One of the truths of human existence is religious conflict. Those conflicts exist not just between different religions but within religions. Christians understand this through experience. There is great diversity within the Christian faith and with that diversity has come disagreement and plenty of violence. The war in Iraq illustrated, however, that American Christians (and Americans in general) had little understanding of the diversity within Islam. Policy makers struggled to explain the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims and why those differences sparked sectarian violence after the fall of Saddam Hussein. A safe guess to make would be that most Americans have historically viewed Islam as a monolithic faith. Yet the differences extend beyond just Sunni and Shia and include, among other smaller Islam communities, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Like Christianity, Islam is a religion divided among theological, cultural and political perspectives.
The experiences of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have in recent times captured my attention and even imagination. Ahmadi Muslims trace their history back to 1835 and the birth of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in India. This man would come to be known as the "metaphorical second coming of Jesus of Nazareth and the divine guide, whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad." Like other Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims believe in the five pillars of Islam. But this belief in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (and his descendents who have served as spiritual leaders for this worldwide community) have lead to their banishment from mainstream Islam. Within Pakistan, where the movement was headquartered after the Indian partition, Ahmadi Muslims have faced persecution and terrible violence. Human Rights Watch has chronicled much aggression directed at Ahmadi Muslims and notes that Pakistan's "Blasphemy Law" makes it permissible to put Ahmadi Muslims to death simply for claiming to be Muslim.
Christians, like Muslims, have employed violence for religious aims throughout history. All people of faith would be wise to recall the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction... The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. (From Strength to Love, 1963)
Before MLK was preaching his message of non-violence, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was preaching one of his own. He wrote that jihad could not legitimately be waged through violence and called for debates to be argued though the "jihad of the pen."
Today the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community works across the world for universal human rights and within each nation they exist there are efforts made to play constructive roles within the society. In the United States, for example, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (which claims to be the oldest Muslim community within the U.S.) launched a campaign called Muslims for Life this year to honor the victims of 9/11. The campaign encouraged Muslims and non-Muslims to donate blood to the American Red Cross as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approached. Their website notes:
With the guidance, directions, prayers and support of Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V, may Allah strengthen him with His Mighty Support, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA had launched its Muslims for Life Campaign on September 1, 2011 to honor the victims of 9/11 and to tell everyone that Islam is a life-giving faith that teaches that all life is sacred.
Alhamdulillah, God be praised, we were able to meet our goal. With the help of all our partners we were able to collect a lot more than the 10,000 pints we had hoped for! As of September 30, 2011, on the basis of 187 reports received from completed blood drives, a total of 11,036 pints of blood has been collected. Reports are still arriving. We hope to bring the Campaign to a close in October, God willing and present the full data then.
We all know stories of religious or ethnic communities expelled from their homeland and how many of those communities have sought over time to bring about some measure of revenge or retribution. There would be nothing unique about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community if after leaving behind Pakistan for a new headquarters in Great Britain their movement had turned violent. Nothing suggests that. Instead they have used their experiences and stories to draw attention to human suffering and to preach a message of peace and reconciliation consistent with their founding. Their quest for justice is not only for Muslims for but all people of faith -- and people of no faith, including atheists. In all this, a Christian pastor like myself can find much to admire.