Monday, March 24, 2014

"Only" 20,000 Ahmadi Muslims Make History

Original Post: On Faith, March 12, 2014

“Only” 20,000 Ahmadi Muslims Make History
This month saw the launch of the bi-partisan Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus. Here’s why.

I often hear the phrase “Only 20,000 people?” as a critique of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in America, and I was not surprised when this phrase resurfaced after the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus launched this month.

People may think that a group of 20,000 Americans do not deserve a caucus. If 20,000 Americans signed a petition on the White House website, the White House wouldn’t give them the time of day. It takes 100,000 signatures on a petition to receive a response from the White House. Twenty thousand Americans would not make a difference.

So why and how did “only” 20,000 Americans make history and establish our nation’s first bi-partisan Muslim caucus? In a world of viral petitions and big money election spenders, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA has shown something inspiring and powerful — that what critics thought was the “little guy” is in fact big in every way. When dedicated to the good of humanity, there’s no such thing as “only” 20,000 Americans. Critics may scoff, but every American should be thrilled that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus now exists. Representatives Frank Wolf (Virginia Republican) and Jackie Speier (California Democrat) received approval from the House Administration Committee to establish the caucus. These two Representatives united to condemn persecution of Ahmadi Muslims and now co-chair the caucus.

Here’s why.

Ahmadi Muslims differ from the rest of the United States’ nearly three million Muslims in their belief in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. They consider Ahmad the awaited Messiah that Prophet Muhammad foretold would come to re-establish truth, justice, and revive Islam. (Non-Ahmadi Muslims believe that the only prophet that will come after Prophet Muhammad is Jesus Christ, and await his physical descent from heaven.) For accepting Ahmad as the awaited Messiah, Ahmadi Muslims face persecution worldwide, including in Pakistan, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia.

Despite this, Ahmadi Muslims categorically condemn all religious violence, practice a peaceful jihad of the pen, engage in dialogues, and perform tens of thousands of hours of community service annually to support all people, no matter their faith.

And it is on this premise of supporting all humanity that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus was born.

To establish the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus, American Ahmadi Muslims went beyond merely condemning the 9/11 tragedy, and instead remembered the victims by holding blood drives in their honor. Over the past three years, Ahmadi Muslims and fellow Americans have joined together to save over 100,000 lives through Muslims for Life blood drives.

Ahmadi Muslims don’t pay lip service to interfaith tolerance — we go beyond and host hundreds of interfaith dialogues to promote understanding within our 73 chapters nationwide.

Ahmadi Muslims have adopted highways, fed hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans, clothed countless needy, provided millions of dollars in free medical care, logged thousands of hours of pro bono legal services, sat to take the U.S. citizenship test, and risen to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

American Ahmadi Muslims have made it their rallying cry to stand up for the impoverished, downtrodden, persecuted, and under-represented.

And all the while, they have done so on their own dime and their own time.

President Obama learned about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community through years of these dedicated efforts. At the National Prayer Breakfast in February, he mentioned the persecution Ahmadi Muslims face. Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary John Kerry urging him to press Pakistan to repeal discriminatory voting laws that disenfranchised Ahmadi Muslims. Now we see members of congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — joining the bi-partisan Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus to combat religious persecution worldwide. Representative Pete King immediately joined and tweeted his support for this caucus.

True to our calling card, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus will not only combat the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims. Imam Naseem Mahdi, missionary-in-charge and vice president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, announced at the caucus’ launch on February 28, “[The Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus will] advocate for the rights of all persecuted religious communities in the world.”

“Only” 20,000 Americans made American history with the nation’s first bi-partisan Muslim caucus. We invite all Americans of all faiths and all Americans of no faith to join our fight for universal religious freedom for all people.

If 20,000 made American history, there’s no doubt 20 million can make world history.

About Salaam Bhatti

Salaam Bhatti is a practicing attorney in New York and regularly lectures on Islam and human rights. He is a co-editor of the books "By The Dawn's Early Light" and "The Wrong Kind of Muslim." Follow him on Twitter @Salawm

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book Review: The Wrong Kind of Muslim

