What I did take from Douglas Murray’s latest article is that some elements of the liberal media do wish to present Muslims in a positive light, almost as if to try to balance the constant stream of negative news regarding terrorism committed by self-identified Muslims.
I believe that the underlying intentions to do so by the media are coming from a good place. As currently executed however, these efforts create a misleading picture about what is actually going on.
This is what I see Douglas Murray pushing back on. Or rather, what Douglas Murray is bringing our attention to.
By far and away, among Muslims, the group that is most visibly, unequivocally secular and peaceful, are the Ahmadiyya Muslims. I am a former Muslim from this denomination. I can disagree with aspects of their theology, and still admire their vocal commitment to promoting peace.
So where’s the problem?
Well, to suggest that because Ahmadiyya Muslims reject violence and believe in secular governance, that most other Muslims must really believe the same, is what is misleading. To suggest that because 2% of the Muslim population makes us feel good—so much so that we don’t actually need to be concerned with what much of the other 98% of Muslims believe—is what is disturbingly naive.
Sure, there are mainstream Muslims who hold views similar to Ahmadi Muslims in regards to non-violence, secularism and loyalty to country. They also come out to demonstrations and vigils post-terror attacks in a sincere show of solidarity with their fellow citizens.
However, no single Muslim group that I have seen—correct me if you disagree—does this as part of an organized religious platform that is as visible and vocal on these topics, as are Ahmadiyya Muslims.
Most independent minded mainstream Muslims who hold similarly progressive views have learnt them through their families, through self study and through personal introspection and growth. It is not because these progressive views are woven into the fabric of the teachings on offer at the local mainstream Muslim mosque.
Contrast this experience with those of Ahmadiyya Muslims who emphasize these values in their religious teachings and in their religious pledges.
Polls have been conducted on attitudes of Muslims living in the West. These polls touch on topics like death for apostasy, blasphemy, punishing homosexuality, etc. Given the polling results, it is understandable that a nation’s people are on edge when attacks carried out in the name of Islam comport with the polling data on Muslim attitudes. For example, consider the Clarion Project’s presentation of data from Pew Research polling. These are very disturbing results.
As a former Ahmadi Muslim myself, I have seen these attitudes first hand in interacting with other Muslims. I saw this as early as high school.
Here’s just one story. A devout Muslim student (not an Ahmadi Muslim) from my math class (arguably the most brilliant student in our class) had told me very seriously that if he had possessed a gun (and without having to worry about consequences of getting caught), he would happily shoot a Jewish person. He believed this to be a religious obligation; something commendable.
Troubling attitudes regarding jihad, apostasy and towards Jews are common among a minority of Muslims in the West. A non-trivial minority.
Most non-Muslims are not versed with the denominations within Islam, save for broad subdivisions like “sunni” and “shia”. For most, seeing Ahmadiyya Muslims organize and stand for peace gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling that Muslim attitudes aren’t so antagonistic to western values as they might have otherwise concluded.
What they don’t realize is that the most vocal demonstrations of peaceful sentiments by Muslims are those which consistently come from a group that represents less than 2% of the Muslim population and who is shunned by the majority of the other 98%.
Ahmadiyya Muslims actively proselytize and so they want to convey their view (as is their right) that “true Islam” is actually very peaceful. Therefore, when they defend the word “Islam”, they aren’t speaking about what the other 98% of Muslims actually believe. Rather, Ahmadis are projecting their 2% interpretations onto 100% of what they would like you and I to believe about what Islam “really” means.
Ahmadi Muslims don’t want you to think about what a majority of the other 98% of Muslims actually believe. They want you to set that aside in favor of a theoretical “wouldn’t it be great” exercise into what they want everyone to believe about Islam based on their demonstration of how peaceful it could be if every Muslim were to be an Ahmadi Muslim.
This nuanced distinction reveals an unpleasant truth when you put it all in context. This obfuscation of reality versus the aspirations of a religious minority only results in creating a misleading and false sense of security for citizens of the West.
While the admirable views presented by Ahmadiyya Muslims are an accurate representation of Ahmadiyya Muslim beliefs (2% of Muslims), it becomes distortion if you try to map that on to the beliefs and attitudes of Muslims in general (i.e. most of the remaining 98% of Muslims).
