Being Muslim in America: Interview with Qasim Rashid and Tayyib Rashid

So much of the non-Muslim American concept of Islam was formed on that day. You remember the one. On Tuesday morning I had dropped off my wife at her office and was driving home to Nashville and over the radio, a couple of morning show hosts started talking about smoke billowing out of one of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. I had driven past the towers before and can even vaguely remember walking past them once-but that might have been a dream. Roughly translated; they had virtually no meaning to me.

I got home and flipped on the television. Watching transfixed I suddenly remembered the Towers as the backdrop for countless movies and TV shows that filmed in or were about NYC. It was mesmerizing. And suddenly I felt as if Manhattan was my own home town. The first terrorist attack had happened when I was still in school but it wasn’t terrorism I had on the brain until the fireball. The nation watched a second plane fly into the second Tower. It was intentional.

It would come out quickly that the culprits were highjackers and that they had crashed another plane into the Pentagon and one into the middle of a Pennsylvania field. “Radical Islamic Terrorism” became part of the American lexicon. For many Americans it would be all they knew about Muslims. Instead of falling into that trap I wanted to know more. So I got The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam by Yahiya Emerick, which was very informative but impersonal. Social media being what it is today, I found two gentlemen who are doing a lot to pull back the curtain and let non-Muslims learn more about a faith that has been among us and alongside us all along.

Qasim Rashid is a national spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, a lawyer, author and educator and Tayyib Rashid is a veteran of the US Marines and a Human Resources professional. Qasim and Tayyib (who you might recognize as the Muslim Marine on Twitter) regularly host Q & A’s and are very talented when it comes to demystifying Islam. They agreed to do an email interview with me and these are the results of that discussion.

AJ: There is an intense curiosity and, sadly, fear surrounding Islam in the U.S. because of one primary action, the 9/11 attacks and then the acts that were to follow in the various attacks by al Qaeda in its many forms. Was it very different for you before the attacks as opposed to after? We were all younger then but I don’t ever recall hearing much about Islam prior to 9/11.

QR: Yes. There was a greater level of scrutiny on Muslims or anyone who appeared Muslim after 9/11. This included an increase in hate crime on Muslims, an increase in illegal surveillance on Muslims, and an increase in discrimination in airports, at jobs, and by government.

AJ: Did you experience any of this firsthand?

TMR: I was active duty in the Marines when 9/11 happened. At the time I was on deployment to Germany. Immediately following the attacks everything on base was on lock down so there wasn’t much interaction with people outside the base for the remainder of the deployment. In October of 2001 when I was traveling back to the states I had an experience that I will never forget.

I was traveling with my platoon while in uniform. We arrived at the airport and started to check into our flight. My commanding officer and other fellow Marines were with me. Upon seeing my ID, the security at the airport pulled me out of the platoon and took me into a separate room and started asking questions about who I was and my background. I of course complied because that is what Islam requires. But I was totally caught off-guard and looking back on that moment I’m still troubled by the fact that I was the only Marine out of my entire platoon who was pulled out an interrogated in such a manner.

I also happened to be the only Muslim. After about 20 minutes worth of questioning, I was released back into custody of my commanding officer who looked like he had been waiting for security to complete their questioning and therefore was able to board the flight with the rest of my Marines.

AJ: How do you believe we got here?

QR: The situation we’re in is due to a combination of unjust western interventionism and failed Muslim leadership. (from Qasim’s Huffpo blog http://www.huffingtonpost.com/qasim-rashid/the-inconvenient-truth-about-isis_b_6959652.html )

(excerpt) “ISIS was never just a rogue band of militants that emerged out of thin air. As President Obama aptly stated recently, “ISIL is direct outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq which grew out of our invasion which is an example of unintended consequences which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.”

AJ: With Islam being an Abrahamic faith, you’d think it would be a natural ally to Judaism and Christianity. Do you see an obvious disconnect that I might miss as someone who is not religious?

QR: Few realize that when the Qur’an permits Muslims to fight, it is in self-defense and to protect universal religious freedom. The Qur’an specifically commands Muslims to protect churches and synagogues from attack. No other scripture commands this, but this is the level of dedication Islam has to universal religious freedom for all people.

AJ: Defending churches and synagogues is noble, but is the Qur’an widely interpreted by Muslims as a command to project religious freedom or is it simply commanding followers to defend Islamic houses of worship?

TMR: Chapter 22:40-41 of the Holy Quran explains under what circumstances a Muslim is permitted to fight. These verses are the very first time that the Muslims at the time of Prophet Muhammad were permitted to take up arms in an effort the defend freedom of religion. All other verses contained in the Quran that discuss fighting were revealed after these verses. Therefore these verses are the basis on which a Muslim is allowed to fight. Verse 41 explains that purpose of fighting is to defend freedom of religion for all, not just for Muslims – as evidenced by “And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters, and churches, and synagogues, and mosques wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated.” As Muslims we are required by our faith to defend all houses of worship.

