The incendiary statement made by the Republican U.S. presidential contender Donald Trump in December 2015, who called for the “complete shutdown” of all Muslims from entering the United States, provoked outrage and dismay across the world and underlined the rise of an Islamophobic trend in the campaign season rhetoric in America. Many American Muslims reacted to Trump’s comments by saying that his prejudiced conviction was unconstitutional and un-American and ran counter to the principle of freedom of religion sustained in the First Amendment.
Prior to that, Donald Trump had called for the profiling of American Muslims in special databases and demanded that they should carry identification cards with them to be easily distinguished from the rest of U.S. citizens.
One of the widely-acclaimed responses to Donald Trump came from an American Muslim who had served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Sergeant Tayyib Rashid posted a copy of his Marine identification card on Twitter along with a brief text message, reading:
– Hey @realDonaldTrump, I’m an American Muslim and I already carry a special ID badge. Where’s yours? #SemperFi
Tayyib Rashid’s tweet was liked more than 51,000 times and extraordinarily retweeted by 39,234 users, prompting the emergence of the hashtag #MuslimID, an apparently sarcastic reaction to Trump’s controversial proposal. It was then when many American Muslims began sharing screenshots of their professional IDs as physicians, nurses, teachers, police officers, social entrepreneurs and journalists on Twitter using this hashtag.
But who is Tayyib Rashid? Mr. Rashid is a 38-year-old American Muslim, belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Born in Pakistan, he immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 10, fleeing the persecution Ahmadi Muslims faced in the South Asian country. He adopted American nationality, and served five years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps beginning in 1997. Tayyib Rashid feels strong passion and loyalty towards the United States and works to promote the values of non-violence and fraternity endorsed by Islam among his fellow Americans.
“I find it extremely troubling that Mr. Trump would use the gift of free speech we have in this great nation, which I fought to defend, to promote fear and hate in such a manner,” the former Chicago Marine told Truth NGO in an interview.
“I think Americans greatly value the U.S. Constitution and will not allow someone to hijack the foundation of what has made this country so great. I firmly believe that Mr. Trump’s proposal will never become a reality,” he added.
Tayyib Rashid believes there is no conflict between his identity as a Muslim and his identity as an American. He says the Muslims need to stand up in unison and demonstrate that misjudgments about their religion are unsubstantiated.
In the following interview, Tayyib Rashid talked about the commendation he received after he responded to Donald Trump on Twitter and his viewpoints on the importance of peace and non-violence in Islam.
Q: Mr. Rashid; as an American Muslim who has served the nation in uniform, how did you feel after hearing the GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump saying that all Muslims should be barred from entering the United States and need to be profiled in specific databases? Why do you think he has said such unconventional things about the Muslims?
A: As a Muslim who believes in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, I was taught from a very early age that loyalty to my country of residence is part of my faith. This is one of the main reasons why I enlisted in the Marine Corps and it’s one of my life’s greatest achievements that I was able to serve my faith and my country by serving in the Armed Forces. Therefore, I was really shocked and disappointed by Mr. Trump’s comments because they are inconsistent with the principles of justice and opposite to the principles of the U.S. Constitution. His comments reflect the fear and hate that an extremist segment of the United States believes about minorities in the U.S. in general and Muslims in particular. I find it extremely troubling that Mr. Trump would use the gift of free speech we have in this great nation, which I fought to defend, to promote fear and hate in such a manner.
Q: Hundreds of Americans and non-Americans were enthused after you tweeted a response to Donald Trump’s statements on the need for Muslim Americans to have special ID cards by saying that you already carry a badge of honor that testifies to your service as a U.S. Marine for 5 years. What were the best and most inspiring responses you received? Do you feel that your fellow citizens recognize the value of your service as a Muslim American?
A: Without a doubt, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, which gives me a great deal of pride in being an American. People have reached out to me from all demographics and all walks of life expressing their support for my message. Some responses were humorous and made me chuckle while others brought tears of joy [to my eyes] with kind words of encouragement and support for me and the Muslim community in general. I feel this experience has fostered an even greater love in my heart for America, because it has validated that Americans are good and moral citizens of the world and that they recognize hate for what it is and reject it in favor of justice and compassion. I received over 2,500 messages of support, but here are just a few examples:
- “Hugs to you, sir (from the granddaughter of a Jewish Russian refugee).”
