For many people, the only exposure to the Muslim world is stories of terrorism and war on the news.
To combat this, an Islamic group has been hosting open house events in communities around the country to give people a more complete picture of the religion, the Qur’an holy book and its adherents.
On Saturday afternoon, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community from the Vancouver area held an open house at the public library in Squamish.
“Every city where there’s a community, they try to create an atmosphere like this to spread the true teachings of Islam,” said member Irfan Wahla.
This is the second year the open house has come to Squamish. In part, the event is a response from a community that has seen itself isolated in some countries – such as the U.S. in which some, like presidential hopeful Donald Trump, have called for Muslims to be barred from entering the country.
Even in Canada, the pepper spray attack Friday on Syrian refugees in Vancouver suggests that work needs to be done close to home.
Wahla pointed to another news story in which a Chicago policeman was apparently shot by someone motivated by Islam as another example of how a few misguided people citing their religion have made life difficult for the majority of Muslims.
“These people are just frustrated people in need of a scapegoat,” he said. “I don’t think most of them even understand the basics of Islam.”
He and the other members of the Ahmadiyya community say they value peace above all. They also clarify that misunderstood concepts, such as “jihad,” which means defending Islam through peace, through the pen rather than the sword.
They follow the teachings of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who lived from 1835 to 1908, and hope to bring unity among the many sects of Islam.
Ahmadiyya members point out they are the fastest growing sect within Islam. At the same time, part of their beliefs is that they aim to unify all members of the faith around core beliefs. These tenets emphasize simple principles around peace, justice and helping people in need, or as their pamphlet states: “Love for all; hatred for none.”
“This is who we are and not what we see on TV,” said member Sharjeel Hussain.
The open houses give the wider community in Canada a chance to learn more about Islamic beliefs at a time of great uncertainty.
“People always come up with questions,” Hussain said. “These things help most of the questions people have.”
The open houses are only one of the outreach events the community’s members hold. They are also involved in a food drive called Million Pounds of Food that aims to raise food donations to help people in need from December through July.
“We come to serve humanity. That’s our belief,” Wahla said.
They also have a campaign called Stop the Crisis that is a response to elements of radicalization and extremism in the Islamic community.
More information on these can be found at www.millionpoundsfood.ca and www.stopthecrisis.ca. More information on the community is at www.ahmadiyya.ca.