This does not mean that Ahmadiyya Muslims are part of some conspiracy with the media. They have the right to view their minority interpretation of Islam as the ‘True Islam’. Just like every other religion and denomination has that right to believe that they are the ‘one true path’ to God.
Non-Muslims in the West however, are not so concerned with thought-experiments about what is “true Islam” and what is “fake Islam”.
We are concerned with realities on the ground today. We are concerned with the interpretations and attitudes that non-trivial segments of the Muslim population hold today. No amount of “that is not true Islam” from Ahmadiyya Muslims will change that fact in the present moment. If enough Muslims in the world attribute unpleasant ideas to “Islam”, then it is that unpleasant “Islam” that we are concerned with. It is those unpleasant interpretations that we have to deal with.
It’s great that western media shows vigils held by Ahmadiyya Muslims. Like Douglas Murray however, I too believe that this reporting needs to tell us the whole story. The reporting needs to put things in context.
Tell us that the noble vigil organized by the Ahmadis represents 2% of Muslims, and that these same minority Muslims are persecuted for their beliefs across the Muslim world. Give viewers and readers the context about how these same Muslims who hold these admirable vigils are those who are believed by the majority of other Muslims to be non-Muslim. That’s the bigger picture.
I believe that Douglas Murray is right to call out how the media doesn’t often tell the full story when their agenda is to publish a good news story about Muslims.
I do believe that Ahmadiyya Muslims don’t want the media to make these distinctions because Ahmadis want to promote their positive message without appearing hostile to other Muslims. They want other Muslims to see Ahmadis as torch bearers for presenting Islam in a positive light.
Historically speaking, most converts to Ahmadiyya Islam came from mainstream Islam. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community knows that it has to strike a delicate balance with showing their own Community in a positive light, whilst minimizing the criticism that mainstream Islam receives. This is the best way for them to gain the hearts, minds and allegiance of mainstream Muslims as converts to Ahmadiyya Islam.
Revisiting the Belittling Claim
Recall this earlier part of the conversation mentioned at the outset:
— Usman Khan (@ibne_khalid)
It should now be clear to readers that Douglas Murray is not belittling the efforts of Ahmadiyya Muslims. As it presents itself in the world we actually live in, Ahmadiyya Islam has roughly 2% “to do with Islam”. Again, Douglas nor I nor anyone else should need to weigh in on opinions of what is theologically “true Islam” or “pure Islam” or “real Islam”.
When most of us talk about the word “Islam” today, we are not referring to subjective opinions of whether Islam really means beautiful things or horrible things or some mixture of the two. We are referring to Islam as the belief system referenced by its self-identified adherents as it presents itself on the global scene today.
Those who feel that Douglas Murray is belittling Ahmadiyya Muslim beliefs are in my humble opinion, missing the mark.
Ahmadi Muslims, in trying to defend Islam hear every reference to the word “Islam” as if the discussion is about Islam’s theoretically “pure” meaning as understood by themselves, the 2%.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are most often using the word “Islam” today to refer to how it is practiced and expressed by Muslims the world over — and not just Ahmadi Muslims. When we refer to “Islam” as a theology, we’ll look at the mainstream sources considered authentic and important by a significant portion of the Muslim world — especially those who are acting out on the global stage.
In this way, we are often talking past one another with regards to which “Islam” we are talking about. Ahmadi Muslim spokesmen on interviews tend not to want to acknowledge how they differ from other interpretations of Islam. This difference includes how the Ahmadis reject unflattering hadith and the unflattering portions of the biographies of Muhammad from the earliest source material that we have. This is source material accepted by the mainstream and has been for hundreds of years.
Ahmadi Muslim spokesmen will acknowledge however, that they are Muslims who because of their Promised Messiah figure from the late 19th century and his chain of successors — believe in peace, secular governance, and the rejection of blasphemy laws.
For a different perspective, you can read Lutf Islam’s piece, Thanks but no thanks Mr. Murray. Lutf is an Ahmadi Muslim who rejects Douglas Murray’s praise for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community because he sees it as a conspiracy to make Islam/Muslims (in general) look bad. You can read his article and of course, decide for yourself.