The billboard on Indianapolis’ I-465 titled “The Perfect Man” which mocked and disparaged Prophet Muhammad, accusing him of rape, beheading, and several other allegations saddened me to the core as a practicing Muslim. The sight, however, did not surprise me because of the current wave of extremism rampant across the globe. With terrorists like ISIS instilling fear in the hearts of the masses, the billboard did not do much different. For it served the exact same purpose—stirring fear among the innocent public of Indiana. Unfortunately, it has become hard to differentiate between those who consider Islam a threat and those who use, rather misuse, the same religion to threaten innocent people.
I was sad after seeing the billboard because it insulted my prophet, someone who Muslims like me love more than our parents, ourselves, and anyone in the world. But what was even more depressing was the realization that it happened in 21st century America. A nation that has defied all odds in its less than 300 years of existence to set an example of freedom of religion for all. An example, arguably, second to none. As an international student studying in the US, seeing this billboard got me somewhat petrified too.
I came to Indiana two years ago from Pakistan to pursue my Bachelor’s degree. Soon after coming to Wabash College in Crawfordsville, I started calling Indiana my home. Not only because I was accepted for who I was but it was in the United States that I learned about what true religious freedom meant. As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the largest Muslim organization in the USA, my own country Pakistan refuses to accept me as a Muslim. Ahmadi Muslims believe in the second coming of the Messiah, like all Muslims do. But consider that the second coming of Messiah already occurred in the personage of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India. It is for this belief that almost all Muslim countries consider us out of the pale of Islam, ostracize us, and persecute us. Per Pakistan’s constitution I cannot even “pose” as a Muslim or else I may be imprisoned. It was after coming to America that I could freely say my prayers for the first time without having to worry about my life. I will remain thankful to the United States that it not only allowed me to practice my faith freely, but welcomed me with open arms in the face of persecution that engrossed my everyday life back home. For America’s generosity and humanity in providing equal rights to all—even non-citizens like myself, I will forever be grateful.
Nevertheless, I also feel obligated to put forth the true teachings of Islam before all Americans as I have found people here immensely eager to learn the truth. On top of undermining the American ideals of freedom and mutual respect, the billboard did still more damage which disappointed me. It portrayed Muhammad and, in essence, all Muslims as barbarous and inhumane. I got disappointed because the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has always been at the forefront of fighting terrorism and extremism. Not a single incident of committing an act of violence is recorded in the community’s 130-year history. In the US, we have stood side by side with members of all marginalized communities to assist them in attaining equal rights. This is what we have learned from the life and character of our beloved Prophet Muhmmad. Even during my short stint of disappointment after noticing the billboard, it was Muhammad’s teaching of never losing faith in times of adversity that kept me optimistic and continues to do so.
I do not find it appropriate to answer all allegations of that billboard here as it may take a lot of space and time. Nevertheless, I would encourage those who put up that billboard along with all fellow Hoosiers, who may have any questions about Islam, to check out Ahmadiyya Community’s True Islam campaign which is already endorsed by hundreds of Americans across the country. In Indianapolis, we hold regular sessions of ‘Coffee, Cake, and True Islam’ in various coffee shops to enlighten the public with true Islamic teachings. All this is done to promote a sense of harmony and love towards Americans and to help them better understand what Islam truly is. Please join us as we introduce the Islam which was preached and practiced by Muhammad. The Islam that stands as an antithesis to terrorism—be it by the so-called Islamist forces or those who aim to misconstrue Islam’s real picture by publishing derogatory billboards.