Total Pageviews

Friday, March 15, 2013

PEACE STARTS WITH JUSTICE AND RESPECT


          Achieving peace with God and with the world’s inhabitants is the two-fold purpose of the religion of Islam and the central focus of the Quran. It is thus no surprise that aspects of life and human nature which seek to destroy or hinder peace are subjects of frequent admonition in the Quran and Hadith (sayings) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
          One such verse in the Quran, if put into practice by Muslims, would lay the foundation for and ensure peace among Muslims, and between Muslims and all others. In chapter 16 (Surah al-Nahl), verse 91, we read:

                   Verily, Allah [God] enjoins justice, and the doing                                                
                   of good to others; and giving charity to strangers                                                 
                   like they were kindred; and forbids indecency and                                                
                   manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. . .

          On an individual level, one can see how living by these basic commandments would prevent animosity, immorality, evil done openly by others (manifest evil) and evil done to others (wrongful transgression) either openly or secretly. Obeying just this one verse in the Quran would promote peace, mercy and justice among members of a family and between all people in general. By striving to be just to all and doing good to others (regardless of their status relative to you) mutual respect and goodwill would naturally flourish between people on a grassroots level with the ease and healing power of a smile.
          If put into practice on a national level, a government that tried sincerely to act with justice towards its citizens and sought the best for all members of society would ultimately do the most good for the most people. And if nations treated other nations with respect, graciousness and true justice without ulterior motives or ill intent, there would be peace between nations.
          Of course, in the real world, it is virtually impossible to find such examples of altruism and respect between nations because it rarely exists between people, but that does not invalidate the truth of the principle because the principle comes from God and God’s principles are always just. In every case where God gives us a commandment, it is for our betterment and it is achievable. The responsibility for that achievement rests with us, not God.
          With the Holy Quran, God has given us the final, complete code of Laws to live by and be successful in every circumstance and situation, but He does not force us to live by that code. He tells us clearly the negative consequences for failing to do so and leaves the choice up to us. Our ultimate success or failure in this life -- and in the next -- always resides squarely in our own hands.
          With the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him), God has given us a complete and perfect example to live by. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was the embodiment of the Holy Quran, and his life and sayings have been preserved unlike that of any other prophet. Literally tens of thousands of Hadith (traditions or sayings) of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) have been recorded which present not only the teachings of the Quran but various interpretations of them to deal with different situations and changing needs. And where conflict may arise over the validity of a particular Hadith, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) has provided an easy remedy: he proclaimed that any saying attributed to him that goes against the teachings of the Quran or his Sunnah (example) is not from him.  
          Here are two of his sayings that corroborate 16:91 in the Quran: the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said, “A true believer is one who shows respect for his elders and kindness to his young ones.” The Holy Prophet (pbuh) also once said, “When dignitaries from other countries come to visit you, give them all respect and treat them with kindness and good hospitality.”
             Again, simple commandments that create lasting goodwill and respect, and ensure justice and tranquility if applied as directed. This is why peace starts with justice and respect and why its absence so easily creates discord and disrespect. Let us strive to embody the truths of these sayings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and the teachings of the Holy Quran so that peace and justice can be realities and not just wishful thinking.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
[ Ghosted with Imam Shamshad on Friday, March 15th, 2013; appeared on AhmadiyyaTimes.com March 16th at this link: http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2013/03/peace-starts-with-justice-and-respect.html ]


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

WHO ARE THE REAL BLASPHEMERS IN PAKISTAN?


