For my latest post, I’ve been honoured to be able to interview American Muslim lawyer, human rights activist and international author Qasim Rashid. Having published works on the importance of dialogue to overcome social issues such as racism as well as writing about the persecution of the Ahmadiyah community, Qasim is an advocate for peace, tolerance and human rights. If you follow his work on and offline, you’ll see his engagement with current issues within the media and global community.
In the current climate of religious and racial tensions, ISIS barbarity, racially and religiously motivated attacks on innocent citizens and in light of Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign, it’s great (and all the more crucial!) to see vocal, active Muslims out there, spreading the message of salam – peace!
Here’s Qasim’s insight into Islam, human rights, community and interfaith relations and the challenges facing the mainstream Islamic community today.
Assalam aleykum. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Voice of Salam.
You’re a renowned author, human rights activist and published author. You’re very engaged socially and promote an Islam of peace and human rights. What would you say to those people out there who claim that the idea of being a Muslim and a human rights activist is somewhat a contradiction – i.e. that human rights and Islam are “incompatible”?
Come to my mosque and let’s chat. Bring your questions, bring your most controversial questions and allegations and let us dialogue and break bread. Islam epitomizes human rights. A Muslim’s foundational duties are two — serve God through personal worship and serve all humanity regardless of faith, color, creed, or any other differentiating factor. Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an exemplify universal human rights for all people of all faiths and no faith. So don’t just take my word for it, come study the Qur’an, study the life of Prophet Muhammad, come see it for yourself.
For non-Muslims out there – how would you define Islam? What is being a Muslim (about)?
Serving God through worship and serving all humanity. Prophet Muhammad taught us that “A Muslim is one from whose hands and tongue all people are safe.” Thus, a Muslim is one who wages the true Jihad of personal improvement to overcome evil and serve humanity with peace, love, and compassion.
Many critics of Islam often say that the Muslim community isn’t doing enough to condemn ISIS and tackle Islamic extremism. What’s your take on this?
If people can’t hear us, they’re not listening.
How can we combat Islam extremism within Europe – not just the rise in young jihadis going over to Syria itself but also intolerant extremist ideology? Why do you believe that these young Muslims are so easily radicalised?
I don’t believe young Muslims are ‘so easily radicalized.’ I believe inconsistent Muslim leadership alienates youth. Leaders who themselves don’t understand Islam, pass on that ignorance to youth who become polarized, i.e. they either leave Islam altogether or commit extremist acts. I’m part of the True Islam campaign which serves to educate youth— Muslim and non-Muslim — on the correct Islamic teachings on those points that extremists use to radicalize youth. Thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims have joined this campaign against extremism, and I hope your readers do too.
What can both Muslims and non-Muslims do to strengthen interfaith and community relations?
I wrote a piece earlier this year, “16 Things You Can Do To Support Muslims in 2016.” That’s applicable here.
You’re based in the US and the climate there (more so than in the UK) is very tense at the moment with recent attacks, even murders, of Muslims and Donald Trump’s media campaign. Do you believe Trump will win the presidential elections and how could the Muslim community deal with the aftermath of this? What do you expect to change/happen?
Whether he wins or not, the climate of intolerance towards minorities has already accelerated heavily. That won’t dissipate on its own. To counter this intolerance and ignorance we need more education and interfaith events. We should continue to find ways to serve humanity together as that is the best path forward to peace and justice. The True Islam campaign is one of many efforts we have launched to counter ignorance with education.
What do you believe are the biggest challenges the global Muslim community is facing and will face in the future?
Lack of consistent and just Muslim leadership. Until and unless Muslims can develop independent and strong Muslim leaders, they will continue to suffer. With strong leadership, cancers like terrorism, domestic violence, disunity, poverty, and substance abuse can be more effectively tackled. Without strong leadership, these cancers become that much more difficult to stop.
More specifically, how can we bridge sectarian divides within the Muslim community?
Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. The Qur’an commands Muslims to dialogue and ‘argue in the way that is best with wisdom and goodly exhortation.’ Currently, the level of dialogue between Muslim communities is anaemic and creates ample breeding ground for fear, misinformation, distrust, or even hate and violence. To turn this tide we must work together through dialogue and mutual respect. We do not have to agree with each other dogmatically, but that shouldn’t prevent us from working together for the common causes of peace and justice.
