Turning on the television this month, you will most likely be confronted with footage of the World Trade Center on fire, collapsing to the ground. And although ten years have passed since passenger planes were turned into deadly missiles, those images are just as disturbing in 2011 as they were in 2001.
Since 2001 people have turned to examine the supposed cause of this violence: Islam.
Political policies and public perception have been shaped by the fact that there are people calling themselves Muslims who think that violence against innocents is necessary, who think that Jihad must be of the sword, and who think that the best kind of Islam entails the worst kind of atrocity.
That group is not just wrong, but in complete contradiction with the teachings of Islam, which instructs: “Whosoever killed a person…it shall be as if he had killed all mankind.” (Holy Qur’an, Ch.5:V.33). Note here, that all of humanity is included in this verse – there is no special distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Yet many people still believe that Islam is a violent religion, and that, given the chance, Muslims will use whatever power they have to impose violence on anyone and everyone. Even before 9/11, the Taliban’s atrocities in Afghanistan embodied this very kind of rule.
It is no surprise, then, that people have become increasingly wary of Islam and of Muslims. Since the 9/11 attacks, distrust of Muslims has grown in the US – even though Muslims comprise less than one percent of the American population.
One prime example of this is the controversy over the building of an Islamic community center – including a prayer space – two blocks from Ground Zero. When construction was announced, there was uproar. Polls showed that a majority of Americans opposed the mosque project, believing the mosque would be an affront to the memory of those who died. However, as others pointed out, there was already another mosque about five blocks from the site. Moreover, the Park51 neighborhood is filled with businesses of both crass and commercial character – which seems to contradict the idea that the area is hallowed ground. After all, we don’t usually build malls and restaurants on sacred land.
The real issue is that many find the very idea that there could be a mosque so close to Ground Zero as offensive, hurtful, and in the poorest of taste – and this points to the fact that many people do equate Islam with these attacks, even if they say they do not. Newt Gingrich, a presidential candidate, even said: “You know, Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington…There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”
Nazis explicitly endorsed the killing of millions of Jews. Clearly it would be offensive to have a Nazi sign near a Holocaust memorial. But by equating building a mosque near Ground Zero with this, Gingrich is implying that it is Islam itself – and not extremists acting against Islam – which advocates the killing of innocent people. Even when people deny that they believe this, the unease that they feel over the project indicates that for many, Islam itself is suspect.
The idea that Islam – and Muslims – are dangerous and that their numbers need to be checked is not unique to the U.S. Many countries in Europe have also tried to restrict Islamic practice. In France, the veil ban – while only affecting a very small number of women who wear it – signaled the discomfort that most people feel when they encounter Muslims as does the ban on minarets in Switzerland. In short, distrust of Muslims has spread throughout the United States and Europe.
Given this mistrust, then, what is a Muslim to do?
Invariably, we can find the answer in the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, the Holy Prophet(saw), the Promised Messiah(as) and his Successors, the Khulafa. Despite the fact that people may mistrust Muslims – Muslims should be sensitive to the feelings of others. During the Park51 controversy, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), Khalifatul Masih V, Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, stated:
…If this building is to be built as a memorial for national unity, for peace, for religious tolerance, and to show the peaceful teachings of Islam, then why construct only a mosque? This should be widened so that next to the mosque let there be a church, let there be a synagogue and let the places of worship of all other faiths also be built there, so that religious unity and tolerance can be truly displayed and so that it can be known that Islam has no link with terrorism. This would clearly show that Islam wants to live side by side with the followers of all other faiths. It would make it clear that terrorism has no religion, nor does any religion sanction murder in its name.1”
Muslims are always silently representing the faith of Islam whenever they go out into the world. However, it is also important for Muslims to spread Islam openly.
The Holy Qur’an tells us that “those who persevere in seeking the favour of their Lord, and observe Prayer, and spend out of that with which We have provided them, secretly and openly, and repel evil with good” will get their reward (Ch.13:V.23). This verse points out two aspects of good works – some should be performed secretly, solely for Allah’s sake, and not so others may approve. But the other aspect is also important: the idea of doing good works openly. By doing so true Islam can be spread – inspiring fellow Muslims, and attracting those who are not Muslim.
In this vein, this month chapters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will be both serving their fellow Americans and showing what true Islam is through the Muslims for Life campaign. This campaign aims to have people donate 10,000 units of blood to honor the victims of 9/11. Those 10,000 units have the potential to save 30,000 lives. The hope is that people will see that Ahmadi Muslims practice what they preach: Love for All, Hatred for None.
1. Address of 17 Sept 2010 in Galway, Ireland