          The scene has been repeated so often in Pakistan in the last several years that the word “shocking” is no longer applicable because it’s no longer shocking, just sadly, tragically predictable. As for the perpetrators, the only thing that changes is the name of the so-called Muslim extremist group who proudly takes responsibility for the latest suicide bombing, target killing or mob attack. As for the victims, that category rotates through a familiar list: Shia Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus.
          This time around, on Saturday, March 9th, an angry mob of 3,000 so-called Muslims affiliated with the Taliban attacked Joseph Colony, a Christian enclave in the industrial section of Lahore. Fueled by charges of blasphemy against a Christian who lived in the Colony, the mob proceeded to loot the houses while the police looked on and did nothing. The police were equally uninspired to uphold the rule of law and safeguard people and property when the lawless mob set fire to an estimated 180 Christian homes and two churches. (A few days later though, elsewhere in Lahore, the police regained enough of their sense of civic duty to wade in with batons, tear gas and riot gear to disburse a vocal crowd of demonstrators – all Christians – protesting the blatant injustice and lack of police protection only days earlier in the attack at Joseph Colony. If the protestors had been wielding torches, I’m sure the police would’ve had the fire department at the ready.)
          So how did this latest spasm of violence and inhumanity erupt, costing the homes and worship places of hundreds of innocent Christians? It is reported by a French news site that the charge of blasphemy against a Christian was made by his Muslim friend -- while both of them were drunk! Getting intoxicated, it seems, was a shared pastime they engaged in on a daily basis after work. It isn’t difficult to imagine how, while drunk, the animosity of the Christian could be easily roused by the frequent maltreatment and disrespect of him and his fellow Christians at the hands of so-called Muslims. And it is just as easy to imagine how the drunken Muslim would naturally take offense at any unkind remarks directed at his religion or the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
          And as everyone in Pakistan knows – especially Christians and Ahmadi Muslims – saying or doing anything that could be seen as an insult against Islam or the Holy Quran or the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is just not something you do without worrying about the often deadly consequences. In fact, those consequences are so well known that you would be crazy to even consider blaspheming Islam, the Quran or Muhammad (pbuh) -- knowing how quickly a mob of angry and impassioned Muslims would show up on your doorstep to teach you a quick and violent lesson in Islamic tolerance of perceived blasphemy in Pakistan.
            The beginning of this state of intolerance began in 1974, when the Pakistan Constitution was amended to appease the mullahs for their political support by declaring Ahmadi Muslims apostates from Islam, Ahmadis have been the victims of discrimination in political advancement, voting, housing, education and business. And starting in the mid-1980s with draconian enforcement and re-interpretation of 19th-century British India-enacted Blasphemy Laws, Ahmadi Muslims and other religious minorities (including Christians) have suffered intense persecution, boycotts and even targeted killings and mass murder at the hands of extremist Sunni Muslims.
          These amended Blasphemy Laws initially criminalized the public practice or expression of Islam by Ahmadi Muslims as a way to keep them isolated from the Sunni mainstream, but later, the Blasphemy Laws were directed against anyone not classified as the “right kind of Muslim” such as Shias, or against members of minority religions, such as Christians, Sikhs and Hindus.
          Now days, radical Mullahs and their congregations routinely threaten violence against religious minorities and political insurrection against the ruling party if they are opposed or brought to justice. It is then no surprise when government leaders and politicians either ally themselves openly with the terrorists or don’t confront or oppose them, choosing silence instead. And for those brave souls like Punjab governor Salman Taseer and his minister of minorities Shabaz Bhatti who do stand up and speak out against the terrorists, they end their careers in a hail of gunfire.
          Concerning the terrible price Pakistan will pay for doing nothing to repeal the Blasphemy Laws, Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, has summed up the current situation quite succinctly: “The ugly fact is that the blasphemy law is an enabler of mob violence against vulnerable groups. As long as such laws remain on the books and the authorities remain unwilling or unable to rein in mobs playing judge, jury and executioner, Pakistan will remain plagued by abuse in the name of religion.”
          It is just this abuse in the name of religion which is at the heart of the survival of Pakistan as a nation. As the Christians of Joseph Colony can attest, it is easy to see by their actions who are the ones truly guilty of bringing dishonor to the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the religion of Islam. The true blasphemers continue to be those Muslims who burn down the homes and churches of Christians, and who force Christian and Hindu girls to convert to Islam and marry Muslims, and who become suicide bombers and violent Jihadists, killing innocent Shia and Ahmadi Muslims because they are not following the Islam of the suicide bombers and violent Jihadists.
          Today the Rule of Law and the hope for justice do not exist in Pakistan, nor in Indonesia, nor in Saudi Arabia, nor in any professed Muslim country where the freedom to practice one’s faith peacefully and in peace is only a fleeting dream held hostage to hatred, intolerance and fanaticism. These are not the qualities or directives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), nor are they what define the true teachings of Islam. As long as there are Muslims who think and act like the so-called Muslims who looted and burned the homes of Christians in Lahore, then the only real blasphemers of Islam will be those kinds of Muslims.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
[ with Imam Shamshad. Ran in print in the Sept./Oct. 2013 issue of Liberty Magazine (with a slight rewrite of the last sentence) on pages 38-39; online link here: http://www.libertymagazine.org/article/a-lawless-law. Also appeared on AhmadiyyaTimes.com March 14th, 2013 at this link: http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2013/03/who-are-real-blasphemers-in-pakistan.html ]

