The Muslim Council of Britain is failing Ahmadis like Asad Shah

Originally posted on Guardian, here
In 2013, I organised an event at University College London for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Student Association UK titled Innocence of Muhammad. The aim of the event was to portray the true and peaceful character of the prophet of Islam, in light of the wild and violent responses of some Muslims to the slanderous video, The Innocence of Muslims. Unfortunately, towards the end of the event, a prominent member of the university’s Islamic society entered and distributed leaflets calling for the social boycott and “capital punishment” of Ahmadi Muslims.

As an Ahmadi myself, I am sadly familiar with such harassment. This minority community of Islam faces persecution in countries like Pakistan and Indonesia, and we are often treated with open hostility by many orthodox Muslims in the UK. The reason can seem arcane to those not of the Muslim faith: Ahmadis, who believe in their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the expected Messiah and Mahdi of Islam, differ from the mainstream belief that prophethood ceased after Muhammad, as orthodox Muslims believe is laid out in the Qur’an.

I reported the leaflets to the university union and the matter was resolved internally. I thought that was the end of it. It was then a great shock to read media reports of similar leaflets recently discovered in the Stockwell Green mosque. Their discovery came a few short weeks after the fatal stabbing of another Ahmadi, the shopkeeper Asad Shah, in Glasgow. The man charged with his murder, also a Muslim, later released a statement saying Shah had “disrespected” Islam.

These are difficult times for my community in the UK. The leaflets in question were written by the now dead leader of an organisation called Khatam-e-Nabuwwat, meaning “the Seal of Prophethood”, which in Pakistan calls for the elimination of Ahmadis. This organisation also has branches in the UK, where it is a registered charity and an affiliate of the Muslim Council of Britain. A posting on the Facebook page Anti-Qadianiat (Tahafuz Khatme Nubuwwat), included the Guardian’s report of Shah’s death, with the message “Congratulations to all Muslims”.

It couldn’t be any clearer that Khatam-e-Nabuwwat is a hate organisation dedicated to the demonisation and social ostracism of Ahmadi Muslims. Yet somehow, it isn’t obvious to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) who, until this past week, registered the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat organisation as one of their affiliates. Only after the furore raised in the media at this did the MCB release a statement that it would temporarily suspend the affiliation of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat, and would launch an independent investigation into whether it really is a hate organisation. But what further proof do they require?

The MCB cannot be ignorant of the history of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat. It was founded in Pakistan as a movement under the umbrella organisation of Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam by Syed Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari in 1953. The next year, Majlis-e-Ahrar along with Khatam-e-Nabuwwat sent an ultimatum to the then prime minister of Pakistan, Khawaja Nazimuddin, to remove all Ahmadis from leading government positions and to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslim. Unless these demands were met, Majlis-e-Ahrar and Khatam-e-Nabuwwat threatened “direct action”. The government refused to capitulate, and the two groups responded by setting ablaze Ahmadi homes and businesses, resulting in the death of hundreds of Ahmadis, the demolition of mosques and the displacement of thousands. Thus was Khatam-e-Nabuwwat born, bathed in the blood of its fellow citizens.

Since then, Khatam-e-Nabuwwat has been instrumental in doing exactly what its leaflet claims – encouraging “Islamic” theocracies around the world to enact legislature making Ahmadi Muslims liable for capital punishment. Indeed, in Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims are liable to three years imprisonment and a fine under its anti-Ahmadiyya laws, or death under its blasphemy laws, both of which were lobbied into existence by Khatam-e-Nabuwwat clerics.

The “independent investigation” into whether the activities at Stockwell Green mosque (where Khatam-e-Nabuwwat is based) spread hatred is utterly defunct – especially since it ends with a disclaimer that “the investigation panel shall not involve itself in matters of theology or in actions/conduct/laws in countries other than the United Kingdom”. In other words, the MCB investigation is little more than a rigged jury, since all the evidence of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat’s hate-mongering is widespread in “countries other than the United Kingdom”. Do the crimes of an organisation abroad cease to be relevant when considering their potential harm in the UK?

It is easy to point the finger and blame Khatam-e-Nabuwwat for anti-Ahmadi hate speech, but the reality is that the MCB is also culpable. After Shah’s murder, the MCB released a statement, expressing its condolence and grief at his murder, but re-affirming that Ahmadis aren’t Muslim, despite Ahmadis self-identifying as such. Thus, the MCB has taken a position that is fundamentally at odds with the British values the MCB claims to hold dear: namely that a person must be accepted in accordance with their own self-identification. The right to self-identify, and to be acknowledged by others in accordance with that identity, is the cornerstone of religious tolerance.

By sitting in God’s seat of judgment, the MCB enables hate organisations to take it one step further by acting as God Himself, dealing out death to whomsoever they deem heretical. Until the MCB recognises this, its rigged “independent investigation” won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.

