A heartfelt memoir of Muslim-on-Muslim discrimination and oppression.
On April 26, 1984, the government of Pakistan issued a comprehensive law rendering criminal the expression of the Ahmadi sect of Islam. Ahmadi leaders who continued to address their congregations in their official capacities were arrested; mosques were tightly policed or shut down; Ahmadi Muslims caught “acting Muslim” were subject to summary imprisonment and worse. Widespread discrimination by the nation’s Sunni majority focused not only on Ahmadi Muslims but also on Shia Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus and atheists. Rashid’s family was caught up in the violence and confusion of these so-called blasphemy laws. Yet when the members moved to the United States in 1987, they faced similar, though not as intense, discrimination and suspicion. The heartbreak of both worlds is movingly captured in Rashid’s memoir, in which he relates not only his own experiences but those of the many victims he interviewed. “I visited blood-splattered mosques, touched scars left by gunfire, grenades, and shrapnel, and prayed for the departed at their final resting places,” he says. Embarking on a “Jihad—of the pen,” Rashid effectively dramatizes some of these stories—including that of his cousin Danyal (not his real name), whose imprisonment and torture provide the book’s most memorable passages—to raise readers’ awareness of the plight of religiously persecuted minorities in Pakistan. Rashid deftly mingles personal anecdotes with polemical fire, outlining the history and nature of the Ahmadi sect, detailing the claustrophobic bigotry of Pakistan’s ruling mullahs and authorities, and convincingly broadening his scope to encompass “the millions, or rather, the billions around the world who live under the veil of oppression of conscience.” Stories of graphic violence—for instance, gunfire erupting during prayer services crowded with children—alternate with the author’s repeated calls for understanding, tolerance and free inquiry. “The antidote, therefore,” he writes, “is education and compassion. Education combats the ignorance, and compassion melts away fear.” Although his memoir offers a penetrating look at the strange specifics of a terrorist mindset, it is equally insightful on the psychology of the religiously oppressed. Along the way, the vivid narrative avoids easy answers, since there are none.
A harrowing yet hopeful story of modern-day religious persecution.