It’s a trend seen throughout history. In times of political crises, there is often a massive unification movement among the common people. Like tends to like, and the result is the Sons of Liberty during the American Revolution, or the Seneca Falls Convention supporting the suffragette movement.
Or, more recently, the spontaneous airport protests against the newly instituted #MuslimBan.
This past weekend, the world watched in awe as massive crowds gathered at airports around the United States in solidarity with the Muslims facing immigration bans from President Donald Trump. The detained often already held green cards, as lawful residents, or visas, after going through extreme vetting procedures. They were cuffed, isolated from family members, detained without food, and forced to sign deportation papers. Only seven countries have officially been named under Trump’s ban, but Muslims around the world have expressed their outrage at the general sentiment that moves such a ban.
It’s definitely been an emotional weekend for Muslims everywhere. But as horrifyingly discriminating as the ban is, and as incredibly moving the protests are, there are certain caveats that protestors must understand.
The sentiment is not new. And it definitely wasn’t last seen in the era of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Many Muslims have been not only enduring discrimination- like this Executive Order- but persecution, for decades or centuries. And all too often, this persecution comes at the hands of other Muslims. And protestors today need to recognize that their voices, their anger, their dissent— marginalized sects of Islam have needed those voices for years, and continue to need them.
Non-Muslims fighting for Muslim rights is admirable in a time when many Muslims aren’t standing up for other Muslims’ rights.
One such example of persecution is evident in the sect of Islam I belong to, Ahmadiyyat. Believing in the coming of a “Promised Messiah” (as a revival of the teachings of Jesus, peace be upon him) has had disastrous results for Ahmadi Muslims. While they face discrimination around the world, Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan are constantly subjected to stunningly terrifying persecution every day.
In Pakistan, an Ahmadi Muslim must declare their Messiah, and all Ahmadis, as “imposters” in order to receive a passport. Basically, they’re being asked to renounce their faith. Women these days can’t go to the mosque to pray, because it just isn’t safe. The first Muslim Nobel Laureate was an Ahmadi, but his grave has been desecrated so that it now reads “First — Nobel Laureate” as Ahmadis aren’t allowed to identify as Muslims.
They can be jailed for saying the Islamic greeting of peace—salam— or owning a copy of the Holy Qur’an. They live their lives in fear and secrecy, and are so marginalized that most people do not even know their names. Ahmadi Muslims who move to the United States are used to hiding their faith and many are even now reluctant to speak about their sect.
There is some non-Ahmadi Muslim outcry against the horrible injustices committed against Ahmadis, but far, far too little. The lack of support for our community has almost normalized the struggles that people go through each day. The Lahore Massacre of May 2010, carried out by the Punjabi Taliban (which is made up of groups that had previously been sponsored by Pakistan’s government) put the Ahmadiyya community in the limelight for a hot ten seconds. Mostly, however, it’s all white noise when it comes to anti-Ahmadi persecution. Where are the protests?
And what about the other minority sects of Islam? Human Rights Watch sheds light on the clashes Ismaili Muslims in Saudi Arabia have with the hostile government multiple times, most notable in 2000. Following such clashes, hundreds in the country were imprisoned, tortured, and sentenced. Anti-Ismaili discrimination continues, unabated. In the province of Najran, for example, many Ismailis are barred from obtaining professional jobs, and Ismaili officials also face glass ceilings on promotions.
Ismaili Muslims are also banned from visiting their religious leader or publishing prayer books and face discrimination when trying to build or expand mosques. On one of the most grossly unjust judicial discrimination cases, a judge forcibly divorced a Sunni woman from her Ismaili husband. Where are the protests?
Ismaili and Ahmadi Muslims are not alone in the persecution they’ve endured for years. They’ve grown accustomed to living with certain accommodations that, if brought to light to the general public, would most definitely incur more human rights investigations. Yet there is all too often an absence of protests, or voices, or dissent from other Muslims against such discrimination.
Here’s the thing: for many watching or participating in the huge protests against the #MuslimBan, there is an underlying sense of sadness, of wistfulness. Maybe the best we can do is hope that the incredible energy out there at all those airports and in the streets carries over to outcry against discrimination within the religion. Because there is pain similar to that caused by the Ban being experienced by so many marginalized sects of Islam around the world.
The Trump regime’s Islamophobia is something that outrages all of us. But some of us are more used to it than others. How can Islam even begin to tackle the widespread misinformation of the public and the surge of Islamophobia if it cannot be united as an ummah?