There's a piece of land in Eastern Pakistan that has long since been washed of a plane crash that killed a  dictator in 1988.  However, the dictator's legacy has not been washed away and continues to hold a vice-like grip on Pakistan's throat.  This legacy, as Qasim Rashid describes in his first book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim, oppresses every Pakistani by not allowing for freedom of conscience and creates a breeding ground for terrorists.  The victims of a lack of freedom of conscience range from all backgrounds, regardless of faith or no faith. The victims of the terrorists range from domestic to foreign. And yet, the country still has adherents to many faiths who live and die for their religion.
Qasim tells these peoples' stories.  He meets with Ahmadi Muslims, a community of Muslims who are constitutionally declared non-Muslim in Pakistan and face wanton persecution.   As per the oppressors, Ahmadi Muslims are "the wrong kind of Muslim." The nation's anti-blasphemy laws ensure that Ahmadi Muslims, as well as Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and other minority groups receive unequal treatment. Through engaging conversations with several Pakistanis, Qasim outlines practically everything the reader needs to know about the current state of Pakistan, regardless of what they may or may not know about the nation's politics.
The characters in the book, all real people, are scattered throughout time and space, but united by a common idea to worship as they please.  Yusef, a man who never misses praying at his local mosque, wakes up ill one day and faces a dilemma of attending mosque on a fateful day.  Mian Jee, an agnostic on his deathbed, strikes a deal with God to find Him if he gets a second chance.  Danyal, an Islamic scholar, guides the author around and explains what is happening in Pakistan.  These people, and others in the book, all meet with a persecution that many could never stomach, let alone survive.
Yet, as much press as the book's title will receive, the subtitle is the crux of the story: An Untold Story of Persecution and Perseverance.  Everybody in the book experiences persecution by words and/or actions. But, the story becomes character-centric when the issue arises as to whether that person will continue with his or her faith.  Qasim repeatedly asks people why they don't simply fly under the radar so that they can safely return home to their families at the end of the day.  The answers he receives are as personal as they are sublime.
Rashid relates Danyal's story, a horrific account of torture that seemed possible only in movies and Guantanamo Bay.  "Danyal knew the torture was not a bluff and made a firm promise accordingly. That no matter how difficult, he would resist whatever they threw at him....Thus began the sleep torture. Danyal didn’t get a bed. And as disgusting as the floor was, they refused to let him lie down. Instead, in the middle of that small room was a hard, uncomfortable, wooden chair. Danyal sat up in that chair without slouching, and without moving [for hours]."  What happens next is not for the faint of heart, but worth the read for those who truly want to feel what made him persevere.
This book, although mostly set in a foreign nation, is not foreign to much of the world due to the presence of Taliban members throughout the world.  The same Taliban members that planned and/or carried out attacks in the US, UK, Canada, France, etc. have roots in the frontiers of Pakistan; places that are as wild and unrestrictive as the nation's policies.  Thus, the enemies of religious minorities in Pakistan are also America's enemies.
Qasim ensures the reader makes this connection by relating two incidents from May 2010 in "Pakistani Terrorism on American Soil."  Faisal Shahzad notoriously tried to blow up Times Square in early May.  Weeks later, Taliban forces simultaneously attacked two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan and slaughtered over 85 Ahmadi Muslims during Friday Prayer services.  The kicker?  Faisal Shahzad was trained by the very same Taliban group that attacked those Ahmadi Muslim mosques.
Stories of others can be difficult to follow, especially in such a foreign element with people we have never met.  When it comes to something as universal as the freedom to believe whatever we want to believe, then the stories are not so foreign.  "Shia sufferings and horrors Hindus face" explains the predicament these minority communities face day in and day out, with people skipping blasphemy allegations and proceeding straight to stone-cold murdering.  "The Thai Ahmadis" is a blip of the difficulties faced by Pakistanis trying to seek asylum and can leave the reader desirous of more information on how refugees fare.
I recommend reading this book for a variety of reasons, but namely because you have the freedom to read it, which is hard to say for about 5 billion of our fellow human beings.  When you begin The Wrong Kind of Muslim, be sure to clear your schedule for the next few days because you won't be able to put this down.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Due process or not due process? That is the question.

In the Tsarnaev aftermath, a lot of fervor has arisen over Miranda rights, due process, and "enemy combatant" status.  There are terms, historical notes, backbends, and loopholes that keep coming up.  We, as US Citizens, are subject to them, whether or not we agree.  But to move forward, most just choose to agree.  This means one thing: the Constitution has become like Apple's Terms and Conditions.  

Here are some known facts:
The Constitution applies to US Citizens.  
The Constitution includes the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights are the first 10 Amendments.
One of those Amendments is the 5th Amendment. 
The 5th Amendment provides for Due Process.
Due Process applies to US Citizens.

Now let's define due process.  In a nutshell, due process is presenting your case in court fairly.

Brace yourself:

There are two types of due process: substantive and procedural.
Substantive due process: whether the government has an adequate reason for taking away a person’s life, liberty, or property.
Procedural due process: the procedures a government must follow to take away someone’s life, liberty or property. 

