On February 26, 2017, Mahershala Ali, an African-American actor best known for his portrayal of lobbyist Remy Danton on Netflix’s seminal political drama House of Cards, became the first Muslim to win an academy award for acting. Not only is Ali a brilliant actor, but in the current politically charged climate, the win had a certain feel good component to it. Mahershala Ali converted to Islam in 1999 and is a very proud Muslim. At the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, during his acceptance speech, he emotionally proclaimed, “I’m a Muslim.”
The congratulations for Ali started pouring into social media, including for representing the Muslim community so admirably. The adulation came from all around the globe, especially from Muslim majority countries, such as Pakistan, including by Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s top diplomat at the UN. But then something dramatic happened, worthy of an Oscar in and of itself. Just as soon as the thousands of positive tweets started pouring in, many of them start getting deleted by their creators, including by Ms. Lodhi herself. Not only that, but negative tweets started replacing the positive ones.
Why the reversal? Because even though Mahershala Ali considers himself a Muslim, many Muslims do not consider him one. When Ali converted to Islam in 1999, he eventually chose to join a denomination of Islam called Ahmadiyya or the Ahmadi Muslim community. The Ahmadiyya are pacifists that read the Koran and follow the rules of Islam. But even though they consider themselves Muslim, mainstream Islam considers them heretics. In Pakistan, the nation of UN diplomat Maleeha Lodhi, who deleted her congratulatory tweet, the Ahmadis are severely persecuted. If they quote the Koran in public or even say Salaam Aleykum, they can be arrested and charged with violation of the blasphemy laws.
The Ahmadiyya are persecuted in nearly every country in the Middle East, including in the Palestinian Territories. In 2010, Mohammed Sharif Ouda, head of the Ahmadi community in Israel, said the Palestinian Authority is “encouraging the cold-blooded murder of Ahmadis” by failing to take concrete action to protect the community. The Ahmadi Muslims are even attacked in western countries by fellow Muslims who consider them infidels.
All through out the Middle East and the Muslim world the Ahmadiyya are prevented from practicing their religion freely, are persecuted, and in danger for their lives. All places but one: ISRAEL. The right to freedom of religious worship in Israel extends to ALL FAITHS, including those that are persecuted in the rest of the Middle East, like the Ahmadiyya and the Baha’i. In fact, their is a neighborhood in Haifa, Israel that is predominately Ahmadi Muslim, Kababir , where they live without fear, amongst Jews, unlike in the Palestinian Territories, where the teaching of the Ahmadi Muslim faith is considered apostasy, and practicing it can lead to beatings and confiscation of property by Sharia courts. Sharia courts often annul their marriages and members of the community are detained for passing our literature.
In no other Middle Eastern country are the Ahmadi Muslims free and safe, except for Israel. In fact, the regional headquarters and arguably their most important mosque, the Mahmood Mosque, are located in Haifa, Israel. Why? Because in no other country could that mosque stand, but Israel. Consider that for a second. For a Muslim community to feel free and safe, they must go TO Israel.
View of the Mahmood Mosque in Haifa, Israel
The story of Mahershala Ali and the Ahmadiyya Muslims dispels many lies about Israel. The fact is, whether you are Jewish, Christian, Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi, Baha’i, or any other faith, you can live in Israel with equal rights and your ability to practice your faith openly, freely, and proudly is guaranteed – this can not be said about any other nation. So, even though I am happy for Mr. Ali and feel that his talent merits his accolades, and it is great that he acknowledges his Muslim faith, it would be nice if he also acknowledged Israel, the one country in the region that protects the life and liberty of his fellow Ahmadiyya brothers and sisters.