Interlitq: Working as you do as an Imam of a Muslim Community here in Argentina, can you tell us more about the role and duty of an Imam?
MG: An Imam is essentially an Islamic theologian and I consider myself to be both a teacher and a social worker: in other words, I try to help people –both Muslims and Non-Muslims alike- to find purpose in their lives and how best to find happiness, which in my own belief consists of reunion with Our Creator. Furthermore, as an Imam of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, I am the direct representative here in Argentina of the spiritual leader and Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
Interlitq: But is it not the case that all religions claim to show the way to salvation and happiness? What makes you and your community so certain that you can help people to find God?
MG: Islam does not believe that is restricted only to Muslims. In fact, we believe that all established religions are expressions of God and therefore all contain the basic teachings of God. But as a Muslim, I believe the best way to find God and to experience Him in this day and age is by following and practising true Islam – which consists of the teachings of the Holy Quran and the noble example of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Islam does not teach that God used to speak to his creation or show His signs and miracles to his beloved and chosen people only in the past. Rather, Islam claims that God’s attributes of speaking to his creation, accepting prayers and manifesting His signs are His eternal attributes. The perfect example for the existence of God and His eternal attributes in this era is Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – who claimed to be the Promised Messiah and is the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. By following the Quranic teachings and the noble example of the founder of Islam, he was able to ensure that thousands of his prayers were accepted miraculously and that God spoke to him directly in the form of revelations and prophecies.
Interlitq: What is the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community? Is it a new brand of Islam?
MG: The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) – founder of Islam – prophesied 1400 years ago that a time would come when Muslims would be divided into more than 70 sects. The Muslim clerics would then be the worst creation on earth and Muslims would not practise their religion anymore. When we look at the current fragmentation in the Islamic world, we can witness the fulfilment of such a prophecy. But the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prophesied also that at such a time God would send a Messiah and Guided-one to reunite Muslims and re-establish true Islamic values. Hence, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be this Promised Messiah and Reformer of the Islamic faith and founded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 1889 in India to revive the Islamic faith. Consequently, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is not a new brand of Islam but sets out to attempt to re-establish true Islamic teachings and values all over the world.
Interlitq: What are your differences with regard to mainstream Muslims and what is their reaction towards the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community?
MG: We believe and follow the same Quran and the same Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as all Muslims. We practise the same 700 Islamic commands as all other Muslims. The only difference is that the majority of Muslims are expecting Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) as the Promised Messiah and are still waiting for his advent from the heavens, whereas we believe that Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) has passed away as all other previous Prophets. Therefore a new person would appear among Muslims with the same characteristics and duties as Jesus Christ and according to our belief this person was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian.
Nowadays, because we believe in Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the Promised Messiah and as a subordinate Prophet of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we are persecuted and discriminated against in many so-called Islamic countries. For example, in Pakistan since 1974 we have officially been declared to be Non-Muslims and so we are neither allowed to call ourselves Muslim and nor can we practise our Islamic faith. Indeed, we face large-scale persecution and discrimination not only in Pakistan but also in Indonesia, Bangladesh and most recently in Algeria.
Interlitq: To which extend does such persecution affect your community’s mission?
MG: I believe that all Divine communities have to face various forms of trials and setbacks. In this connection, we can find clear examples in Judaism, in Christianity and also Islam of how the Prophets and their followers, despite being persecuted, were successful in spreading the message of God. And this is also the case with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community which, despite being outlawed and slandered in several countries, is still determined to spread the message of God and true Islam all over the world. Indeed, every year, thousands of men and women accept true Islam and join the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Interlitq: What is the greatest challenge for you as both an Islamic theologian and a practising Muslim?
MG: In my view, the world has become very materialistic and people have turned away from God. People are neglecting their responsibilities towards their Creator and failing to find a real purpose in their lives. As for those who do follow a religion, too often their faith is diluted and they pay mere lip-service to their so-called faith.
The other great challenge of this era is an increasing tide of Islamophobia in some parts of the Western world. I believe it is the case that some parts of the media and a segment of ill-wishers in the West are trying to defame Islam by spreading misconceptions about this faith. Sadly, some in the West attribute the evil actions of certain individuals and so-called Islamic organisations to the religion of Islam. And so the barbaric actions of a tiny minority come to taint a whole religion. Another factor here is that some questionable Muslim organisations exist who cloak their worldly and political ambitions behind the pure and peaceful face of Islam.
Interlitq: What are your efforts to remove this misconceptions?
MG: We are trying to remove prejudice and misconceptions by preaching and practising just and peaceful Islamic values. We do not have economic or political ambitions and nor do we want to conquer any territory or land but we want to win over the hearts of people by demonstrating the true Islamic values of love, peace, humanity and mutual respect. Despite having limited resources, my community is striving all over the world to serve humanity irrespective of differences vis-a-vis religion, race and nation. For example, in Africa we have built hospitals and schools and we are also trying to provide to the local people basic needs such as water and electricity. In more than 200 countries, our goal is to build bridges of mutual respect and harmony. We believe that the 700 islamic commands can be divided into two categories:
Firstly one’s responsibilities towards God and secondly one’s responsibilities towards the creation of God. Indeed, one’s relationship as a Muslim towards the creation of God could be summed up by these six words “Love For All, Hatred For None”, this being the motto of our community.
Interlitq: Finally, what message would you like to share with the readers of Interlitq?
MG: It is very important to respect the values and sentiments of others. Instead of building prison walls of hatred and prejudice, we should strive throughout to live in a state of mutual harmony and peace. Islam teaches that all nations and races are equal and Allah is the Lord not of any specific nation or race, but rather that he is the Lord of all mankind. Therefore we should treat all human beings equally and with respect. According to Islam, a Muslim is someone whose hands and tongues others should never have to fear. If we all embrace the precept of mutual respect, this world would soon be transformed into heaven.