Yes, we just defined due process but now it gets a teensy bit tricky.  

When police take a person into custody and interrogate him (custodial interrogation), that person must be given Miranda warnings regardless of the severity of the crime.  

This is where people start citing the "Public Safety Exception".  This exception allows police to question a suspect in custody without Miranda warnings about the location of a missing gun or the location of a missing kidnapped victim for the protection of the police or the public.  These are immediate questions for a perceived immediate threat.  

      Does the public safety exception apply here?  
      There's new evidence emerging that Tsarnaev may have been part of a ring. However, this evidence is emerging over a period of days...days after he was caught.  Ideally, the public safety exception should last a short amount of time so that Miranda can swoop in and allow for the person to have due process.  But, on the other hand, Tsarnaev is not conscious.  So any questions asked cannot be answered.  The risks are now all perceived risks that start with "Maybes".  Maybe there are more bombs out there.  Maybe the one phone call he gets will result in him remotely setting off a bomb.  Maybe there is a terrorist ring he is a part of that is ready to strike.  All these maybes are just that: maybes.  They're not fact, but they are based on fact.  A fact that is quickly becoming a historical fact without immediate future danger.  I say that the public safety exception does not apply here. 

      So is he an enemy combatant?
      You might think that United States citizens captured in America cannot be designated as enemy combatants.  False.
      Precedent looks at two cases: Ex parte Quirin and Rumsfeld v Padilla. Quirin involved a bunch of German-Americans (one was a US citizen) landing on Long Island during WWII.  They were captured and tried as enemy combatants.   José Padilla was a US Citizen captured in Chicago for terrorism related conspiracies back in 2002, but he was not charged at the time.  He was designated an enemy combatant. He was subjected to enhanced interrogation tactics (also known as torture) while waiting to be charged.  The Padilla case history is not a pleasant read.  It is like reading about a roller coaster that goes forward for the first half of the ride, and then goes backwards for the second half of the ride.  

      Ultimately, Padilla was charged just before his case reached the Supreme Court (over three years after being arrested).  So yes, there were cases upon cases just to decide whether or not he would be charged.  

      Will Tsarnaev be held as an enemy combatant?  Will he face the daunting paperwork mountain ahead of him? The paperwork alone could be deemed cruel and unusual. Whatever the outcome, this will create important precedent.  If Tsarnaev was involved with a terrorist ring and he had terrorist objectives, then the War On Terror's battlefield has expanded and, well *spoiler alert* nobody is safe.  There are more home grown terrorists out there.  When they are caught, whatever happens with Tsarnaev will apply to them. 

      Politicians and talking heads across the country emotionally rant that Tsarnaev should not receive his Miranda rights and should be held as an enemy combatant.  Generally, these politicians and talking heads are not lawyers.  So let's leave the lawyering to the lawyers.  After all, it is lawyers who made Apple's Terms and Conditions.  The rest just have to click "Agree".  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Keeping Up With the Dow Joneses

May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.  (Job 3:3-4)
There's something about the story of Job which draws everybody in, religious or not.  The story of his struggle is legendary, and rightfully so.  It has the drama of legends like the Ramayan and the reality of relatability.

Today, a down legal market has many struggling.  There are scores of underemployed and unemployed lawyers out there. These jobless are unfortunately not Jobless, which makes the whole scenario very unfortunate.

When the legal market sank, many lawyers who worked for big corporations and big law firms were let go from their "top tier" jobs.  That is because firms and companies wanted to cut costs.  The best way to do that was to get rid of pricey lawyers.  These "top" lawyers then sought jobs on the next tier below.  Employers rushed at the chance to hire these legal brains.  This resulted in the standard crop of applicants to this level looking elsewhere for jobs. The steps downward continued all the way.

Trickle down economics, if you will.

One of the drawbacks of the legal industry is that lawyers can practice law until the day they die.  A working body is not needed.  So long as your brain works, you can practice law.  As a result, lawyers can and do practice into their 80s and 90s and don't retire or die soon enough.  Longevity, as great as it may be in many other cases, is a real problem for the legal industry.  The new breed is effectively stumped from gaining critical legal experience in their young age.  The top guns in their old age, for some reason, are not taking advantage of the situation and training these young, moldable minds.

How does this prevent jobs from opening up?  If old lawyers (most who are partners in law firms) are not retiring/dying, then those jobs do not become available.  As a result, the lawyers below their status do not have an opportunity to move up to that position.  And if those lawyers cannot move up, then the lawyers below the other lawyers cannot move up.  And if those lawyers cannot move up, then their jobs cannot become available to other lawyers available for hire.

