Program started at 3:10 with 10 mins delay because of some protests going on. It ended at 4:45 pm.
The program started with the recitation of Holy Quran Chapter 94, Surah Al-Inshirah, by Hafiz Abdul Qudoos Kukoyi Sahib.
Then the host Dr. Faheem Younus, President of Baltimore Chapter of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community gave his welcome speech. He welcomed the guests and thanked them. He told them that just like companions of Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) we don’t have much to offer but just like them we strive our utmost best to make our guests comfortable. He said that we know that our guests could have spent their evening anywhere else but they have chosen to spent their time with a community that cannot offer anything in return. He also emphasized that we are more interested in dialogue then speeches and a very small time in meeting agenda has been reserved for speeches and a large chunk of time is dedicated to Q&A.
After him Mansoor Shams, who is a veteran and Outreach Secretary for Baltimore Chapter of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community addressed the audience. He mentioned the names, ranks and short life sketch of 5 different Muslim Veterans who have lost their lives fighting for America in different countries. He said that these Muslims gave ultimate sacrifice for their country but imagine what would they will think about the state of America today. He said that you don’t have to die to prove your sacrifices for you country, your sacrifice for your country starts the day you sign your contract with any branch of US Military.
Mansoor said that he was not looking for any sympathy but what he wants that people should reflect what are we leaving behind for future generations. He said that we are a nation of immigrants. He said that he fought for his country because his faith tells him to do so.
Mansoor mentioned that Iraq was a huge disaster for thousands of people. Imagine how you will feel if your home is destroyed and your family is killed. Now the same people have been rejected even a chance to escape from the war that America bears the responsibility for. He said that his loyalty is not just for America or for Muslims but his loyalty is for Humanity.
Mansoor also mentioned that he has also taken part in the Majlis Khuddam ul Ahmadiyya (MKA, Ahmadiyya Muslim youth organization) initiative of Meet-a-Muslim. He said in Houston he stood out on the street with a sign saying “I am a Muslim and a veteran”. One person looked at him with contempt and confronted him but after some discussion apologized for his earlier behavior and then they exchanged phone numbers and later he texted Mansoor a note of thanks that this incident made him realize his own bigotry.
Mansoor said that Ahmadiyya Muslim Community follow the instructions and guidance of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih the 5th. Hazrat Mira Masroor Ahmad has told us that we don’t protest in the streets. We pray to God. Whatever actions Mr. Trump will take, if they are unjust against any community we will register our protest by taking lawful and legal actions.
After this Retd. Col. Scott Cooper of Marine Corps who is the founder of Veterans for American Ideals addressed the audience. He said that these times require to think outside the box. He said that he is from Wyoming which is, population wise, smallest state in the Union. He said that there is a sense of community in that state. Even when he left Wyoming he carries this sense of community with him and it became stronger when he joined Military. He said that we should stand for something bigger than ourselves. He said that we have to be even more courageous once we take off our uniforms.
He said that we have this shared responsibility for this experiment in democracy and diversity, this republic. He said that veterans can be a civilizing, uniting force in America. He said unlike 40 years ago today veterans garner a huge amount of respect. Hence it is obligatory for us to use our position in a positive way. He said that contempt is unpatriotic. He said that serving means sacrifice and belonging to a community needs sacrifice.
Next speaker was Sarah Feinberg who is a US Marines Veteran now working as Senior Financial Analyst at Washington Post. She said that only in America she, who is a Christian with a Jewish last name, can come to a mosque without any fear or hesitation. She has been very disturbed by the politics of bigotry. As a mother of three children she has to set an example on how to respect people from another faith. She said that solution to bigotry does not lay with politicians alone but with us. She said that her church is actively trying to help refugees. She said that she is disappointed that some Christian groups like Evangelicals has taken anti-refugee stance. She said that her family took their house off the market to give it to a refugee Afghan family and now kids of both families play together. She said that as adults we should learn not to fear others from our kids.
She said that as a veteran she has taken an oath to defend constitution of the United States both from inside and outside threats. She said like any other marine she will stand up for that oath and like any other Marine she will not walk away from a fight.
After her speech Q&A session started. Dr. Younus advised the audience to ask anything frankly and no question will hurt our feelings. He also said that for any controversial question don’t wait for the last moment.
First question was directed to Col Scott to explain more about his organization: Veterans for American Ideals. Col Scott mentioned how he got this idea by realizing how much respect military commanders enjoy and how young people gyrate around them and then decided to use this influence along with some other veterans to fight against bigotry.
