Courage is facing fear head on. One does not have to go through heroic situations to show courage; it can be found in the simple everyday actions. In this day and age, when the words “Islam” and “terrorism” have unfortunately become synonymous, I had a unique opportunity to talk to a group of women who wanted to learn about the truth of Islam directly from a Muslim.
Despite their understandable reservations and possible fear, they took the first step of starting a dialogue instead of being passive and believing in what they were told. I am thankful to them — not only for making me feel welcomed, but allowing me to feel as an equal part of the society.
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I am an immigrant from Pakistan and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect of Islam that has faced religious persecution for decades by its own countrymen. I grew up with fear of being judged and verbally abused because of my religious beliefs. In recent years, all those feelings have become all too familiar again as the media focuses only on the actions of some Muslim countries’ unjustifiable political agendas and label it as the Islamic way of life.
By receiving the invitation from St. John’s Presbyterian Church bible study group, I was not only honored, but my faith in the general American public was restored. I was treated with utmost respect and love and was asked genuine questions to help remove the misconceptions regarding Islam. I was given the chance to explain various aspects of our lives, which follow the true teachings of Islam.
We talked about jihad, which now is commonly perceived as the license to kill in the name of spreading the religion. The literal meaning of jihad is “struggle,” which is first applied in self-reformation. Only after that, when one becomes a portrayal of a true Muslim, he or she can spread the teachings of Islamic faith through his or her way of life and dialogue. I had the opportunity to discuss the rights of women, education, marriage and many other aspects of life as per Islamic teachings. It was no surprise that we found our religions to be quite similar. We follow the same guidelines to live a meaningful life in love and peace, which eventually lead us to finding God.
Our discussions made us realize how much work needs to be done to remove the misconceptions that we have about each other. It made me recognize that people like me cannot be lurking in the shadows for the fear of being judged.
I am thankful for this group of women who pulled me out of my fear and are willing to listen to my story. They want to know how the Taliban and some so-called Muslims have hijacked my faith and have made even the moderate Muslims questionable in the eyes of our neighbors, co-workers and friends.
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We all need to have the courage to give others a chance — and to learn from one another — to better understand who we are as humans and not as a follower of a particular religion or group. Judging others will take us back into the Stone Age, while open dialogue will bring us together and remove the curtain of fear that can otherwise turn into a wall of hatred.
Without making such efforts to establish dialogue, how are we any different from the extremists groups like Islamic State and the Taliban, whose followers heard only a twisted version of their religion and made it their life objective to create chaos and bring pain to others?
Qureshi, of Austin, is with the Women’s Auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.