Saturday, March 2, 2013

PEACE AND SALVATION THROUGH THE MESSIAH


          Peace and salvation: two things desperately sought by billions of human beings amidst a depressing reality of economic, social and political upheavals and what seems an unending avalanche of everything except peace and salvation. And yet, in a tantalizing divine promise of hope and redemption, all the world religions have prophesized -- and their followers fervently await -- the coming in the latter days of a divinely-appointed messiah to reform the people and usher in an era of peace and spiritual salvation.
          The worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that the One and only God of the universe does not lie, nor does He promise something He does not deliver. It is for this reason that we believe in the prophecies of Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and other great spiritual teachers (peace be upon them all) who have all proclaimed the coming of just such a grand, unifying divine reformer and savior. The only question is: who is this person and has he come yet?
          Christians and most every other religious group would answer: “He is: [ insert name of expected messiah / savior / prophet here ] and he will come. We just don’t know exactly when.” Fair enough. Waiting is part of the prophecy deal. But what if the waiting is over and has been over for nearly 125 years? What if the expected spiritual reformer and savior already came into the world like a thief in the night and most people failed to notice?
          In this great reformer’s advent, God’s promise of the Second Coming of Jesus (and all other Second Comings expected in other religions) was fulfilled. Equally fulfilled was the promise to all Muslims of the coming of the Imam Mahdi, or guided spiritual leader. For Islam’s 1-billion Sunni Muslims, the Mahdi’s advent was eagerly anticipated at the beginning of the Islamic 14th century – a time which aligned perfectly with the expected Second Coming of Christ within the last quarter of the 19th century. The good news for both religions is that their expectations of the coming of the Messiah and Mahdi were fully manifested in one person: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian, India.
          In one of his more than 80 books in defense of Islam, Ahmad stated: “I am the Light of this dark age. He who follows me will be saved from the pit which is prepared for him by Satan.” Furthermore, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad stated that God would show countless divine signs in favor and support of his truth and his claims, and that these signs and the passage of time would clearly set forth the true reformer from God.
          A singular objection to the claims of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is raised by both Christians and non-Ahmadi Muslims, because both believe Jesus is physically alive in heaven and will return in the latter days, albeit with different and opposing missions, depending on which religion you consult. For this reason, it is important to address this objection in detail. This involves understanding who Jesus was according to Christianity and Islam, and what are the general beliefs in both religions regarding the crucifixion of Jesus. It should be remembered that the Ahmadiyya Islam interpretation is significantly different from the standard Sunni or Shia Islam view. The Ahmadiyya view will be clarified in detail later. In general, though, the following perspective is true for all denominations of Islam.
          Christianity and Islam share an acknowledgment and respect for Jesus and his mother Mary, differing only in the fact that Islam -- while accepting Christ as the messiah for the Israelites -- does not accord Jesus any form of Trinitarian divinity or godhood or physical sonship as do most forms of Christianity.
          In that respect, Islam and Judaism are on the same page when it comes to their views on the nature and Oneness of God. Both Islam and Judaism define God as being indivisible, purely singular and completely non-corporeal, having no manifestations as God in the flesh in either human or animal form. As these were pagan religious beliefs, it is easy to see why they are universally condemned in Judaic and Islamic scriptures, and why such pagan beliefs are never advocated by Jesus himself.
          As Jesus is a holy figure common to and revered in both Islam and Christianity, let me explain the Ahmadiyya Muslim take on Jesus (pbuh). We believe Jesus was the Israelite messiah sent by God 2,000 years ago to “gather the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel” which he states in Matthew 15:24 to be his only mission.
          To Ahmadi Muslims, it is unthinkable that he could fail in that mission -- that God would not deliver him from his enemies but instead let him die on the cross as an accursed imposter and proven liar in his claim of being God’s messiah for the Israelites. This is precisely why his opponents wanted him crucified in the first place – to prove he was a false messiah! It is the main reason the Jews did not accept him. They even tell him when he is on the cross that if he comes down off it, they will believe in him. It is only later interpretations of the event by Paul and Pauline Christians that transforms the purported death of Jesus on the cross from being a sign of his failure to the sole reason for his advent!
