While serving Thanksgiving meals as a volunteer at a local community center, a fellow volunteer remarked “So you are doing the ‘American’ thing?’ ” Taken aback, I politely elaborated on how being American is perfectly congruent to being a Muslim. It was not a clichéd reply.
My organization, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, is engaged in dozens of community-building initiatives on a local level. Serving mankind regardless of faith or creed is fundamental to our purpose. When we serve in our local community, it is merely an extenstion of our civic engagements on the national and international level.
The fact that few Americans personally know American Muslims creates an information gap that must be filled. In the aftermath of the San Bernardino tragedy, the urgency is palpable, as some have been hasty to generalize and deem 1.7 billion Muslims as a monolith bloc. The reality is anything but that. Had there been awareness about Muslims, it would have crystallized that majority of American Muslims condemn the tragedy unapologetically and categorically.
There is no justification whatsoever when a Muslim, aided by his wife, unleashes the worst form of terror on his co-workers at a holiday party. All Americans, including renowned security experts are bewildered by this new, emerging and rare form of domestic terrorism — disaffected Muslims venting out of a misconstrued ideology, albeit aided by immensely lax gun laws.
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As a Muslim American of Pakistani descent, this tragedy has hit home, and it has hit hard. It is a profound heartache to see youth from my country of origin disregard every semblance of humanity and unleash hate at unarmed, innocent people. The fact that the perpetrators left their 6-month-old daughter points to their disturbed mindset.
As a parent of three Muslim-American children, the challenge of keeping them engaged and instilling in them the best of the values that my faith Islam espouses and integrating their American identity is a daunting one. The violent leanings of some disaffected Muslim youth that renders them vulnerable to the recruits of the Islamic State should be unnerving.
None of this perturbs me, except the recent brushes with Islamophobia whereby vile abuses were hurled at my family, notwithstanding the presence of our children. However, after the initial shock had faded, we were able to rationalize the absurdity and distill the incidents as waves of hate against Muslims, which are stoked by fear-mongering politicians like Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, my family is fortunate. We are a part of a spiritual community that has vouchsafed pluralism and inclusiveness for more than a century. As the oldest Muslim organization in the United States — established in 1920 — our mosques are havens of peace. Our youth are engaged in community service and committed to interfaith dialogue. They hold dear values that have been manifested through grassroots campaigns like Muslims for Peace, Muslims for Life and Muslims for Loyalty.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has launched the StopTheCrISIS campaign to tamp out the root cause of youth radicalization. It is led by Muslim youth and empowers them to build grass-roots efforts to engage their peers and keeps them at bay from the radicals. Our newest campaign, True Islam, will be demonstrating how Islam is part of the solution to achieve world peace. It will highlight the core principles of Islam that can help resolve personal, social, economical and political conflicts through upholding justice to achieve peace, which appears to be a fleeting value.
His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has offered concrete suggestions to lawmakers in Europe and also addressed members of the U.S. Congress in 2014 where he shared this recipe for peace.
It is this sagacious, spiritual leadership that offers the most effective and lethal counter-narrative to the menace of ISIS. It is a huge undertaking that requires sincerity of purpose, long-term commitment and willingness to change the status quo. To prevent further tragedies, it is the only way forward.
Mansura Bashir Minhas is a community activist. She resides in Fort Lauderdale.