Qasim Rashid was a sophomore in a private Christian university in Chicago when 9/11 happened. He experienced firsthand the increased profiling from law enforcement authorities. Since then, he has gone to law school to equip himself and others on Muslims’ rights in the United States, written three books (the latest entitled Talk to Me: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, and Education), and recently spoke at the Crosscut Courage Awards.
Now 15 years after 9/11, Rashid is still advocating for interfaith and interracial dialogue through the campaign True Islam. The campaign was created by Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA in an attempt to distinguish true Islam from extremism. It asks supporters to endorse 11 points that defy stereotypes of Islam in the American mainstream narrative. Each point, such as “1. True Islam is a religion that wholly rejects all forms of terrorism,” is backed by verses from the Holy Quran. Since its launch last year, the campaign has gotten endorsements from members of U.S. Congress.
The International Examiner caught up with Rashid, who resides in Virginia, about his campaign, his upbringing, and the future of Muslims in the United States under Donald Trump’s upcoming presidency.
International Examiner: What was your upbringing like?
Qasim Rashid: I was born in Pakistan and when we moved to the United States in the 1980s we lived in DC for about a year and a half. We then moved to Chicago. I lived in Chicago my entire schooling and my undergrad so I was there for over 20 years. And then about seven years ago we moved back to Virginia.
I was raised in a Muslim environment. My parents were and are practicing Muslims. Within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to which I belong, there’s a strong push for children to attain not only religious education but also secular education. And in terms of religious education there’s a huge emphasis on pluralism and understanding religious diversity, understanding why you believe what you believe, and being able to come on your terms, your own understanding of God and making a commitment of independent accord when you’re an adult that you want to be a Muslim. This is something that’s taught to children at a young age so when they get older they have the ability to think for themselves and make a conscious decision to remain Muslim rather than following what their parents believe.
My upbringing was in a very positive environment in that respect. I believe that this is the environment Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) taught and intended for Muslims to follow.
IE: Can you speak more on the Ahmadiyya Muslim community? Ahmadi Muslims have been deemed kafir, or heretics, by several Muslim leaders in several countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt.
QR: The advocacy that I do has very little to do with Evangelism and has very much to do with ensuring that no person is persecuted for their belief or lack thereof. Whether somebody is a believer or an Atheist, a Muslim or a non-Muslim or a member of the Ahmadiyya community or not, I’m less concerned about what their own privates believes are. In fact, I’m not concerned about that at all because that’s between a person and God, but I’m much more concerned and more focused on ensuring that my advocacy and work create an environment where they can practice or not practice without any discrimination or intimidation whether from a state level or societal level.
As a result of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s advocacy and our beliefs in general, we face heavy persecution in countries like Pakistan and even Indonesia unfortunately, which long had been a beacon for pluralism but unfortunately is starting to become this really Draconian persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims. Our focus to continue to march forward and provide what true Islam stands for by our action not merely by our words. I think in the long run that has proven to be a successful model that can create the bridges for understanding that this world desperately needs right now.
IE: You are a practicing lawyer. What kind of reaction have you seen from the Muslim communities regarding their rights since Donald Trump won the presidential election?
QR: Just last night I got an email from a young woman who is a Muslim, she’s a convert to Islam and she’s afraid because her family is trying force her to recant her faith as a Muslim. In the United States of America. They’re threatening her. She’s telling me she’s in a safe place right now but I think anytime you’re threatened by your family, you’re not in a safe place so it can be difficult.
Women are emailing me asking about what they can do to protect themselves especially those who observe hijab. These kinds of questions are real. They’re happening. We see the increase of hate crimes against Muslims, against people who “look” Muslim like our Sikh and Hindu friends. When I say “look” Muslim I don’t mean to stereotype, I mean from the standpoint of people who are ignorant of Islam, Sikhism, and Hinduism. They don’t care to tell the difference. I’ve seen an increase and it’s unfortunately going to continue for some time which reinforces the need for these kinds of dialogues in the first place.
