By Len Lear
There was a letter to the editor in the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 8 by Salaam Bhatti, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA in New York, headlined “Get to know a Muslim.” Bhatti wrote about “the ignorance of the 62 percent of Americans who do not know a Muslim…”
He then issued an open invitation to the public to “Meet a Muslim” events every Tuesday, 7 p.m., at Starbucks, 3421 Chestnut St. Rather than going to one of these get-togethers and be one of many people asking questions, I decided to find a Muslim in northwest Philadelphia to interview. So I contacted Bhatti, who put me in touch with a Muslim leader in Philadelphia, who was not able to find anyone for me to interview. No reason was given. Maybe they think I would not be fair.
So I looked elsewhere and found out about two local Muslim women, one of whom is openly lesbian. Both told me they would agree to an interview, but after initial exchanges, both of them stopped replying to my emails, despite numerous attempts. The woman who is a lesbian had told me that she has received hate mail and threats to her life on social media after revealing publicly that she was gay.
So since I have gotten nowhere in this mission to put a human face on local members of the Muslim community, despite numerous attempts, I contacted Bhatti again and asked him for an interview, even though he has no connection to northwest Philadelphia. As it turns out, he is a fascinating individual, to put it mildly. He is both a lawyer and a standup comic.
Bhatti, 30, who grew up in Harrisburg, graduated from Albright College in Reading, PA, and Touro Law School in New York in 2011. Did Bhatti experience any bigotry and/or discrimination growing up in Harrisburg? “No,” he replied. “I received some shifty looks after 9/11 in high school but nothing overt.”
Bhatti became a lawyer in order “to fight for women’s rights due to what happened to my family during the India/Pakistan partition. My great-aunt Hafeeza was kidnapped as a teenager; her entire family was murdered, and we don’t know what horrors she had to endure. Unfortunately, the same things are happening today.”
Bhatti, whose law practice consists of pro bono human rights work, estate planning and civil litigation, explained that “the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are Muslims who believe in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. We believe he came to unite mankind, revive Islam and spread the truth about his claim … We are the largest global Muslim community united by one spiritual leader, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Khalifa of Islam, who leads tens of millions of Muslims in over 200 nations.” This community has one mosque in the Philadelphia area at 5120 N. 10th St. in Logan.
What is Bhatti’s position on Trump’s proposed Muslim ban? “Any form of discrimination based on religion or ethnicity is wrong,” he said. “We support security measures that target extremism/terrorism, but to discriminate against an entire group based on religion/ethnicity/nationality is wrong. Such policies can only increase division as based on discrimination.
“The world is becoming a global village and increasingly inter-dependent, so we have to co-operate with one another and respect each other’s beliefs. National security is paramount, and so it is the job of the government to protect its citizens, but policies should not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or nationality as this will naturally cause a reaction, as were seen in the protests after the order was made.”
We often read that many Muslims believe their religion should be the law of their lands, so I was surprised to learn that Bhatti’s religious community is the only Muslim organization that supports separation of church/mosque and state.
He explained, “The Holy Quran categorically forbids imposition of Islamic Shariah and forbids all religious compulsion, stating, ‘There is no compulsion in matters of faith’ (2:257). Any attempt to implement Shariah on non-Muslims would be tantamount to coercion and therefore function in direct opposition to the Holy Quran. Islam advocates complete separation of mosque and state. The Holy Quran does not endorse a specific form of government but instead requires that justice oversee whatever form is used … Therefore, Islam recognizes that justice, not religion, is the determinative factor when governing society.”
Bhatti insists that his group’s “Meet a Muslim” undertaking has been “an overwhelming success. We’re dedicated to chipping away at the 62% of Americans who don’t know a Muslim. Because everyone lives in their own social bubble, taking to the streets in public areas is one of the best ways to let people meet us outside of their social bubble.”
On a much lighter note, Bhatti has performed as a standup comic at Comix, Broadway Comedy Club, New York Comedy Club, Brokerage Comedy Club, The Comic Strip and various open mics throughout New York City. “I stay away from bad language and sex jokes and do my best to keep my material clean so that people can enjoy it with their family. Audiences have been generally positive. Sure, I’ve bombed a few times, and some jokes don’t land. But you learn from that, adjust for each audience and keep moving forward.”
Interestingly, Bhatti would love to meet with President Donald Trump “to let him know about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, our True Islam campaign to educate away extremism and what American Muslims and immigrant Muslims are doing to make America a better nation.”
For more information, visit www.ahmadiyya.us or call 215-455-4655