Again, trickle down economics.  

[Digression: Lawyers, for the most part, love to talk, and if they love to talk, then they love to talk about themselves. That's what we in the industry call "networking".  If you are a new lawyer or a law student, you attend networking functions and ask the lawyers about themselves and keep making them talk about themselves.  Then the lawyer finds that he had a very interesting conversation with the young lawyer or law student, perhaps not realizing that the entire conversation was about the lawyer, which is why the lawyer finds the young lawyer or law student interesting.]

Back to the old lawyers.  They have a desire to do as much as they can as their minutes tick away.  However, if they have a desire to make an impression in the legal world, then the greatest way to leave an impression is to train the new breed of lawyers.  By training the new breed, one is guaranteed to live forever.  Thus, the wealth of knowledge the senior attorneys have does not go to waste when they retire or pass away.  The knowledge becomes an inheritable treasure which can benefit others long after the lawyer has passed on.  

Those who evolve, externally or internally,
are the ones that get to keep on keeping on.
Otherwise, we continue in our current stage where lawyers apply for jobs at all levels.  And lawyers with little to no experience apply for whatever they can get.  This leads to employers clearly stating in their job postings for paralegals "JDs need not apply" or "paralegal certificate required".  A law school grad not getting a job as a paralegal is like a chef from Umberto's not getting a job at Domino's.

It is all a cyclical struggle.  And why wouldn't it be?  If we didn't struggle, then what's the point?  Why lounge around in total comfort?  That's not what the grand thing called "LIFE" was ever meant to be.  Complacency is never an option. This cycle is crucial to who we are as humans and a testament to what we can become.

In the period when we're "between jobs", we feel like Job.  We cry out Job's sorrowful soliloquy (part of which begins this article)  and we send our complaints to the heavens, only to know that the answer from God has been the same since time immemorial:
Brace yourself like a man.  (Job 40:7)
At the worst, and best, of it all, that is all that we can do. And, hopefully, that is what we will do.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Tale of Two Tiers

Yesterday, I had two separate meetings with Ian and Tommy, two people with legal backgrounds.  Ian is a lawyer. Tommy has moved on from law and is in the improv world.  Both are from opposite ends of the law school tier system.  Ian attended a top law school, Tommy attended a lower ranked law school.  I don't know why, but I expected very different conversations with both people.  Not that one conversation would be dumb and the other intelligent, but that each conversation would have different outlooks on life, different strategies, etc.  Yet, in both conversations, the same word popped up.


Tommy hustled upon graduation.  He rented an office, took the per diem route, and, within a matter of months, gained many clients for his solo firm.  Ian had a highly sought-after job at a top law firm.  Ian did not have Tommy's hustle yet, but *spoiler alert* it's about to happen.  Both were, undoubtedly, making a lot of money.

But, like most people with great plans rattling in their brains, they were restless.  They wanted more. They wanted something else.  

For Tommy, a lifelong performer, it was a life that involved a stage and comedy.

For Ian, a CPA with a background in banking and business, it was a life of running his own law firm.

So the two left their jobs to pursue other things, essentially, to pursue themselves.  

Enter the hustle.

Tommy offered to mop floors at comedy clubs just to get his foot in the door.  Now that his foot is in, he continually reaches out to firms, corporations, and people in many different ways to offer his services. Ian is in contact with law schools, law students, and law organizations to get his name out and let his message be heard.  

Tommy is now doing a lot of work to bring laughter to people, but he has not completely left the legal world.  He has an accredited CLE, which he has taught in places all over North America, called "Improv(ed) Legal Skills".  This is not about bringing humor to the courtroom, rather, it is about thinking on your feet, developing a better relationship with a team, listening effectively, and conquering fears.  The class has been so successful that there is a waitlist to take it.  However, appointments can be made so that he brings the class to your corporation or law firm.  

Tommy does all this while being the Director of Corporate Programming at one of the great improv theaters/schools in New York City: The People's Improv Theater (The PIT).  Although he took an economic hit when he transitioned from law to improv, he told me that he is much happier now eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with his young son than he was eating steak dinners in Bermuda.      

Ian has his feet firmly rooted in the legal world, but his feet are not exactly rooted in a typical office.  Ian embraced technology and opened a virtual law office just a month ago after leaving his job at the law firm.  He specializes in immigration, bankruptcy, surrogacy/adoption, wills, and contracts.  

Ian also runs a blog about being successful in law school and beyond.  This blog is in anticipation of his upcoming book, The Law School Lowdown, which details everything from getting into law school to getting a job.  More info on this at a future date (hopefully a book review as well).  Ian is hustling his way to new areas, which is inspiring to see.

