A few weeks ago I sat in a conference room with about 45 prominent American Muslim leaders. One leader stood up and lamented at how Islamophobes misrepresented his views and made his life a living hell. I empathized with him as no person deserves such harassment, ridicule, or threats. In their ignorance to Islam, Islamophobic extremists had crossed all limits and compromised this Muslim’s safety by threatening to kill him for his faith as a Muslim.
I found it particularly confusing, however, that just a few months prior, this same individual posted a lengthy rant about how Muslims belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community—to which I belong—are simply outside the fold of Islam and cannot be considered Muslim. His rant furthermore mispresented the views and beliefs of Ahmadi Muslims. This is significant because I often get emails of harassment, ridicule, and threats from extremists uninformed about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. In their ignorance to Ahmadi Muslims, such extremists regularly persecute and often murder Ahmadi Muslims for our faith as Muslims.
I bring this up because Muslims (read: anyone who even looks Muslim) in the West find ourselves in an interesting predicament in 2016. At a time of rising Islamophobia, increased discrimination and bullying of our children, and a massive spike in anti-Muslim violence—are we really going to waste precious time and resources demonizing other Muslims over dogmatic disagreements? Ask any random 10 non-Muslims in America if they can tell you the difference between Ahmadiyya, Sunni, Shia, Jafari, or Ismaeli – among the dozens of other sects of Islam that exist today – and I’ll be impressed if you can find even one non-Muslim who can. I’d be willing to bet many Muslims cannot tell you the difference either.
But here’s a better challenge. Ask any of the extremists bullying our children, ripping headscarves off Muslim women, and shooting and setting fire to our mosques if they can tell the difference between Ahmadiyya, Sunni, Shia…you get the idea. In fact, ask them if they can even tell the difference between Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Arab Christian. Ask Wade Michael Page if he realized that the six innocent people he murdered on August 5, 2012 were Sikh—not Muslim. Ask him if he even cares? Ask Stanley Vernon Majors if he realizes that his racially and religiously motivated murder of Khalid Jabara was the murder of a Christian—not a Muslim. Ask him if he even knew that in certain Arab countries like Lebanon, for example, up to 41% of residents are Christian? Again, ask him if he even cares?
As election day draws near and the Alt Right, i.e. white supremacist, deplorables gain both momentum and confidence in their bigotry—it is a failing model for Muslims, particularly Muslim leadership, to continue discriminating or tolerate discrimination against one another. Rather than give Islamophobes ammunition to divide different Muslim groups against one another, this is a time for Muslims of all sects to recognize that we must present a united front against ignorance and extremism.
Historically speaking, the powers that be have tried to divide and conquer minority groups by encouraging them to turn on one another. For example, during the Civil Rights era, the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program ("COINTELPRO") served to disrupt and censor movements that fought racial, social, and economic inequality. This included a targeted disruption of American stalwarts like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.
No one is asking anyone to embrace each other’s interpretation of Islam. But if we hope to have any chance at withstanding the onslaught of increasing anti-Muslim violence, we must agree to embrace each other’s humanity. Demonizing and ostracizing Muslims over ignorance and personal dogmatic disagreements makes for a dark road ahead. It succeeds only in making the job easier for those extremists who would rather see us in special ID badges, ceased immigration, or worse, special camps.
Indeed, judging the personal faith of another Muslim is not a reflection on the weakness of their faith—it is a reflection on the weakness of your own. In a world of increasing opposition, let’s stand united against ignorance and extremism and lead by example.
Such an act would serve as the strongest possible rebuke to Islamophobia.