IE: And of course, you’ve heard of the proposed Muslim registry, which reminds us of the incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
QR: Our goal, our responsibility is to be promoter of peace and to promote justice. Where President Trump is going to uphold the law, we’re gonna stand with him. Where he’s gonna violate the law by having things like a Muslim registry, we will vehemently but peacefully oppose him every step of the way. We will use every legal remedy to oppose him and I don’t think that’s exclusive to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I think all people of conscience will response in that way. That things like this, effect of the precursor to concentration camps, have no place in civilized society, most certainly not in a country where we have a constitution like we do in the United States.
It’s concerning a lot of people but it’s not something that’s making us disheartened or disillusioned. We will continue to march forward to promote justice and peace and this kind of fear-mongering tactics aren’t gonna scare us away.
IE: How is the campaign True Islam going so far?
QR: It’s been outstanding. It’s been overwhelming, the response. We’re getting close to 10,000 people who have supported online and signed up as a Muslim ally. Fundamentally what it’s doing I think is undercutting extremist rhetoric by arming people with education which is without a doubt the best weapon we have to combat extremism. It’s allowing Americans, Muslim and non-Muslim, to come to a consistent platform of understanding of what Islam actually stands for and how to differentiate extremism from true Islam. When people sign up, this is not just an empty signature. By educating themselves, they have then advancing the conversation in their circles.
We get emails from people saying, “I signed up as a Muslim ally, I read the 11 points, I thought this was cool stuff but then a few weeks later I was at a dinner party with a friend and somebody made an anti-Muslim comment and I was able to respond to them and explaining to them why they’re wrong instead of just telling them they’re wrong and actually change their mind.” To me, that’s a huge victory. That’s a victory of victories.
IE: Point number three—“True Islam believes in the equality, education, and empowerment of women”—surprised me, because in the Indonesian Muslim household I was raised in, I was and still am told that I need to essentially sacrifice for my future husband.
QR: If you click on that point, it provides the Quranic and the Hadith support for the statement that Islam believes in female equity, equality, education, and empowerment. This is again not an empty statement. It’s supported by a law, by Islamic jurisprudence. There’s evidence for it. And these verses that talk about women allegedly being forced to be submissive or obedient to their husbands is severely misrepresented. These verses talk about marital harmony and the need for husbands and wives to listen to one another, to support one another. So this is not a one-way street.
We look to why these misinterpretations are around and why they exist and it comes down to the 11th point of the True Islam campaign. True Islam believes in unified Muslim leadership. You have inconsistent Muslim leadership, which is motivated by a variety of things. Could be by money, could be by power, could be by alleged prestige. But it’s not motivated by righteousness. And that’s when the problem comes in. These inconsistent Muslim leaders, some of them are saying things like what you’ve pointed out, that women are subservient to men and others are taking it to a much more aggressive extreme.
It is a result of this failed Muslim leadership that we are seeing these issues in the world today and what the True Islam campaign argues is that we need a consistent Muslim leadership. We need unified Muslim leadership that’s based on righteousness. This is a model set forth by the Prophet of Islam, by the Holy Quran, and this is the model we need today.
IE: So in that way, this campaign targets Muslims and non-Muslims.
QR: We’ve invited every Imam in the United States to support this campaign and very few, if any, has responded yet. And that’s OK. That’s their choice, we’re not going to force that upon them. But as far as we’re concerned, we’re going to continue to march forward. One thing you’ll notice about the True Islam campaign is that it doesn’t mention sectarianism in there. We want this campaign to be a non-sectarian campaign. So whether somebody is a Sunni, a Shia, an Ismaili, an Ahmadi, they should be able to endorse these points because these points are secular points, they’re not dogmatic points. We believe that people who are dedicated to reforming the issues that we see in the world today, Muslim or non Muslim, will continue to sign up and advance this narrative of education.