This October, anti-Islam extremists are planning roughly twenty anti-Muslim protests in front of mosques in America. Some of those protests will be armed with loaded and deadly weapons. Those supporting these armed protests claim they do so in the name of "free speech" to maintain justice and the Constitution.
I've seen this excuse before.
As an Ahmadi Muslim, my family, friends, and community have experienced this hate for decades in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. The people protesting our mosques, homes, and businesses in those countries are extremist Muslim clerics and their ignorant masses who blindly follow. As a result of these protests, Ahmadi Muslims have been boycotted, hacked to death, lynched, tortured, blown up, executed, and our homes, mosques, and businesses torched to the ground. And the irony of it all is that the protesting clerics claim they do so in the name of free speech and to "maintain constitutional order."
Such a claim is a lie in those countries, and it is a lie in our country, America.
So when I say I know how my fellow American Muslims feel, I say so because I have experienced this terrorism first hand. These armed protests in America, despite their claims of free speech and law, are quintessentially terrorism and bigotry in all its disgusting display.
But just as such clerics and their followers do not represent all Muslims, these protest leaders and protestors do not represent all Americans. Ahmadi Muslims have never responded with violence to the aforementioned anti-Ahmadi Muslim protests, and as a result our message of peace and true Islam grows rapidly. This is the example of peace that Prophet Muhammad set forth. Based on this historical lesson, I implore my fellow American Muslims to likewise not respond with violence to anti-Muslim protests. And while we shall never respond with violence, we need not respond with silence either. Prophet Muhammad raised his voice against extremism and for the downtrodden and oppressed. He won the hearts and that was his greatest success.
With this context, here are five important ways my fellow American Muslims can, and should, respond to these anti-Muslim protests in America:
1) Take action: Take action by staying alert and posting trained people at the mosque. Be prepared to call the authorities for help should the need arise. Hopefully no one will attack Muslims or the mosques. But, considering the level of spiraling gun violence in America, it would be naive to avoid taking every possible precaution to maintain awareness of what is happening around our mosques.
2) Stand United: It is long overdue that American Muslims rise above dogmatic and sectarian differences and unite with people of different sects and faiths on the principles of justice and equality. We must stop the childish infighting, takfir, and bickering. We must behave like adults and take advantage of the strength in unity that comes from loving all humanity for the sake of God and humanity. Despite our differences, we should have no difficulty agreeing on the simple principle that we exist to serve all humanity. That platform is our vehicle to move forward--together.
3) Win the Hearts: Use this opportunity to teach your children about the importance of serving all humanity. Though these people are threatening violence, know that they are our fellow human beings and we must treat them with dignity. As Imam Ali once advised, "People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity." Lead by example and express compassion for the protesters because they know not what they do. They are not evil, but severely misinformed. This is our chance to win the hearts and show them how Prophet Muhammad truly won the hearts of the Meccans who initially hated him because of his faith.
4) Speak Up: Let your voice be heard. Write your narrative and tell your story. Every mosque that has a protest should write letters to the editor, opinion editorials, and host open houses for all to come and learn about Islam in a safe and open dialogue. Let the world hear your pluralistic and compassionate words even in the face of intolerance. Do not remain silenced. Write your narrative, or risk that someone with ulterior motives will write it for you.
5) Pray: Finally and most importantly, pray to God for guidance and protection. Ultimately it is only through God's grace that any of us are safe. Prophet Muhammad's greatest and indeed only weapon was prayer. It is through prayer that the help of God comes. As a mentor once told me in my childhood, leave your crying for your prayers.
America is a wonderful country, and Americans of all stripes and backgrounds are wonderful people. These protests are driven by fear and misinformation. This is our golden opportunity to melt that fear with compassion, and counter that misinformation with education.
United under the flag of Islam, i.e. the flag of love, we can use these protests as a platform to serve all humanity and truly win the hearts.