Can Pakistan’s president house host its Ahmadi citizens on an Eid celebration?
There are over three million (1% of the United States population) Muslims living in America. Even though anti-Muslim animus is generally on the rise across the country, President Obama has increasingly stood up for the Muslim American community. He has passionately promoted pluralism and diversity in the United States and vouches for religious tolerance world over.
In his latest show of solidarity and outreach, the president held a White House reception to celebrate Eidul Fitr with Muslim American leaders and activists.
Muslims from all sects came together to celebrate one of Islam’s holiest days in one of the nation’s most significant landmarks. This was a feat of unity and pluralism that is rarely seen even within the Muslim community.
A Muslim woman opened the event with the recitation of the Holy Quran. When it was time for Asar prayer, another Muslim man – Mr Qasim Rashid said the Azaan (call to prayer) in the White House. Mr Rashid is a spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya Community USA. He is a human rights attorney and award-winning author of three books, including The Wrong Kind of Muslim. Under the viral video of him saying the Azaan, he wrote:
“In my adopted nation of America, I am a full citizen with full rights and full religious freedom. So much so that I can proclaim the Islamic call to prayer from the White House itself, and do so without fear. Instead, a special prayer room was provided for me to pray as I wish. I considered it a distinct honour and privilege that I could fully practice my faith as a Muslim in the very centre of our nation’s capital.”
In Pakistan, many from the right wing majority attribute anti-Muslim bigotry to the White House. There is no doubt that Islamophobia is on the rise in America. With Trump’s rise, it has sadly become more mainstream. His ignorant claims that over a quarter of Muslim Americans are pro-terrorist, that Muslims are not loyal to the country, and his bigoted suggestions that they be forced to wear special identification badges and banned from immigration have emboldened an extremist fringe. But despite all of this, the American state continues to provide complete religious liberty to its Muslim citizens and refuses to be a party to the hate fest.
Sadly, this is not the case back home in Pakistan where the state is an eager party to such religious bigotry by our own ‘Trumps’ (and we have no shortage of them). Under Pakistan’s notorious Ordinance XX, issued by General Zia in 1984, Pakistan severely restricts the religious liberties of its Ahmadi citizens. They can be jailed for three years for ‘posing as Muslim,’ a ‘crime’ that the law claims ‘hurts the sentiments of Pakistan’s Muslims’. Ahmadis cannot self-identify as Muslims. And hundreds of Ahmadis have been jailed for reciting the Kalima, reading the Holy Quran, saying the Salam, saying the Azaan, caught praying etc. Just recently, two elderly Ahmadis, one in his 80s, were jailed for printing a verse of the Holy Quran and selling a copy of it to another Ahmadi respectively.
I am an American Muslim myself. And in America, every Muslim is granted equal rights by the state, and every Muslim is an equal victim to Islamophobia. Muslim places of worship have equally been targeted and defiled in recent years. The difference in Pakistan is that instead of countering this phobia against a religious minority, the state is a willing party to it. Instead of condemning the calls for bans and special identifications, the state enforces this discrimination.
Can Pakistan’s president house, for example, host its Ahmadi citizens (alongside other Muslims) on an Eid celebration? Can Pakistan’s prime minister visit an Ahmadi place of worship in the country, let alone refer to it as a mosque? Can Pakistan’s political leadership stand up to the rampant anti-Ahmadi bigotry in society and publicly embrace Pakistan’s Ahmadi citizens?
What this White House Eid celebration should teach us is that the state must always celebrate diversity and pluralism and we can always agree to disagree on faith matters while standing up for the basic human dignity and freedoms of one another.
And to those on social media expressing anger at President Obama inviting Ahmadis alongside other Muslims, your counterparts in America are also angry he invited Muslims alongside people of other faiths. Look yourselves in the mirror and dye that orange hair.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.