Updated | A group calling itself America’s largest Muslim organization is fighting back against Islamophobia and extremism with a campaign containing 11 principles it says represent “true Islam.”
True Islam and the Extremists, a campaign launched by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community this week, aims to correct some of the most common misconceptions about the religion and educate Muslims, non-Muslims and Americans of other faiths about the correct meaning of Islam.
The campaign has been in development for several months and the group has reached out to more than 2,000 American Muslim leaders. But President Barack Obama’s call earlier this month to the Muslim community to “confront, without excuse” the “real problem” of extremist ideology within Islam accelerated the effort, says Qasim Rashid, national spokesperson at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.
The first point says Islam “is a religion that wholly rejects terrorism” and the document also includes principles such as belief in the equality of women, loyalty to the country of residence and freedom of conscience, religion and speech. These are some of the most common misconceptions about Islam and points extremist groups use to radicalize young people, says Rashid.
Terrorism is at the top of the list because “it’s a very timely topic, but unfortunately a lot of Americans associate Islam with terrorism,” says Rashid. “We wanted to nip that in the bud.”
The main goal of the True Islam campaign is to strengthen unity between Muslims and non-Muslims in America against violent extremism, which in turn will improve national security, says Rashid. The campaign’s website lets people endorse principles they support and encourages them to share it publicly; as of Wednesday afternoon, more than 1,000 people, from Kathmandu to Kansas City, have endorsed the principles.
“Our response is not to play the victim card,” Rashid, 33, tells Newsweek . “We see this as an opportunity to work even harder.” As part of the campaign, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community plans to open mosques to the public and send free Korans with English translation to anyone who requests one. “People are requesting Korans in hordes,” says Rashid.
This year has been a violent one—notable incidents include the shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people as well as the shooting and suicide-bomb attacks in Paris—and it has created a particularly hostile environment for American Muslims. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said earlier this month that attacks on U.S. mosques this year were at an all-time high and November 2015 saw a “significant spike,” with 17 incidents of damage, destruction and vandalism against mosques. The majority of those attacks occurred after the November 13 Paris attacks, in which Islamist militants killed 130 people in public places across the French capital, according to CAIR.
Kashif Chaudhry, a cardiovascular medicine fellow at the Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, belongs to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and has endorsed all 11 points online. Originally from Pakistan, he says he feels an extra responsibility to speak up as Pakistan is a country where “extremism is rife.” Tashfeen Malik, who carried out the San Bernardino shooting with her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, was originally from Pakistan.
“There is a minority of Muslims that fall prey to the propaganda,” says Chaudhry. “There’s no way they can fall for the propaganda, it’s all covered in these 11 points.”
The campaign was formally launched at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s annual Jalsa Salana West Coast conference in California, which took place over the weekend. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan attended the conference and said the shooting in the city will forever be entrenched in the history of Southern California.
“These two people [the San Bernardino shooters], they started this story and they started a dialogue in this community and a dialogue in this country. They played their part and their part was very horrific,” Burguan said in an interview with Ahsan Mahmood Khan, president of the Los Angeles East Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, during the conference. “But the recovery of this, the aftermath of this, the resiliency of the community, the support that has poured in and the rebuilding is all our job.”
On Tuesday, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released a video calling on the world’s Muslims to join the group as it loses ground in Ramadi and faces airstrikes and fighting from multiple armies. Twitter users mocked his call to arms and tweeted reasons why they couldn’t sign up, ranging from the Boxing Day retail sales in the U.K. to the lure of binge-watching shows on Netflix and an 8 p.m. curfew.
This article originally incorrectly stated that Ahsan Mahmood Khan is the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Khan is the president of the Los Angeles East Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.