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Why the Quran Protects Against Radicalization: A Rebuttal to USA Today’s Nabeel Qureshi

This article first appeared on Patheos, here.

The dust from the bombs had barely settled in Brussels when the first anti-Islamic articles started appearing in major news outlets. In particular, Christian pundit Nabeel Qureshi was brought out on USA Today to make some rather remarkable claims about the Quran.

They were remarkable, not just for their falsehood but for their total lack of originality. As a reply, I could have just sent him this article, or this one or this one, but I felt compelled to write something with his name on it that would make him sit up and actually read.

Qureshi argues that radicalization occurs when people return to the original sources of Islam and learn of its barbaric teachings. He says, if we want to tackle radicalization, then we need to tackle the roots of terrorism in the Quran. It’s a point that has been made many times before, but does it hold water?

MI5 – the British intelligence service, certainly doesn’t think so. After studying hundreds of cases of Brits who went abroad to join ISIS, they concluded that the more religious you are, the less likely you are to join terrorist groups. Many ISIS recruits, in fact, indulge wholeheartedly in un-Islamic behavior like drug taking, prostitution and drinking alcohol.

Religious illiteracy was one of the only common threads between recruits. Otherwise, the demographic of radicalized individuals ranged widely in terms of education, socioeconomic status and family background.

This tells us that ISIS is in fact only fooling those who aren’t educated in their religion and that knowing the primary source of Islam, the Quran, is protective against radicalization.

It is however, undeniable that ISIS uses Islamic literature to support its bloodbath in Syria and Iraq. In this, Qureshi and ISIS have something in common: The arguments they both use are identical.

Both Qureshi and ISIS claim that the Prophet Muhammad was peace loving during the early part of his ministry and that as he became a political leader, it was then that the “violent” verses of the Quran emerged.

They forget that the declaration “there is no compulsion in religion” came about afterhe attained political rule, as did the teaching that fighting is only permitted against aggressors and that fighting is forbidden against those who seek peace.

Qureshi particularly focuses on chapter 9 of the Quran, claiming that this chapter lays the foundation of violent “jihadism” in the world. The chapter was revealed immediately after the Prophet of Islam had entered Mecca as a victorious conqueror and declared a general amnesty and forgiveness to all, Muslims or not,  — even individuals like Habbar, who had murdered the Prophet’s daughter, and Hind, who cannibalized the Prophet’s uncle on the battlefield.

Can you imagine ISIS forgiving so liberally?

Chapter 9 is its own best defense against allegations of both anti-Islamic pundits and ISIS terrorists alike. The Prophet Muhammad conquered Mecca because the Meccan idolaters violated the peace treaty he had held with them for two years. He had peace treaties with other tribes too — some who had also violated their pacts and some who had not.

Having conquered Mecca after they violated their treaty by mercilessly butchering Muslims for accepting Islam, chapter 9 declared that other tribes who had similarly violated their pacts by aiding and abetting the Meccans had de-facto re-established war on Muslims. Contrary to what Qureshi claims, chapter 9 is emphatic that for their part, Muslims must keep their peace treaties with such idolaters who have been true to their pacts:

“Allah is clear of the idolaters, and so is His Messenger…excepting those of the idolaters whom you have entered into a treaty and who have not failed you in any thing nor aided anyone against you. So fulfill to these the treaty you have made with them till their term. Surely, Allah loves those who are righteous.” (Quran 9: 3-4)

I would challenge Qureshi to show a passage of the Bible that is as emphatic in teaching its adherents to keep to their promises and treaties during times of war.

And that’s the key point. Muslims were at a time of war when verses relating to fighting were revealed. Yes, the early Muslims were commanded by God to fight non-Muslims. This is no secret. The reason for this is not because the latter had not accepted Islam. Were that the case, then the Quran wouldn’t advocate keeping peace treaties with idolaters, as quoted above. The reason is clearly stated alongside the first injunction to fight:

“Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged…those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly only because they said “our Lord is Allah” – and if Allah had not repelled some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down temples, churches, synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft-commemorated.” (Quran 22:40-41)

 Again, I would challenge Qureshi to demonstrate a statement from Jesus’ teachings as emphatic and clear on when the fight for freedom of conscience is necessary. This is perhaps the greatest irony in Qureshi’s piece, for Qureshi claims that as a Muslim, he could not reconcile verses in the Quran calling Muslims to fight in self-defense, with his own conscience, and so he became a Christian.

It is true that Christianity and Islam are not the same. In Christianity, there is no similar statement from Jesus on when a Christian should fight for freedom of religion. Islam on the other hand, claims to be a teaching covering all aspects of human life — whether in peace or in war. For this reason, the Quran teaches Muslims how to conduct themselves in war, whether it be relating to when fighting is permissible to how peace treaties must be honored.

The Quran acknowledges that sometimes good people must stand up for what is right and be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to establish peace on earth.