          There are two major differences between the standard Muslim and Christian beliefs about Jesus: the first is that non-Ahmadi Muslims believe Jesus was never put on the cross at all – thereby rescuing him from an “accursed” death -- but was instead miraculously raised bodily alive by God to heaven the night before the crucifixion. Another person (usually said to be Judas) was then made to resemble Jesus and it was this other person who was mistakenly arrested by the Romans, tried before Pontius Pilate (without once complaining that they had the wrong man) and then crucified instead of Jesus.
          The other major difference between the Christian and Muslim versions of Jesus pertains to what he will be doing once he comes back down in his same physical body after 2,000 years. To the Christians, Jesus will be coming back to gather the faithful who believe in him and to “judge the quick and the dead” – presumably resulting in the dispensing of divine punishment to anyone who doesn’t believe in him as their Savior and as God incarnate and/or the literal Son of God. If you take Luke 19:27 at face value, Jesus commands that all those who will not have him reign over them as their king be brought before him and put to death at his feet.
          The Muslim version isn’t much different except that Jesus will be a Muslim when he comes back – even though the Quran defines him as an Israelite messiah under the Mosaic Law – and the victims of his bloody wrath will be the Christians, the Jews and presumably everyone else who won’t convert to Islam at the point of a sword or the barrel of an AK-47.
          The Ahmadiyya Muslim belief is that God sends prophets and messiahs as physicians for the soul, commissioned to cure the spiritually sick. All those who thirst for God’s truth and healing are drawn to such divinely-guided fountains of reformation and redemption, and are thus rewarded with a new spiritual rebirth. This has always been the way God works in the world to save mankind.
          For this reason, Ahmadi Muslims do not believe that Jesus died an accursed death on the cross, nor do we believe that Jesus is God or the literal son of God or that he was raised bodily alive to heaven. Jesus is certainly in heaven, but his body is here on earth. In fact, there is ample evidence to support the contention that Jesus is buried in a Jewish-style sepulcher in Srinagar, Kashmir, where he was finally laid to rest after spending decades working to fulfill his mission to gather and preach to the Lost Sheep of Israel. (To learn more, go online to: www.TombofJesus.com. Also, go to YouTube and type in “10 Lost Tribes” and “Jesus in India” to see 75,000 entries combined on these two subjects alone. And watch the BBC video “Did Jesus Die?”)
          As much as it may pain most Christians and Muslims, no one will ever see Jesus physically return to earth in his Second Coming for exactly the same reason the prophet Elijah never physically returned to earth in his Second Coming. Jesus made it clear to all who would listen that second advents occur metaphorically through other people, explaining that John the Baptist was the spiritual return of Elijah.
          In exactly the same way, the spiritual return of Jesus has already happened through Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on March 23rd, 1889. He came as a thief in the night, yet his advent started a movement of spiritual reform and regeneration within Islam that has reached over 200 countries and attracted tens of millions of devoted followers from all walks of life and virtually every religious and philosophical persuasion. The unifying ideas of Islam are simple: God is purely One, there is none worthy of worship except God, Muhammad is the messenger of God, and the Holy Quran is God’s final and complete guidance for all mankind.
          Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi, came to reignite these truths in the hearts of Muslims and all mankind. These truths are epitomized in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community motto, which all sincere members strive to embody: “Love for All – Hatred for None.”
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[ Ghosted with Imam Shamshad for Asia Today monthly & other weekly newspapers.
  Appeared online March 5th, 2013 on AhmadiyyaTimes.com at this link:   
  http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2013/03/peace-and-salvation-through-messiah.html and ran in print on Saturday, March 16th in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin as a guest column in the "From the Pulpit" section, Religion page, in a slightly edited form under the title: "Good news! The Messiah has come"