Sarah Khan, London
I believe in peace. Seeking peace is a cornerstone of my daily life. When I rise in the darkness before dawn, I wish peace on my loved ones in particular, and the world in general. When I greet my children, I wish them peace, just as I leave them with an expression of peace when I send them into the unknown every morning at 8:30am. Thoughts and prayers for peace are a fundamental part of my existence. I strive for it on an individual level, when I see the kitchen full of dirty dishes and the toilet seat up, and also on a societal level when I volunteer at my children’s school or donate belongings to charity. My belief in peace even has a name, the same name it has had for over 1000 years: Islam.
The very name Islam means peace. I know that you are probably not aware of this, I understand that the media wants you to be afraid of people who dress like me and profess my faith. The Sun this week warned that 1 in 5 of my fellow Muslims support ISIS. That means it could be me. I might be harbouring a secret support for terrorists and jihadis in Syria. But I’m not because I am person of peace.
I might not get it correct 100% of the time. I definitely lose my temper when I’m having a bad day, I’m sure that I raise my voice to my children when I’m tired and I’ve repeated an instruction five times. But I keep trying to improve myself because self-improvement is the real jihad or struggle of life. This striving for peace drives me to be a better person than I might otherwise have been. It is what binds me to my faith group, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, because they too are striving to soothe the troubles of the world, and they are doing it on a global scale. While the community provides schools, hospitals, disaster relief, food, clothing, water and blood donations to the needy across the world, my membership of this group enables me to feel part of that bigger movement with a peaceful purpose. I’m not striving for peace alone. The worldwide head of my community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, is our spiritual leader and we turn to him for advice and guidance in every matter. He too is a man of peace. He has spent the past 13 years criss crossing the globe, sending his message of peace to parliaments, governments and individuals and encouraging everyone to turn to the beautiful teachings of Islam if looking for inner or world peace.
But you probably haven’t heard much about these efforts. There are tens of millions of Ahmadi Muslims in the world, but they don’t get much coverage in the press. We are not blowing things up or marching down streets in protest. We are not shouting about our faith because we try to pass through the world in humility and dignity. But we are here amongst you and we are here to stay. We are the Muslim marine who tweeted a viral reply to Donald Trump, we are the donators of blood on the Saturday morning after the Paris attacks, we are doctors who drop everything to fly to disaster relief zones following earthquakes and hurricanes. We are those who gather regularly and bow down in Prayer together to pray for the victims of terror who need peace more urgently than those of us sitting in our secure houses with all the freedoms of the Western world.
And the really key part of this community? We are growing. Our community started with one man, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, in a dusty village in rural India of which no-one had ever heard. Whenever we say the name of this founder, we always wish peace upon him, because he had the courage of his faith. He spoke up for the beauty of Islam. He spoke out against twisted interpretations of Islam and the expectation of violent jihad. He urged his followers to shun egotism and to serve humanity. His message was based on peace and it reminded everyone that the purpose of our lives is the worship God and service of humanity in general. Not just on special occasions but to inculcate this philosophy as part of our personality.
In his last written work, called a Message of Peace, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote;
‘My countrymen, a religion which does not inculcate universal compassion is no religion at all. Similarly, a human being without the faculty of compassion is no human at all. Our God has never discriminated between one people and another.’
So when I read in the press that atheism is on the rise and that Muslims should be feared lest they suddenly decide to turn radical, I know that that fact is not true for me and an increasing number of others. I’m a Muslim and I will never bomb or threaten another person, it’s against the religion of peace which I follow.
When I read columns by authors such as Matt Ridley which proclaim that ‘Muslims are turning away from Islam’ because it is ‘brainwashing’ and ‘superstition’, I am not concerned. I realise that many Muslims are rejecting the religion which is presented before them, the blasphemy laws and intolerance towards others. But I disagree that they are rejecting Islam, they are only rejecting what version of Islam they have seen so far. I know that when they investigate the true teachings and the philosophy of my beautiful faith they will be inspired by the quest for peace of their soul and society.
Despite all attempts of atheists and agnostics to convince me that faith is mere fairy story or blind adherence to a fictitious belief, I know that it’s not true. I’m happy following my pathway to peace, I’m hoping I will find the right path and I will continue to strive for it throughout my life. In the face of. God forbid, further atrocity, I will not doubt the existence of God like the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I will turn further towards the source of peace in my life: Islam. And I’m sure as others continue to notice, like David Cameron who commended our community’s effort at Poppy Selling, peace will be victorious in the end.