For this reason, in line with the MI5 report, it is education, not renunciation of the Quran that will defeat the likes of ISIS. This is not just a theoretical claim. It has been practically demonstrated by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community — a community of tens of millions of Muslims, who have not a single terrorist act to their name over their 127-year history. (And it has been practically demonstrated by millions of other Muslims — Shi’a, Sunni and other — as well.)

The reason? Ahmadi Muslims study the Quran from a young age and understand it deeply. Qureshi of all people should understand this best, given that before becoming a Christian, he was an Ahmadi Muslim too.

Tahir Nasser focuses his writing on Islam in the modern world, especially in relation to issues of terrorism, extremism and radicalization. He has served as the national UK President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students’ Association for three years and has spoken on numerous university campuses on theology and radicalization. Visit his site at www.tahirnasser.com or find him on Twitter @TahirNasser

What Velcro Taught Me About Radicalisation, David Cameron and the Importance of Islamic Caliphate

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post here

David Cameron seems stumped. He just hasn’t got a clue of how to rid us of this pesky radicalisation problem, has he? The problem seems to be that we don’t know what the problem is. Is the problem a violent interpretation of Islam? Or is it disaffected Muslim youth? Is the problem short-sighted foreign policy? Or do all our radicalisation woes simply stem from ISIS’s deft wielding of the twin weapons of Armageddon: kittens and Nutella? Perhaps the answer is all of the above, but that still leaves us short of a real solution.

Step in Mr. Cameron, recently delivering a brand new strategy to combat extremism. It involved giving a platform to the “moderate Muslim” voices in the media, combatting extremist ideologies, both vocal and silent, (“You’re an extremist!”… “But I didn’t say anything!”… “Exactly!”), as well as doing more to integrate minorities into a British identity.

But the problem is that we’ve been trying these solutions for years. The real question should be, how do we finally realise these objectives?

That brings me nicely onto Velcro. Yes, Velcro. Velcro is a remarkable material that has forever transformed the lives of children who run late for school. No more fiddling with shoelaces – just whack it on and run for that bus. And as unlikely as it may sound, if the world took notice of how Velcro was discovered, its service to the fight against extremism may even outstrip its service to school registrations.

In 1941 a Swiss inventor by the name of George Mestral noticed the burdock burrs clinging to his dog after a routine walk. Inquisitive, he took a peek at these burrs under the microscope and found that the secret of their success lay in sheets of tiny hooks. Thus was Velcro born.

What George Mestral and Velcro have taught me is this: we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. If we want to know how to prevent radicalisation, just find an example where Muslim youth are immune to it, and see what they’re doing right.

Fortunately, Mr. Cameron doesn’t have to look far – just down the District Line in fact. For in unlikely Southfields lives the spiritual leadership of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a community that stands out for all the qualities Mr. Cameron is seeking to foster. Despite its membership of tens of millions of Muslims, spread in over 200 countries, the community has not a single extremist action against its name. How is this possible? What are they doing that works so well?

On the 21st August 2015, I’m going to find out. That weekend will host the annual gathering of the community, as 30,000 Ahmadi Muslims descend on Hampshire where a farm will be turned into a mini-city for the three day convention. The purpose of the spiritual gathering, known as Jalsa Salana, will be for the attendees to listen to the words of their caliph. Unlike any other Muslim community, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has had caliphate for a long time: 107 years to be precise, with the current caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, based in Southfields, London. Didn’t you know caliphate had come to the UK?

Fear not – Ahmad is not a caliph of war, but the caliph of peace. He embodies the community’s motto: Love for All, Hatred for None. And he is well placed to fight extremism, having once been imprisoned for his peaceful beliefs in his native Pakistan before his appointment, and being exiled from his homeland thereafter. You can see why extremists oppose him: he advocates the separation of mosque and state, champions the Islamic teaching that there is no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2:257) and teaches Muslims to be loyal citizens wherever they live, citing the words of the Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, that love for one’s country is part of faith.

The caliph, I suspect, is the key to the community’s success. Speak to any of his young followers and they will tell you that he shields them from extremism by promoting them to join the true Islamic jihad of our time – improving individual spirituality, and serving the communities in which they live. “The spiritual leadership of the Caliph makes us immune from exploitative clerics,” says Damir Rafi, a young volunteer at the annual convention. “From him we get a solid understanding of our faith and through the community’s outreach and charity programs we have a positive outlet for our religious impulses.” The results of the caliphate speak for themselves, and serve as a model to other Muslim communities the world over.

I would suggest to Mr. Cameron that instead of listening to aides and advisors who might visit a mosque once a year in Ramadan, go and listen to the caliph. The media that love to plaster “radicalisation!” over every shop-front should also attend. Together, they might learn something of value, instead of being content with delivering hand-wringing platitudes about problems we already know.

Perhaps this time they’ll find a solution that sticks.