AJ: Muslims, as if they are monolith, are frequently accused of staying silent or agreeing with extremist views. Is it necessary for Muslims from different parts of the world to address this or is this something the world needs to address together?

QR: Terrorism has no religion. Everyone must remain just and vigilant against extremism. The lack of justice is the root cause of the disorder we see in the world today. That manifests in blasphemy laws that oppress religious minorities. That also manifests in the US and UK, selling arms to nations like Saudi [Arabia] who are using them to bomb Yemeni children. If we want to stop terrorism, we need to universally uphold justice.

AJ: Upholding justice in foreign lands would only be feasible using international law. How can the West defend innocent Muslims from terrorist groups using them as shields without the use of force that inevitably leads to the deaths of more innocents and the creation of more radicals?

TMR: The head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, his holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad has spoken on this topic numerous times. The single thing that the west can do to stop terrorism is to lead a coalition to stop all arms trade. Fact is that the weapons ISIS uses to kill people indiscriminately are manufactured in the United States. The bombs that Saudi Arabia is dropping on Yemen are American bombs. The arms trade is the single biggest enabler of terrorism around the world. But unfortunately because it is such a lucrative business, no western government is willing to forego profits for themselves at the cost of foreign civilians.

AJ: That brings me to theocracy. I’ve read the Qur’an, rejects theocracy yet several do exist. Do Muslim theocracies serve the purpose of the faith or does the faith serve the governments?

QR: They serve the purposes of the theocrats and dictators in power. An “Islamic theocracy” is an oxymoron. It never existed in the time of Prophet Muhammad(as) and it isn’t something the Qur’an endorses. The Qur’an mandates absolute justice and consultative government. Theocracies are neither justice nor consultative, and hence wholly unIslamic.

AJ: How do you suggest people living in those countries could effectively resist those governments and how should Western countries encourage better behavior from countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. Are sanctions appropriate to address human right violations or do you believe more direct diplomacy would be more effective?

TMR: So long as the US and other powerful nations continue to support governments like Saudi Arabia, nothing will change. Iran has tremendous support from Russia. These regimes are only relevant because they are supported by world super powers. The average citizen has no power against these governments.

What we need to focus on individually and collectively is to do our part in reducing and eliminating human suffering. For example, I and other members of the Ahmadiyya Muslims Community around the globe regularly work on disaster relief and humanitarian efforts where ever we can. Whether it’s a blood drive or donating funds to help victims of disasters, to building hospitals that treat patients for free, we focus on what we have within our control and try to make a difference at an individual level through HumanityFirst.org.

AJ: This new administration has a hard time distinguishing practicing Muslims with the groups that hijack their faith and that’s a widespread problem. Can you tell us about your own outreach?

TMR: We have countless efforts in this regard. We launched the True Islam campaign at trueislam.com. We regularly invite our fellow citizens to join us for Coffee, Cake, and Islam discussions. I hold regular sessions on #Periscope for anyone to ask questions. And there are literally hundreds if not thousands of other Ahmadi Muslims living in the US who personally work to create an environment to engage with our fellow Americans. You can learn more about my efforts on Twitter @MuslimMarine.

AJ: Do you have any suggestions when it comes to reaching mainstream media outlets? Outside of a couple of liberal late night shows, attacks on mosques and individuals do not get the attention they deserve nor do the many voices that speak out against extremism.

TMR: This is a question for the mainstream media. If I had the answer I’d be doing it.

AJ: The white supremacist shadow movement is out in the light and terrorism in the name of white’s and Christians is on the rise. How do you feel that should be responded to? Do you want to see more denominational churches and evangelicals coming out to disown that movement? Should the federal government invade their places of worship to weed out the extremists?

TMR: I think all our government officials need to vocally reject and condemn domestic white supremacy terrorism in the strongest possible terms. The response of the current administration is problematic because Trumps comments reflect that of a white supremacy sympathizer. This is exactly the type of scenario that played out in Pakistan about 40 years ago that results in a poisonous social environment of intolerance where extremism is allowed to grow. We would be wise to learn from the mistakes of other nations.

AJ: Finally, people are focused on how the DACA announcement will affect Mexican immigrants but aside from many cultures being represented, how do you think DACA being rescinded will affect the military?

TMR: I think it will hurt the military. Our strength is our diversity. The rescinding of DACA is an attack on the diversity of our military and therefore a weakening of our military. This will not only weaken our military and reduce enlistment from immigrants but will also have a bleedover impact reducing enlistment of all people of color as well as women and other minorities.

You can (and should!) follow on Twitter:
Qasim @MuslimIQ and Tayyib @MuslimMarine

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