Another lady asked that it seems that we are preaching the choir, there should be more focus on how we could influence other people. Sarah Feinberg responded by saying that we should humanize the refugees. She said that bigotry comes from fear and fear comes from not-knowing. If a five year can play with some stranger child, it is foolish for adults to suspect everybody outside their group. Col. Scott said that his experience shows that helping people like working in a soup kitchen breaks down barriers. He said that he along with some Muslim and non-Muslim friends used to distribute fresh produce among the needy and that brought people together. Mansoor Shams said that mention to your friends that you have been to a Muslim Mosque and then tell them about your experience. He said that ask your friends what they think about Muslims and that will start a conversation and then share your experience with Muslims. Qudoos Sahib from Silver Spring told the audience how he arranged an event in his neighborhood called “Celebrate Eid with a Muslim”. In that event people not only met with him but also got introduced to each other.
Next question was from a lady who asked about the status of women in Islam. Dr. Younus said that it is fair that a Muslim lady should answer that question. As ladies were upstairs, a lady said on the mic that this stereotype has cultural background not religious. She said that she is from Pakistan and had no problem in getting higher education or driving around. Just because she wears Hijab people that she is not educated or oppressed. She said that Holy Prophet (pbuh) was born in a time when some Arabs used to bury their new born daughters alive. But he told Muslims that whoever has two daughters and raised them properly and gave them education will be very close to him in heaven.
Next question was why Muslim ladies are in a separate place? Are they oppressed? Dr. Younus said that it is the instruction of our Khalifa Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad that in this time and age this kind of segregation is required. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community exists in more than 200 countries and works with local culture and norms. Sarah Feinberg said she disagrees with it but as a Marine she will defend the American right to practice your religion with her life. Dr. Younus that there is no compulsion in Islam and ladies are upstairs by their choice. He said that when Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) entered Mecca as a conqueror he declared a general amnesty regardless of anybody’s religion. He acknowledged that there are Muslims who oppress other groups and force their definition of Islam on others. He said that Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in not one of them in fact we are being persecuted by these groups. He mentioned that he didn’t leave Pakistan for better economic opportunities but just like Pilgrims, to avoid religious persecution. Another guest whose name was Muhammad, said that this practice of keeping women separate breeds suspicion and they should integrate with men just like other guest ladies are doing. Dr. Younus said that our individuality should be respected, at one hand we are told that in America you can do whatever you want to do and your individuality is respected and on the other hand we are asked to conform to the standards and norms that somebody else defines for us.
Another guest Muslim lady who was sitting downstairs said that believers of a religion are at a different level of belief. She herself has no problem sitting among other guests downstairs and she also doesn’t wear Hijab and has no problem with it. Another guest lady said that what do Muslim ladies think about other American women and she said that this segregation is slap on the face of confident American women. Dr. Younus mentioned that we should all the follow the Jeffersonian principle that the faith of my neighbor doesn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t cost me anything or doesn’t break my leg. He said that he has visited Amish People in New Jersey and their way of life tells a lot about American tolerance to religious diversity. Another guest mentioned that he is a member of a Catholic Parish and they practice segregation of sexes in a similar way. Mansoor Shams mentioned that he lives in a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and their ladies outfits are very similar to a Muslim women and they also have very unique religious practices.
Col Scott mentioned that his beloved teacher was a great fan of Harper Lee and her book “The Mocking bird”. Many years later when he met her and mentioned to her that his organization helps Muslim refugees she said “the ones who are trying to destroy our country?” Col Scott said that he mentioned to her that this is the lesson he learned from Harper Lee and may be this time she should revise her opinion about Muslims. Dr. Younus mentioned that guests should visit Ahmadiyya Community’s website TrueIslam.com where all our religious beliefs are mentioned clearly.
Another question was asked about Sharia Law, which Mansoor Shams replied that Sharia law is a code of conduct for a Muslim that includes how to take care of poor, how to be respectful to elders etc. He also mentioned that many parts of Sharia Law like death penalty are already part of US law. Dr. Younus said that US Constitution clearly mentions that no foreign law can be used to rule people of this land and hence America should not worry about Sharia Law. Also Ahmadiyya Muslim community believes in the separation of church and the state.
Next question was asked to the panelists about what do they think about Trump’s ban on refugees. All the panelists said that they opposed it and it makes American soldiers abroad more venerable. Mansoor Shams said that lives of Muslims are painted with a very broad brush.
Another Ahmadi Muslim veteran Asad Bajwa said that best way to alleviate your fears is to confront them. He said that he and people like him are considered monsters and they are here, so anybody can ask him any question that they want.
After this a short video was shown in which a Marine veteran who shot at Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque, told about his journey from bigotry to understanding and friendship.
After the video awards were given to Col Scott and Sarah Feinberg.
In the end Dr. Younus said that he is not worried at all about future. He said that all the Prophets of God, including Moses, Jesus and Mohammad (pbuh) were boycotted, banned and persecuted. He said that he considers himself in a great company. Program ended with silent prayers and light snacks and tea was served. Guests intermingled for quite some time till the Adhan for Isha prayer was called.