SHAFAQNA – Armed with messages of peace and tolerance, leaders of the national and New Jersey Ahmadiyya Muslim Community denounced the radicalization of young Muslims during its “Stop the CrISIS” event at the Villa at Mountain Lakes on Wednesday.Islam is not a religion of terrorism,” said Imam Naseem Mahdi, vice president and missionary in charge of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. “Islam is a religion of peace, and even the word Islam means peace.”
Mahdi decried the destruction of mosques and other places of worship around the world, saying the Quran only permits the taking of arms to protect all houses of worship in the interest of “keeping the freedom of religion intact.” “This is how, unfortunately, the religion of Islam is being misinterpreted and, I would also say, exploited,” Mahdi said.
Morris County officials attended the event, where a culturally diverse mix of guests were served a buffet dinner, heard speeches from the organization leaders and viewed videos explaining the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community philosophy.“I think occasions like this are very important,” said Parsippany Police Chief Paul Philipps, a first responder to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center who has read the Quran “from cover to cover.”
“I know first-hand what international terrorism means,” said Philipps. “Islam is not fundamentally about hate, as you might believe from seeing these horrible images from the Middle East.”
Salaam Bhatti, deputy spokesperson of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, denounced the growing radicalization of young Muslims by ISIS and other violent terrorist groups.
“Humans have an innate ability to help each other,” said Bhatti. “When earthquakes happen, like we see in Nepal, people rally to raise funds to send supplies. When disasters happen, we have blood drives so we can give some of ourselves to help fellow humans. We are good people. And that is why we can’t stand when our fellow neighbors, our brothers, our sisters and our children, go and join these extremist groups.”
But the key to combating violent Islamic terrorists in the Middle East, according to Bhatti, does not lie in meeting violence with violence.
“We cannot solve extremism with military excesses, and certainly not disproportionate ones,” Bhatti said. “For a war-battered people, real revolutions begin in the hearts and minds. In the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, our very motto is love for all, hatred for none. In our over 120 years of existence, with over 160 million Ahmadiyya Muslims around the world in 206 countries, we have never been involved in terrorism, armed revolution or collective public protests or demonstrations.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic organization to believe that the long-awaited messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who more than a century ago declared that an aggressive “jihad by the sword” has no place in Islam.
Leaders also say the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic organization to endorse a separation of mosque and state, champion the empowerment and education of women and promote universal human rights and protections for religious and other minorities.
The community has New Jersey mosques in Clifton, Old Bridge and Willingboro, estimating its New Jersey enrollment at about 300 families in North Jersey and a Morris County presence of up to 25 families.
“Do not see it as us against them,” said Imam Azhar Haneef, vice president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, based in Wllingboro. “It’s just us, and it’s always been just us on this planet, and trying to figure out how we, as a human creation, a human family, are going to coexist peacefully on this planet and what we must do to recognize my role in this.”
Parsippany Mayor James Barberio served as a co-host of the event, which took place a short distance from his township’s borders in the Villa ballroom,
Barberio, who was praised by event organizers for recruiting other Morris County leaders to attend the event, said he recalled an early lesson he received from his parents that taught him “You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.”
“We reach out to all groups so they can learn about us, and we learn about them, and in that way, we learn how to work together,” said Morris County Sheriff Edward Rochford, who also attended.
The final speaker, Hazlet Committeewoman Sue Kiley, closed with a story about giving birth to a sick child that doctors did not expect to survive. The child did survive – a “miracle” that she attributes to talking to her child while still in the incubator. She offered that experience as evidence of the power of talking, and ended by asking everyone to join her in “singing a prayer,” which turned out to be the song “God Bless America.”
Both organizers and guests said this gathering was a good start to building that peaceful coexistence. The New Jersey Ahmadiyya Muslim Community plans to continue the dialogue with a similar event at the Villa on Sept. 10.
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