Ian and Tommy have excellent backgrounds and attitudes to ensure that their hustle helps their craft come to light.  Both have gone the route of believing 
There will be plenty of time to think inside the box when I'm dead.  
What did I learn?  Tiers matter when one wants a job in a multi-billion dollar industry making a name for the company and making a couple bucks for yourself.  But, when it comes to making a name for yourself, tiers don't matter.  It's the tears you put into your work that will undoubtedly take you to where you need to be.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Flaws of Claus

In the legal world, professional integrity is important.  This integrity is shaped by how a lawyer presents him/herself, interacts with fellow colleagues, and many other things.  According to the American Bar Association's code of professional responsibility, lawyers are not allowed to knowingly lie.  Many different types of people live a life of not lying, lawyers included.  After all, the words we utter are a deciding factor in whether somebody will trust us.  This all leads to the issue at hand "Whether a lawyer loses any integrity when s/he tells a child that Santa Claus exists?"  

Although a simple sounding question, it is actually very complex.  The question would read better if phrased as such, "What happens when an adult person tells a child that an obese man can travel hundreds of thousands of miles an hour with flying four-legged animals (that do not have wings), has an itinerary of every single child (the likes of which Dateline should investigate), lives in arctic temperatures with his wife and small workers (who have not unionized) and are likely subjected to more human rights violations than grammar rules violated by this sentence?"  
Thomas Nast created the modern
plump Santa that many try to look like
in their everyday life.

This question displays multiple mistakes about our society.  Here are a few (feel free to highlight some more in the comments section):

1.  We teach our children a false science.
This impossible idea shows that a person can defy the laws of physics and survive multiple G-forces with no protective encasement around him in a non-aerodynamic mode of transport.  It is also important to mention that Santa Claus is not a relative of Icarus.  That is to say, the higher Santa flies above the Earth and thus closer to the sun does not mean he is feeling warmer.  To the contrary, it is freezing cold where he flies.  Is it any wonder why American students are losing the global competition in math and science?

2.  Privacy is not important
A man has a network that allows him to spy on every child.  Now, a child must reason at a rudimentary level, "If Santa can see me while I'm sleeping or awake, then he can see me clothed and undressed." Which must be disconcerting because the child's parents told him that strangers aren't allowed to see him naked.  And this same stranger seems to be following him everywhere he goes because whatever store he goes into, this man is making him sit on his lap and tell him what he wants for Christmas.  Can we say stalker?  

3.  This teaches a child poor reasoning skills.  
This man is overly jolly, can drink millions of glasses of milk without vomiting (everybody in college knew somebody who tried drinking a gallon of milk in under an hour, never turned out well did it?), can eat hundreds of millions of cookies without getting a stomachache, handle his morbidly obese weight so well that he can squeeze down a chimney (in America, at least, and conform to other cultures as he must when he crosses borders), and has a toy for every Christian person in the world in a toy sack that is roughly about twice his size.  As a further point, if this man knows when I have been bad or good and "sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake", then why write him a list of what you want?  By right, he should be all-aware and well-aware of what you want!  

4.  Faith is dispensable.  
As the child ages, he'll stop believing in God.  Why not?  Parents, the harbingers of truth, told the kid that an all-seeing, all-aware being existed.  And then, like pulling a rug from underneath a dozing koala bear, that person suddenly doesn't exist and is ripped from the fabric of that child's life.  

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!  A man named Jesus was born on this day.

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!  His mother was still a virgin after his conception and he came to die for every Christian's sins.

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!  He wasn't born on this day, he was born in the springtime.  Because duh, baby animals are not galloping around in the winter.  

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!  December 25th was chosen because a boat load of pagans had their pagan holiday on this day and the Christians wanted to appeal to them so they switched up Jesus's birth day (no offense, Jesus!).  

And, as we know, this was not the only time Jesus was hoodwinked with a quick exchange.  He was also partially merged into Santa Claus (along with St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Sinterklass.).  A child my wife tutors said it best, "I asked my friend what would happen if Santa died.  He replied, 'God would make him come back to life and he would live forever.'"

*     *     *     *

I was asked why I don't celebrate Christmas.  I replied that I actually do celebrate Christmas, except that I celebrate it as Christmas' namesake would have celebrated it, which means I celebrate it in the spring/summer.  Which also means I do not celebrate it because the namesake never celebrated it, rather he simply engaged himself in acts of prayer and self-betterment everyday.  

Sometimes, following precedent is not so bad.