My uncle passed away in Pakistan last week. But because of serious threats for my criticism of religious extremism in my motherland, I was unable to travel back for his funeral. For fellow Americans, I am a Muslim, a physician and a human rights activist. But to the State of Pakistan - and the mainstream Sunni clergy - I am an infidel for not conforming to the orthodoxy.
Like white supremacy, Sunni supremacy is a real phenomenon in parts of the 'Muslim world,' and is equally deadly, if not more. Other Islamic sects - like the Shi'ite and Ahmadi Muslims - often face marginalization and outright persecution under Sunni regimes. In Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims were declared non-Muslim by the State in 1974. A decade later, specific anti-Ahmadi laws were put in place to criminalize the religious profession of Ahmadi Muslims. Ahmadis are jailed for reading the Quran, identifying as a Muslim, saying the Islamic call to prayer (Adhan), referring to their place of worship as a Mosque etc. Thousands of Ahmadi Muslims - including my uncle who passed away last week - have spent significant parts of their lives in prison cells merely for their faith. And millions more continue to be prisoners of conscience to this day.
As I explained on a recent FOX News panel on the #RefugeeBan, it is this religious extremism that forced me to seek refuge in America.
Disturbingly, this anti-Ahmadi hate and violence has also found its way to the West. Last year, "Kill Ahmadis" fliers were distributed across universities and markets in the U.K. One Ahmadi Muslim was subsequently murdered in cold blood and the killer hailed a hero by extremist clerics in Pakistan.
Many Sunni clerics and activists in the United States also harbor deep prejudice against members of minority Muslim communities. Televangelist Nouman Ali Khan, preacher Yasir Qadhi, and the renowned Sheikh Hamza Yusuf are few of many prominent Muslims who have used derogatory language for Ahmadi Muslims, referring to them as Kafirs (infidels), or as a dangerous cancer within the Muslim community. In fact, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf's official website has a full article dedicated to Ahmadi Muslims, labelling the Islamic sect a seditious cancer and its members infidels.
Many more Sunni Imams like Imam Dawud Walid (Executive Director, CAIR-MI), Imam Omar Suleiman, Imam Khalid Latif, Imam Suhaib Webb, etc, preachers such as Muhammad Sattaur, Faraz Rabbani, etc, activists including Hassan Shibly (CAIR Florida), Imraan Siddiqui (CAIR-AZ), Hussam Ayloush (CAIR-LA) etc, adamantly refuse to publicly identify me as a fellow Muslim. This refusal to identify another self-identifyng Muslim as part of the Muslim community is known as Takfir in Islamic terminology. Sadly, it is this anathematization and exclusion that is at the root of sectarianism and religious extremism across parts of the 'Muslim world.'
Unlike these clerics, Islamophobes on the far-right don't discriminate. They consider ALL Muslims - without distinction of sect or denomination - a cancer within America.
The American Muslim community is certainly not a homogenous group. This begs the question. Who speaks for ALL American Muslims? Well, we can certainly identify those who do NOT. Any Muslim who looks down upon the richness and diversity within the Muslim community with disgust, and has no respect for pluralism within the American Muslim Community certainly does NOT speak for us. Any Imam who engages in Takfir does not speak for us American Muslims either. Any activist or leader who is unwilling to identify Ahmadis and Shias as fellow Muslims certainly does NOT speak for the American Muslim community.
And it is very important for the media, civil rights groups and the American people to understand this. Because calling on Muslims who do not value pluralism within their own communities to make the case for pluralism on behalf of the Muslim community is offensive and wrong. It insults the millions of Muslims whom such activists exclude from their activism. Imagine the injustice if a Protestant activist in Pakistan who does not identify catholics as Christian, be elevated by the Pakistani media as the voice of Christians in that country.
The American Muslim community as a whole is quite progressive, tolerant and inclusive. There are numerous Muslim activists who embrace pluralism and speak up for all Muslim Americans without any distinction whatsoever. Here are a few:
Rep. Keith Ellison (who has always led by example), Dr. Bilal Rana, Khaled Beydoun, Dean A Obeidallah (did a radio segment on this topic), Qasim Rashid, Farahnaz Ispahani, Muhammed A. Chaudhry, Dr. Amina Wadud, Dr. Faheem Younus, Abdullah T. Antepli, Harris Zafar, Nusrat Qadir Chaudhry, Mehdi Hasan, Salaam Bhatti, Wajahat Ali, Dalia Mogahed, Zeshan Zafar, Raza Rumi, Rabia Chaudhry, Nadiya Al-Noor, Iyad El-Baghdadi, Amjad Mahmood Khan, Hind Makki, Beena Sarwar, Robert Salaam, Professor Ali Asani (Harvard), Hina Tai, Loon Watchers, Heba Macksoud, John Robbins (CAIR-MA), Raquel Saraswati, Kanwal Haq, Manal Omar, Dilshad D. Ali, Asma T. Uddin, Haris Tarin (MPAC), Tayyab Rashid, Parvez Ahmad, Mike Ghouse, Muqtedar Khan, Abed Ayoub, Jennah Adam, Richard Reno, Ani Zonneveld, etc.
They might disagree on issues, sometimes vehemently, but when these activists use the term “Muslim,” they universally include every self-identifying Muslim, and see them all as brothers and sisters in the Islamic tradition.
So what about other prominent Muslim voices? Where does renowned activist Linda Sarsour, or CAIR National Director Nihad Awad, or Duke professor Omid Safi stand on this issue? I have reached out to these and other Muslim leaders repeatedly about their stance on pluralism (and the ongoing apartheid of Ahmadi Muslims under many ‘Sunni’ regimes) with complete silence on their part. Ironically, Linda Sarsour considers such silence proof of complicity, and those who chose such silence as an active part of the problem.
So are these ‘celebrity Muslims’ fine identifying my deceased uncle as a Muslim? Do they also have me in mind when they protest the #MuslimBan? Will they be ok inviting me to a panel of Muslim activists at their Mosque? Can they use the phrase "Ahmadi Muslim" in the same breath? This will remain the litmus test to determine whether these activists legitimately speak for ALL American Muslims, or only for those they consider Muslim enough to represent.
In these times when Muslims are calling on fellow Americans to embrace pluralism, inclusivity and tolerance more than ever; when we are having to fight bigotry and hate more than we have ever encountered before in America, the Muslim community needs to promote leaders who exemplify these values of pluralism and inclusivity within their own communities. It is only such pluralists, and not the Takfiris, who speak for us American Muslims.