Founded in 1889 in British India, Ahmadiyya is an Islamic sect that actually preaches everything that Islam as a whole pretends to stand for: love, peace, forgiveness, and the brotherhood of all humankind. It rejects terrorism, violent jihad, and the concept of “abrogation” whereby later, nastier passages of the Koran are considered to trump earlier, nicer bits.
That's the good news about Ahmadiyya Muslims – or Ahmadis, for short. The bad news is that they make up only about 1% of the world's Muslims. Almost all of the other 99% regard them as infidels. In India they're officially categorized as Muslims and allowed to worship freely, but that's an exception: in Pakistan, which has the largest Ahmadi population on earth, they're considered non-Muslims, they're not allowed to call themselves Muslims, and they're banned from non-Ahmadi mosques. In Saudi Arabia, in the Palestinian territories, and in several other countries in the Islamic world, Ahmadis are brutally persecuted both by authorities and by their non-Ahmadi neighbors.
A wildly disproportionate number of the Muslims in North America and Europe who have organized anti-terrorism rallies have been Ahmadis. At these events, they routinely give speeches declaring fervently that terrorism is un-Islamic; that jihad, properly understood, means inner struggle and good works; and that Islam teaches sexual equality, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the separation of church and state. Again, Ahmadi Islam does teach all these things. But mainstream Islam doesn't. Indeed, a big part of the reason why mainstream Islam abhors Ahmadi Islam is that the sect's beliefs are utterly at odds with the tenets of Sunni and Shia Islam.
So, yes, hurrah for Ahmadi Muslims. If they were the 99% and Sunni and Shia Muslims were the 1%, we could stop worrying so much about Islam. But alas, that's not the case. Hence, even though Ahmadi Muslims' beliefs are admirable, it's problematic when they step in front of crowds of Westerners and present their own version of Islam as if it were the Islam of the majority. Sure, one assumes that when they do this sort of thing, they see themselves as fighting against what they consider the misinterpretations of Islam that are spread by the 99%. But what they're actually doing, whether they intend it or not, is whitewashing mainstream Islam.
Which brings us to a photograph that a Facebook friend of mine posted the other day. It was a picture of a booklet entitled True Islam, which she said was being distributed to students at Ohio State University. I googled “True Islam,” and found, at the website trueislam.com, a scrollable version of the booklet. It's a simple, reader-friendly piece of work, which begins by telling us that “[e]xtremists are trying to DIVIDE us. Let’s UNITE instead.” It goes on to say that “HATE is fueled by lies....We need to wage a Jihad of TRUTH, human-to-human. And win the hearts with LOVE.”
There follows a list of eleven statements, each identified as an Islamic “TRUTH.” “TRUTH 1” is that true Islam “[w]holly rejects all forms of terrorism.” “TRUTH 2” is that true Islam “[b]elieves in Non-Violent Jihad of the self and of the pen.” And so on – all the usual ways in which Ahmadi Muslims represent their faith. Fair enough. But nowhere in this text is the reader informed that these are not, in fact, normative Islamic beliefs but, instead, the beliefs of a tiny, persecuted minority. Not until the very end of the text does the reader encounter, in small letters, the words “AHMADIYYA MUSLIM COMMUNITY,” along with a copyright statement. These words are not accompanied by an explanation of what “Ahmadiyya” means.
Now, to the extent that Ahmadi Muslims are striving to bring mainstream Muslims into their fold, I applaud them. But that's not the purpose of the “True Islam” campaign. Its obvious goal is to put a pretty face on Islam. The charitable way of looking at this effort is to say that Ahmadis are standing up for their own loving, peaceful brand of Islam in the face of a violent, hateful version thereof. But when they hide the fact from non-Muslim readers that they're only 1% of the Muslim population, and that their theological views are considered heretical by the other 99% percent, they're not educating the public – they're deceiving it.
Some examples. The “True Islam” text quotes Robert Salaam, identified as an “American Muslim Blogger & Marine Veteran,” as saying that “This campaign expresses the values, beliefs, and ideals of the entire Muslim community regardless of sectarian differences.” Lie. The “True Islam” text invites readers to “[d]iscover what True Islam is directly from Muslims (not the extremists).” There is no hint that by “extremists” the campaigners mean 99% of the world's self-identified Muslims.
The “True Islam” text emphasizes that it's important “to put cherry-picked [Koran] verses back in context.” But the text itself is rich in cherry-picking. It quotes the Koran as saying: “Whosoever killed a person...it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso saved a life, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” This passage is widely cited by apologists for Islam. But as Robert Spencer has pointed out, the passage, in context, is anything but sunny. On the contrary, the Koran text is quoting a divine commandment to the Jews – who, the Koran explains, went on to violate it. In the Koran, this commandment is followed by a list of punishments for Jews who disobey Allah. Spencer quotes Ibn Warraq's summing up: “The supposedly noble sentiments are in fact a warning to Jews. ‘Behave, or else’ is the message. Far from abjuring violence, these verses aggressively point out that anyone opposing the Prophet will be killed, crucified, mutilated, and banished!”
Toward the end of the “True Islam” text is a brief statement under the rubric “About this campaign.” This, surely, would the proper place to explain that the people behind this campaign are members of a tiny, ideologically aberrant sect. Instead, the text blithely tells us that “Extremists like ISIS depend on people’s ignorance of Islam to grow. That’s why the more people know about Islam’s true teachings – and what Muslims truly believe – the less they’ll fall for ISIS’s propaganda.” To suggest that the “TRUTHS” conveyed here are what most Muslims truly believe is sheer hogwash.
The “True Islam” campaign amounts to more than a brochure and a website. At the site, there's a link to the book An Elementary Study of Islam by Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the current leader of the worldwide Ahmadiyya movement. Like the “True Islam” brochure, the book presents a loving, peaceful vision of Islam while dodging the fact that this vision is that of a minuscule minority of Muslims. Customer reviews of the book on Amazon.com are overwhelmingly positive. “A great overview of the basic tenants [sic] and practices of Islam,” wrote one reader. “Perfect for a beginner like, myself, to gain an essential understanding of Islam.” Many other purchasers agreed. “Great for kids,” one enthused.
There's more. The “True Islam” site informs us that these Ahmadi propagandists “host Coffee, Cake & True Islam meetups all over America.” If you type in your zip code, you'll be given information about upcoming “meetups” near you. I typed in my old Manhattan zip code and discovered several upcoming meetups in the neighborhood, including one on November 29 at the Princeton University Club on West 43rd Street. I typed in my mother's old Los Angeles zip code and found several forthcoming “True Islam” events near there, too.
“TRUTH 8” in the “True Islam” text reads, in part: “True Islam categorically rejects... lying.” This statement is meant as a wholesale repudiation of the mainstream Islamic concept of taqiyya – the idea that it's okay to tell lies to advance the faith. It But this whole “True Islam” campaign, however those behind it may justify it to themselves, is nothing more or less than just such a lie – and a massive, mischievous, and menacing lie, to boot.