- “First thank you sir for your service to our USA. Stereotyping Muslims for political purposes is not an American value!”
- “@realDonaldTrump, some aloe for that burn maybe?”
- “Saw you last night on MSNBC, I thought you did a great job and I would like to learn more about your organization. If we (all people no matter what religion) all could do what you discussed last night, this world would be a much better place. Very proud of you!”
- “@MuslimMarine I wanted to say thank you. We are human, you are my brother. I support you. Let’s bridge the gap.”
Q: It was so inspiring. So, do you think the ideas put forward by Donald Trump, who has proposed the banning of all Muslims from the United States and registering them in a national database will be translated into action? Polls show that the majority of Americans do not have a close understanding of Islam and many of them have never seen a Muslim in their proximity. Won’t this unawareness pave the way for the actualization of what Mr. Trump is advocating?
A: No, I think Americans greatly value the U.S. Constitution and will not allow someone to hijack the foundation of what has made this country so great. I firmly believe that Mr. Trump’s proposal will never become a reality. I recognize that today many Americans – 60% according to PEW research – don’t know the true teachings of Islam. To remedy this gap, each of the 75 chapters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has engaged in initiatives to serve our communities. Previously, we have launched the Muslims for Peace, Muslims for Loyalty, and Muslims for Life campaigns. Our latest effort is the True Islam campaign that seeks to remove some of the most common misconceptions about the true Islamic teaching. Below are just a few points that we are trying to present to fight extremism. You can visit www.TrueIslam.com for full details.
True Islam wholly rejects all forms of terrorism; believes in non-violent Jihad of the self and pen; believes in the equality, education, and empowerment of women; advocates for freedom of speech, conscience, and religion; advocates for separation of mosque and state and believes in loyalty to your country of residence.
Q: Following the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shooting, several influential politicians, public figures and media organizations in the United States began putting the blame on the Muslims for the atrocities that had unfolded. Does this kind of unwarranted incrimination make the life difficult for the American Muslims who become the first targets of Islamophobic attacks? The noted American director Michael Moore voiced solidarity with the Muslims by launching the campaign “We Are All Muslim.” Are such acts of solidarity sufficiently effective to deter hatred and prejudice from the American Muslims?
A: Certainly, when politicians and other public figures get involved in such hate-mongering and bigotry as has been done by Mr. Trump, it does have an impact on how some ignorant people in society treat minorities in general and in this case how they treat anyone they perceive to be Muslim. The result is that you see a significant spike in hate crimes all over the U.S. against not only Muslims but also people of the Sikh and Hindu faiths.
As a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, I find this level of bigotry reprehensible and absolutely unacceptable. While I certainly appreciate the kind support of people like Michael Moore, I believe such support by itself is not enough and that Muslims have to step up to the plate and meet this challenge head-on. American Muslims have a tremendous responsibility to get out in the public and open the channels of dialog with our fellow Americans and create opportunities for them to ask difficult questions that will enable a better understanding of what Muslims truly believe.
The worst thing [we] Muslims can do is to retreat into our own private bubbles because what we know is that there is a vacuum of information about Islam and Muslims. This great demand is being filled with the narrative of the extremist terrorists and anti-Islamic hate-mongers. To meet this demand, Ahmadi Muslims, under the direction of the spiritual head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, His Holiness, the khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, all over the United States are creating opportunities to have meaningful discussions with our fellow Americans. We are doing this through personal contacts, social media, public events, social service initiatives, etc. We will not let the terrorists and Islamophobes speak for us.
For example, I am in regular contact with all my neighbors, co-workers, and contacts on social media to answer questions and to remove misconceptions about Islam. I not only share the theory of the Islamic teaching but also show by my own practical example and the example of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at large that there is no conflict between my identity as a Muslim and my identity as an American. I firmly believe that we can control our environment and it is our responsibility as Muslims to educate the public. While we will always welcome the support of good-hearted people like Michael Moore, we cannot shirk our responsibility to engage our neighbors and non-Muslim friends in meaningful dialog to remove misconceptions and improve our relationships. That is what’s needed today and we welcome any request for dialog with open arms.
