only of contentment, but if I’m not mistaken, a hint of a smile, on the face of the police officer was perhaps the most disturbing and horrifying detail to me.
How could this be possible in a country that claims to be the most advanced nation on earth; a paragon of virtue and the so-called land of the free? The mounting resentment and frustration harboured by millions of African Americans reached a boiling point. Indeed, there has been a metaphorical knee at their necks for generations. George Floyd’s murder, among countless other injustices against the black community, triggered a wave of emotion manifested in mass protests.
Members of our Jama’at across the world shared instantly that pain. Ahmadis in the United States were more directly involved and understandably felt visceral pain and emotion out of love and empathy for the plight of African-Americans. The question that arose was, do we and should we, as Ahmadi Muslims, and as a religious community, respond in kind as the world is doing? Should we take a knee, promote Black Lives Matters, join demonstrations? Should we go even further and join those who are violent and take advantage of the unrest to loot and plunder?
Or should we respond according to Islamic teachings? That was the stark choice that lay before all of us a couple of months ago. Of course, the Jama’at’s response, under the guidance and leadership of Khalifa-e-Waqt (the Caliph), would always be to follow the teachings of Islam.
What every Ahmadi must realise is that what our faith decrees is not always going to be the easiest path – precisely why so many people across the world have abandoned their faith.
Our response should not be to align with a group or movement that has only existed a few years and which might, quite easily, morph into something else in three, four, five or ten years from now.
Rather, our response lies in the righteous example of the noble Prophet (sa) who proclaimed in his Farewell Address that a black person is not superior to a white, nor is a white person superior to a black, and that an Arab is not superior to a non-Arab, nor is a non-Arab superior to an Arab.
Our response is guided by the Holy Qur’an, which from the outset has condemned slavery and called for the emancipation of those who have been subjugated and oppressed. Allah’s Word has unequivocally laid down that all people are born equal.
Moreover, our response is based on the example of Hazrat Syedna Bilal (ra) who was born in an era during which he was treated with contempt simply because he was a black man. His dark skin colour was perceived as a symbol of dirt by his slave masters. Yet, due to his exemplary piety, faith and character, he was raised to the highest of stations by the Prophet of Islam (sa) himself who nominated him to be the first person to call mankind towards prayer.
Thus, the simple question for our Khuddam (Ahmadi youth) and other Ahmadis, is whether they want to take the path that, Insha’Allah (God-Willing), will surely lead to emancipation and freedom, but might require them to go against the grain. Arguably, the easier option will allow them to attain likes on Instagram and provide an immediate outlet to quell their frustration.
The worldly path might lead to short term success, but it is not a united path. There are already cracks and fissures in the Black Lives Matter movement. Some people who initially supported the movement, are now stepping away and saying that it is morphing into a far-left political crusade or has developed other objectives that do not align with the majority.
A day or two after the death of George Floyd, I sought the guidance of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba). The first thing I noticed was the pain and grief in the voice of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih (aba) as he described the killing of George Floyd. He had seen the video and heard the news.
Huzoor (His Holiness) (aba) immediately said that it was the Jama’at’s duty to condemn this brutality and to make every single possible effort to highlight the injustice of this killing and the long-term injustices against black people in the United States. He said that we must not only advocate on their behalf, but also endeavour to achieve justice and equality.
Whilst, the path of Islam may not always be the easiest, or the one that gets the most recognition in the short-term, it is undoubtedly the path that is paved with wisdom and ultimately the means to success. Some Ahmadis expressed their desire at that time to join BLM protest movements and, upon this, Huzoor clearly said that this was the personal right of people to join peaceful protests if they desired. Thus, if anyone thought that the Jama’at sought to restrict their rights to join and protest, they were wrong.
However, Huzoor also firmly said that people should not partake in anything which could be a means of hurting their nation, or where violence or anything criminal could transpire. What would that achieve other than bring the protesters down to the level of those who oppressed them?
At a human level, Huzoor (aba) was extremely worried for the safety and well-being of Ahmadi Muslims. He loves every Ahmadi, every Khadim, every Lajna (Ahmadi woman) member, and every child, no matter their race or residence. I do not need to repeat the countless incidents that I have personally witnessed over the years which have demonstrated the love that Khalifa-e-Waqt has for each Ahmadi, and how he partakes in and feels their grief and burdens.
Huzoor cannot bear for a single Ahmadi to be hurt, injured or even worse. Nor does he want any Khadim or Jama`at member to get entangled in something that could lead to arrest and see their lives destroyed.
In addition, Huzoor (aba) emphasised that such protests are of limited effect. Who can deny this logic? In the United States, marches and rallies have taken place for decades. Giants of the civil rights movements have come and gone, some brutally lost their lives – yet this systemic racism persists. Whilst white privilege does everything it can to sustain the past, Khalifatul Masih (aba) is calling for real change.
