On March 6, I attended an event at UC Irvine held by the Ahmadiya Muslim Student Union. The event was entitled, "Mohammed-Messenger of Peace". The audience consisted mainly of students who were getting extra credit from their classes to attend. There were some female Muslims present in hijabs. I did not see any of the Muslim Student Union members present (at least the ones I know by sight). Altogether, there were about 50-60 people present. It should be noted that the Ahmadiya MSU of UCI is separate and distinct from the MSU of UCI.
Prior to the event, I had a chance to chat with a few of the organizers. One was imam Nasir Shamshad from the Chino (California) mosque, who is an older Pakistani man. I asked him about the fact that his branch of Islam is not recognized by other branches and its members are subject to severe persecution in countries like Pakistan. He affirmed that and also affirmed that they were being persecuted by other Muslims. The reason for the divide is that the Ahmadis, contrary to other branches, claim that the successor to the prophet Mohammed has already arrived. That is in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), who founded the Ahmadiya branch in British India in the late 19th century,
The main speaker was a young man named Akmal Ahmad. Her spoke for about 30 minutes about the Prophet Mohammed. I won't go into detail because I am posting the video itself. Suffice to say that he presented the Prophet as a kind and forgiving man of peace who did many wonderful things. He also recounted how when Mohammed moved to the city of Medina, which was mostly Muslim, he entered into a pact with the Jewish community that enabled the Jews to freely practice their religion and be protected. (No mention of the jizya tax).
Then came question and answer, which was handled by Imam Shamshad, and I got the first one. I pointed out that there was some crucial information missing from the talk that the audience should be aware of-specifically that the Ahmadis were not recognized by mainstream Muslims, that they are in fact, persecuted in places like Pakistan even killed. I asked him to elaborate on that to the audience and explain who specifically was carrying out the persecution. This he affirmed by saying that each new messenger encountered persecution, but didn't seem to want to identify the perpetrators So I followed up and asked him to do so, which he did (Ahmadiya are being persecuted by other Muslims, Sunni and Shia.)
I later asked another question; I asked him to explain a point about Sharia law, specifically hudud sharia (penalty code) and what was the penalty in Islamic jurisprudence for an apostate- specifically one who publicly spoke out against Islam. He quoted Mohammed as saying, which says, "Let there be no compulsion in religion". He said there was disagreement on this point, but that in his view, there was no such thing as death for leaving the religion. (I did not mention"death" in my question.) He said the Koran said nothing about it and that Ahmadiyas did not believe in death for those who leave the religion
Another woman from the audience asked the iman about the question of multiple wives that Muslim men had and whether women in the time of Mohammed could have multiple husbands. In his long answer, the imam stated that before Mohammed, men could have as many wives as they wanted, but affirmed that women could have but one husband. A few minutes later, a female student asked a question about the marriage of Mohammed to Aisha, (who was by varying accounts 6- 9 years old at the time of marriage and 12- 13 at the time of consummation.) This launched an animated response by the imam who (in his less than perfect English) appeared to justify the practice of child marriage. He pointed out that it was the US Constitution that established age limitations-not any religious law. (This is in tape 3.) When the aforementioned lady in the audience asked how old Aisha was at the time of the marriage, he answered, "more than twelve. She responded that Aisha was 6 when the arrangement was made and that Mohammed was in his 50s. Mr Shamshad then challenged the questioner to do more research.
After the q and a, there was informal conversation in the room as refreshments were served. (This is not recorded.) I joined the aforementioned woman and her friend who were chatting with the organizers and speakers. We were invited to visit their mosque in Chino. At this time, another member of the audience, who was a member of the mosque, joined the conversation about the issue of Aisha. He pointed out that after Mohammed died, Aisha was free to do what she pleased. Till the day she died, she never criticized the Prophet in any manner. She was his willing partner and never claimed any mistreatment. He also pointed out that her father had freely given her to Mohammad, that other religions did the same at the time, and that modern-day critics should not be complaining (I am paraphrasing.) To that I said that while I acknowledged that it was a different time, place and culture, in the US today, it would not be acceptable. Girls below the age of consent are still victims of statutory rape. Further that any parent who would give their underage child to someone for marriage would be violating the law as well. That led to a discussion of whether a 16-year-old girl in the US could marry with their parents' consent, divorce their parents, etc. I reiterated that it was a different time, place and culture, but my concern was that this sort of thing might happen here in the present.
The tape of the actual presentation is contained below in three parts.
The Ahmadiya branch, as stated, is not recognized by other branches due to their belief that a successor to Mohammad has already arrived. I am not aware of acts of terror or violence on the part of the Ahmadis. Yet, I came away with the impression that they are devout Muslims and make the same arguments we hear at other events by other Muslim groups. In their pamphlet, "True love for the Holy Prophet", which I picked up, they argue for the UN to pass binding resolutions that member states must outlaw insults to Islam and the Prophet. It plainly states that freedom of speech must give way to what, in effect, would be blasphemy laws.
It is necessary for world peace that this
is made a part of the UN peace charter
so that no member country would
allow any of its citizens to play with the
religious sentiments of others and so
that world peace is not allowed to be destroyed
in the name of freedom of speech.
I came to the event with some degree of hope that this was a group I could support. I left somewhat disappointed. I do, however, intend to learn more about the Ahmadis.