Q: Some American Muslims have recently raised this concern that the United States is no longer a safe and peaceful place for them, and they should consider moving to a Muslim-majority country. This is something they’ve at least broached, even though they may never realize it. With legislations that discriminate against the Muslims and the prejudiced statements by politicians who are poised to become the future leaders of the nation, is the United States safeguarding the rights of its Muslim minority properly?
A: The Holy Quran has stated that Muslims are best of people created for the service of mankind. Muslims should worry more about how they are discharging their responsibility to serve their fellow man and stop worrying about what some extremist politicians and bigots have to say. We should let our actions speak for us. So long as we have freedom to practice our faith and we engage in serving our fellow Americans, I firmly believe that we will be able to live in peace and security. Certainly, if some Muslims fear for their safety and want to leave for a “Muslim majority” country, they should do so. I however find that as an Ahmadi Muslim, I have more freedom to practice my faith here in America than most other Muslim countries. I find it refreshingly ironic that the U.S. Constitution reflects Islamic values more accurately than the constitution of countries like Pakistan, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.
Q: You talked about the constitutional rights. One of the principles upon which the U.S. Constitution was founded is freedom of religion and respect for the rights of the minorities. You came to the United States at the age of 10 in search of the liberties and freedoms you were denied at home, in Pakistan. Are these freedoms being gradually taken away from you? Are you feeling threatened as Islamophobic trends grow in the States?
A: I am thrilled to call myself an American Muslim not only because of my faith but also because I’ve received overwhelming love and support from my fellow Americans who respect and value me and my faith. So long as I have freedom of religion and freedom of speech, my faith teaches me that I must be loyal to my country. When I was 19, I took an oath to defend this great nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That oath still holds true today and will hold true until the day I die. While then I defended America using my M16, today I defend it using my pen, my iPhone, and laptop. The members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and I will not let extremists and Islamophobes threaten the peace and security of this beautiful country and we will defend these rights till our dying breath by engaging in meaningful dialog, education, and service to humanity.
Q: As almost every major Muslim scholar, intellectual and religious authority has emphasized, there’s no room for violence and terror in Islam. Prophet Muhammad always advised the Muslims to treat each other respectfully and cordially, avoid using the language of coercion and force in dealing with others and venerate one’s neighbors and family members, let alone opening fire on the innocent people. Is this message of peace from the Muslims reaching out to the American public adequately so that they understand the essence of Islam as a non-violent faith?
A: No; I think there is much work to do to get this message to stick. It’s one thing to say that Islam is peaceful, and quite another thing to demonstrate it by practical example. Today, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Muslim community, established in 207 nations in the world, recognized for its peaceful approach in every nation where it is established. It is a living example that demonstrates Islam is a religion of peace. The reason for its success is its leadership, His Holiness, the khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad. Under his leadership and previous khalifas of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, not a single member of the worldwide AMC has ever engaged in violent terrorist activities. This reflects a perfect track record for over 120 years. Rather than engaging in violence or protest, Ahmadi Muslims all over the world regularly try their best to serve their communities and promote peace even in the face of severe persecution such as in places like Pakistan. If Muslims cannot demonstrate peace with practical living examples through their actions, character, and relationships with others, then their declaration of Islam being peaceful is meaningless.
Unfortunately the fact is that too many Muslim countries continue to violate freedom of religion and freedom of conscience when it comes to the rights of minorities living in Muslim majority lands. So long as those Muslim nations continue to promote things like blasphemy laws that persecute and usurp the right of minorities, Muslims living in the United States and other western countries will have a difficulty convincing others that Islam is a religion of peace. I submit to my fellow Americans that these so-called Muslim countries violate the true Islamic principles as mentioned in the Holy Quran and as practiced by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Holy Prophet demonstrated through his actions what true Islam is and this is precisely what the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is trying to promote by launching the True Islam campaign. I would encourage my fellow Americans to visit www.trueislam.com, endorse the principles that resonate with them, and help us spread peace by promoting this message of peace among their personal contacts.
This interview was originally published on the Truth NGO website.