The guidance of Khalifatul Masih is that if the black community wants to rise, if it wants to thrive then it must endeavour, it must strive.
Huzoor (aba) has lived in Africa and considers the black people amongst the brightest stars of humanity. He knows the rich potential of the black race and has openly expressed his hope that they come to lead the world. At a time when people continue to look down on black people, Khalifa-Waqt has consistently showered his love and appreciation upon the talents, intellect and piety of Africans and African-Americans. Huzoor (aba) has made it clear that it will take time
, great effort and, above all, an unyielding, unbreakable and unswayable faith and resolve in Allah the Almighty.
Huzoor (aba) instructed that African-Americans and all those minorities who are looked down upon or who have faced injustice must use their democratic rights from the grassroots level up. Some people have suggested that it might be worth boycotting the democratic process as a means of protest, but Huzoor (aba) was very clear that such protests are futile and will only entrench the existing norms. Furthermore, it is not just about voting in the upcoming presidential election in November, but partaking in every field, at every single level of society. Go to the town hall meetings or join the housing associations, and most of all, educate yourselves so that you know your rights and have the ability to stand up and defend yourself – not through violence or cruelty, but through the unstoppable force of knowledge. Run for office if you have the potential.
America might have seen its first black president a few years ago, but are black people proportionately represented across the board in society – in every district, in every town, in every city, in every state? Are they rising to the higher levels and echelons of society? The truth is, and it is a sad truth, that worldly people will only see you when you can affect them.
For instance, if they think that the black vote could swing an election, then they will listen to the African-Americans. The same applies to Pakistani or other Asian people who live in the West as minorities. For this reason, whenever Huzoor (aba) is asked about the persecution faced by our Jama’at in Pakistan, and our supporters, be they politicians, dignitaries or human rights activists ask how they can help, he tends to respond by suggesting that they should try to help Ahmadis get their voting rights in Pakistan.
He does not say to them that, in the first instance, that they should challenge the Pakistani Government to remove the inhumane blasphemy laws. Rather in his wisdom, Huzoor (aba) gives realistic suggestions that are practical and urges for them to take things step by step.
I remember when I asked Huzoor whether the Jama`at should align itself with the Black Lives Matter movement. I informed him that there were Ahmadis who had expressed their support for this organisation and desired for the Jama`at to officially endorse it. As soon as I said this, to my surprise, Huzoor (aba) remained silent. For how long exactly, I cannot remember, perhaps 30 seconds or a minute.
After that short period of reflection, Huzoor said: ‘‘Innocent Lives Matter’ and ‘Supremacy of Justice.’ These are the terms we should use.’ Instinctively, I knew as soon as I heard these terms that both might prove controversial, especially Innocent Lives Matter.
First and foremost, people had strongly opposed and criticised those who had not used Black Lives Matter, considering it an affront to the rights of black people. Furthermore, some terms like ‘All Lives Matters’ were being used by the alt-right or others who seemed to deny that there was any problem of racial inequality. Nonetheless, having seen first-hand how Huzoor (aba) had reflected and been inspired, I was completely sure that the terms and slogans given by him would be blessed and prove to be of true value.
Subsequently, as Huzoor (aba) explained these terms, I was overwhelmed with pride. I saw how lucky and how fortunate we are to have a leader who is not thinking about how to win any popularity contests. Rather, he solely focuses upon how the problems facing humanity may be solved according to the teachings of the Qur’an and the Ahadith, which are his true inspiration at all times.
Huzoor (aba) said:
‘Our actions, as Ahmadi Muslims, will always be underpinned by Islam’s teachings. Thus, our statements and pronouncements are not motivated by politics but are always derived from the Holy Qur’an and the life and teachings of the Holy Prophet of Islam (sa). It is for this reason that better slogans, when confronting the issue are ‘Innocent Lives Matter’ and the ‘Supremacy of Justice.’’
Huzoor (aba) further said:
‘However, if Ahmadis wish to personally tweet or use the Black Lives Matter term they may do so.’
As I mentioned earlier, I thought that the term Innocent Lives Matter would prove particularly controversial. Who would be classed as ‘innocent’ and who would not be? Some people might assume it excluded black people or others who had made mistakes or bad choices because of the circumstances in which they had been raised and their lack of opportunities.
However, the way Huzoor explained this term showed me that such concerns were unfounded. This slogan is the epitome of Islam’s teachings of valuing every single person, regardless of whether they are black, white or any other colour.
Huzoor (aba) said:
‘The term ‘Innocent Lives Matter’ is a very broad term based on the Holy Qur’an, which says to ‘kill’ an innocent person is akin to the killing of all mankind. It does not mean that those who commit low-level crimes or who may be forced into error due to the circumstances they have grown up in, where they have been denied opportunities and justice, are not deemed as innocent. In fact, if they are forced to commit such crimes to feed their families or to exist then they are very much innocent.’