You’re an Ahmadi Muslim. Could you explain a bit more about this? What are the main differences and similarities with this branch and mainstream Sunni and Shia branches?
Ahmadi Muslims are Muslims who believe in the Messiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. Ahmadi Muslims are Sunni in the sense that we believe the first four caliphs after Prophet Muhammad(sa) were rightly guided. We also recognize the wisdom and truth of many Shia imams afterwards. We believe in the exact true Islam that Prophet Muhammad(sa) taught in every sense. We believe the Quran is the final and perfect book, and believe in the Messiah and Mahdi that Prophet Muhammad(sa) foretold would come to revive Islam, reform Muslims, and re-establish peace with love, logic, and service to all humanity. We pray five times a day, perform hajj, pay zakat [obligatory annual charity], fast during Ramadan and of course recite the Kalima that there is no God but Allah and Prophet Muhammad(sa) is his Messenger.
The only belief difference we hold is that we believe, based on Quran and Hadith, that Jesus died a natural death and will not return while Sunni Muslims await his physical descent. We believe Ahmad is that spiritual return of Jesus. He is the awaited Mahdi that came to reunite Muslims and revive Islam with peace and love. Ahmadi Muslims are also united under true Islamic caliphate and have been since Ahmad died in 1908. The current Khalifa is His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). You can find out much more here.
We believe Prophet Muhammad(sa) is Khaatamanabiyeen ie the Seal of the Prophets. He is the final law bearing prophet. Only prophets who are subordinate to Prophet Muhammad(sa) can come and no one can change Islam, only revive Islam to the pure teaching that Prophet Muhammad(sa) established. This is what we believe the Messiah and Mahdi Ahmad(as) came to do. You can find specific references to the belief about Prophet Muhammad(sa) here.
Finally, we believe Islam is crystal clear that Jesus(as) died a natural death and will not ever physically return. 30+ verses in the Qur’an. attest to the natural death of Jesus(as): http://ahmadianswers.com/jesus/quran/.
Many sahi [authentic] hadith attest to the natural death of Jesus(as). Prophet Muhammad(sa) mentioned it several times: http://ahmadianswers.com/jesus/hadith/.
The Sahaba and the ancient scholars are also of clear agreement that Jesus(as) has died a natural death: http://ahmadianswers.com/jesus/sahaba/.
The mentions of Jesus returning cannot be taken literally as that would contradict the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad(sa) and the Companions when each clearly says Jesus has died naturally and will not physically return, ever. Instead, one in his likeness would come to revive Islam and reform Muslims. That person is Syedna Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) who came to revive the perfect and final law of Prophet Muhammad(sa).
Unfortunately, much if not all of this information and scholarship is censored in several Muslim majority nations, creating immense confusion and misinformation on what Ahmadi Muslims actually believe.
Do you ever see “mainstream Sunni Muslims” (for lack of a better word) fully accepting and engaging with your community one day?
It isn’t something I worry about. Historically, those individuals — Muslim and non-Muslim — who have collaborated with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for the sake of peace and justice have themselves seen immense success. If any person or people wish to work with us for the sake of peace and justice and love of God, we are eager to work with them.
What are the biggest challenges your specific community faces?
Many Ahmadi Muslims will tell you that we feel the work to serve humanity is overwhelming. We have built hundreds of schools and hospitals, thousands of wells, and our physicians annually perform tens of thousands of free surgeries. Still, we see the suffering of humanity as our own, and constantly feel we must do more to stop poverty, promote rehabilitation from drug and alcohol abuse, help women and children of domestic and sexual violence, and educate children of all faiths and backgrounds at secular institutions.
Our goal is to serve all humanity—all 7 billion people. We have an ongoing struggle to get there.
Do you have a final message you’d like to give to the public?
The head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has advised world leaders that for peace to come to the world, we must maintain justice. If anyone wants to see the type of leadership the Muslim world, indeed the world at large, needs — you’ll find it in the beautiful and pristine example of the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
Thank you for your time and contribution. Jazak Allah khairan. All the very best in the future. Assalam aleykum.
I’d like to thank Qasim for participating in this interview, for lending his time and images for publication, and to wish him all the very best in the future.
Find out more about Qasim, his work and publications online at http://www.qasimrashid.com/
Facebook: Qasim Rashid