Huzoor (aba) continued:
‘The only people who are not ‘Innocent’ are those who have power or wealth and use it to persecute, to brutalise and perpetrate grave injustice and who deny people their rights. The very definition and standard of someone who is not innocent is that he violates the sanctity of life and a prime example of this is a member of law enforcement who abuses his power to mercilessly place his knee on the neck of a man and refuses to remove it for almost nine minutes even as the defenceless man repeats ‘I can’t breathe.’‘
So in essence, if you have confidence in Islam’s teachings, you will soon recognise that Innocent Lives Matter is a term of immense value. It is, at its core, a clear rebuttal and rejection of all forms of persecution, injustice and oppression. It is a call for mankind to show its humanity and to forgo all forms of subjugation, harassment and inequality. In terms of Supremacy of Justice, some people later expressed their fears that it may harbour some connotation of or connection with ‘White Supremacy’, yet nothing could be further from the truth.
As he explained the meaning of this term, Huzoor (aba) said:
‘The term ‘Supremacy of Justice’ is inspired by the Qur’an’s teachings that justice is paramount and the Farewell Sermon of the Holy Prophet (sa) in which he said that a white person is not superior to a black person or an Arab to a non-Arab. Hence, this term rejects and refutes the claim of those people who consider that the white race has ‘supremacy.’ Rather, it is ‘justice’ that is supreme.’
Therefore, rather than bearing any connotation of white supremacy, this term actually rejects the notion of any form of racial superiority. Instead, it elucidates that it is only justice and equality that may be considered to have supremacy.
In recent weeks, he has written a series of letters to certain world leaders at the apex of the coronavirus pandemic.
In these letters, Huzoor (aba) expressed, without fear or hesitation, that this pandemic ought to be considered a warning from God Almighty, as it had exposed how fragile the power and might was even of those nations that considered themselves the mightiest and most dominant. He wrote that it was a time for nations and their leaders to turn towards God Almighty. I was fortunate and privileged to be able to take the dictation for these letters and to type them up.
Huzoor also wrote a letter to the President of the United States, as the leader of one of the major powers. However, just before it was sent, the George Floyd killing took place. Upon this, very late at night, when most people will have assumed that Huzoor was resting or spending time with his family, I received a message from Huzoor which showed how at that late hour his mind was on other things.
In the message, Huzoor (aba) said:
‘In the letter to President Trump, I wish to add an additional paragraph regarding how it is necessary for him to treat every citizen, irrespective of their race or ethnicity, with absolute equality and justice and the very highest standards of equality and non-discrimination are expected from the President of the United States.’
Thus, in his letter to President Trump, which was recently delivered, Huzoor (aba) wrote:
‘For the sake of the peace and harmony of any nation, it is a prerequisite that the government, local authorities and law enforcement agencies treat all of their citizens equally, irrespective of their skin colour or ethnicity. In this regard, the expectation of absolute justice and non-discrimination from the leader of a country as the United States is especially high.’
Aside from seeking Huzoor’s (aba) guidance in many Mulaqats (private audiences) about this issue, I have seen in every word, Huzoor’s (aba) love for African-Americans and black people shining forth and how he desires to see them achieve true peace, security and justice so that they, their children and future generations are able to reverse the vicious tide of oppression that they have faced for centuries.
With all humility, every Ahmadi Muslim should reflect and ask themselves if they are ready to stay true to the principles of Islam. It is a question every one of us who has taken theBai’atof the Promised Messiah (as) must ask. Will we abide by the teachings and instructions of the Holy Qur’an through thick and thin? Or will we forsake them in order to please people who we do not even know, and whose values are often opposed to those with which we have been raised?
Do we want to be amongst those who remain truly loyal and faithful to the mission of the Promised Messiah (as) and to the institution of Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya? Will we, God forbid, forgo our faith, trust and obedience to Khilafat, even though it is Khalifa-e-Waqt who has consistently demonstrated to us that our religion is the true means for peace, freedom, and equality.
It is our reaction to the trials and hard times that will define us as people, not as I said at the start, the moments of happiness and contentment.
Always remember that we are the people who swear by the words of the Holy Qur’an that states,‘Surely there is ease after hardship.’ [94:6]. This includes in Pakistan, where our people have been brutally martyred for decades, where even our ladies are not spared and have been imprisoned in the most horrific conditions.
Or in Bangladesh where not even the graves of our three day old infants are safe. Or when one fights for the rights of those who have been scorned, oppressed and violated, so that they may be free of injustice and truly equal. Our belief now and always must be according to the teachings of Islam.
This is our challenge and I am sure that Insha’Allah (God-Willing) through the Grace of Allah and the prayers and guidance of Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya, every sincere Ahmadi will come to see the fruits of their labours, the rewards of their patience and have their prayers answered so long as they stand firm and united at the hand of Khilafat.
About the Author: Abid Khan is the International Press Secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.