WRITTEN BY DR. KATRINA LANTOS SWETT J.D., PH.D., PROFESSOR AT TUFTS UNIVERSITY| JANUARY 2023| AHMADIYYA, FEATURED, ISLAM
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett J.D., Ph.D., Professor at Tufts University and President of the Tom Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and former Chairwoman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom spoke at the inaugural reception of “Fath-e-Azeem” Mosque, Zion, IL on October 1, 2022, before the keynote address of Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul-Masih V (aba). Here we give the text of her speech.
Like other distinguished speakers before me, who have expressed how honored and delighted they are to be with you tonight, I, too, would like to say what a privilege and so blessed it is to be here for this extraordinary celebration.
I have had the rare pleasure and opportunity of getting to know the Ahmadi Community now for a number of years. I find that every time I am with them, my spirits are lifted to a higher plane. I know of no other Community of Faith that I have ever encountered who so fully embodies the teachings that they profess and who strive in a profound way every day to live the high ideals and the deep principles that are at the very foundation of their life. I think those of us in this room know that spirit. The commitment, of course, comes from God, but it really also flows from your extraordinary leader, His Holiness. I just feel so lucky; so privileged; so uplifted and so blessed to be here with all of you today.
Now when my friend Amjad, who is really a fabulous person and you all should know that he does an extraordinary job on behalf of this community, when he first told me the story of the prayer duel that took place here or started, I guess we could say here in Zion, Illinois, I was utterly captivated. It sorts of sounded actually like a script from a Hollywood movie and personally, I hope it does get made into a movie because it is such an incredible story. At first, you sort of say; wait, that really happened, and one of the things that I found so fascinating about the story was that in a time long before everybody had their little handheld devices and their cell phones and their computers, this prayer duel went viral. It really did become sort of a phenomenon in the world. But what made it much more important and much more significant than any Hollywood script could be as that it really was a moment when two very different visions of the God of Humanity of Life of society were laid bare. One vision that of John Dowie was in simple terms based on hate and based on division and based on bigotry, and prejudice. The other vision that of the founder of the Ahmadiyya Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was one of respect and reverence, faith and tolerance, and a kind of security that came from someone who was willing to leave the ultimate outcome to God or Allah. Of course, we know who prevailed in this extraordinary prayer duel and indeed, this beautiful mosque which is now being inaugurated this weekend, is in fact, called the Fath-e-Azeem Mosque, which means a great victory because the victory in that prayer duel went, yes, to the Ahmadis; yes, to the first founder and leader of the Ahmadi Community, but really, I think we would have to say that the victory went to humanity as well because it was a victory for respect; for love; for tolerance; for all of those virtues that we now see embodied in this marvelous community.
You know, as I thought about it, a very profound story from the Bible came back to me, and it is the story of Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob. He had special gifts because he had special visions and because God had favored him. He became an object of jealousy from his many brothers, and as probably everyone in this room knows. I know there are a couple of Rabbis here, so I hope; I more or less get the story right. He was sold into slavery by his brothers. It was a very dim prospect that awaited him; very grim circumstances, but Joseph was pretty extraordinary. He rose first to be the master of a household of a famous and important, and powerful leader in Egypt, Potiphar. But then, through circumstances in which he had done no wrong, he found himself falsely accused and thrown into prison. So, this life of his seesawing back and forth between being a beloved and maybe even favored son and sold into slavery, then rising to prominence. He was falsely accused and again thrown into prison. But through all of this, Joseph never lost his faith. He never lost his bearings, and in time again, the door opened for him to rise to a position of great and extraordinary power. He interpreted dreams for the Pharaoh that no one else could interpret; all the magicians and all the wise men of Egypt failed. He prayed to God. He received the understanding of these dreams, and he became truly the most powerful man in Egypt next to the Pharaoh himself. Well, as you’ll recall in the story. After the seven years of plenty came the seven years of famine. Joseph’s family, long forgotten back in Kanaan came looking desperate to Egypt for some sustenance as it favored their hunger. Joseph recognized his brothers. But they didn’t recognize him. He ultimately came to a place where God had put him through all of these extraordinary difficulties and became the means of saving his family. He, very much in the spirit of the Ahmadi Community, forgave those who had treated him so ill. His brothers, who had betrayed him, had their faces still. He said something very powerful to them. He said, speaking of their actions and selling him into slavery, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. I think of that when I see this beautiful mosque, now built in the same place, Zion, Illinois, where the prayer duel was unfolded before the world. John Dowie meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. The great victory had by the Ahmadi people.
Now, we are sitting here tonight in a beautiful setting with wonderful friends in a peaceful place. We will enjoy a delicious meal and share fellowship. But I don’t think we can let this evening go by without remembering an Ahmadi community in another part of the world, Pakistan, that daily faces unimaginable persecution, hatred, and violence. They find themselves alone in the face of a government that refuses to protect them. The police refuse to defend them. The religious leaders whip up their followers to attack them. In just the last few days, another dear friend, really like a brother within this community, has shared with me the most recent sort of provocations being whipped up against this community where they are literally being targeted. The women in this community who are pregnant are being threatened to keep more Ahmadi children from bringing up and being brought into the world. These are terrible crimes. These are violations of Human Rights. These are violations of all that is decent and good. But what I think is terribly important is that the community knows above and beyond their Ahmadi brothers and sisters who, of course, stand by them; those of us not of that faith community stand with them as well.
You know I recently read a very powerful book about Great Britain. During the second world war and during the period of time when most of Europe had fallen to the Nazi military and war machine, which was simply covering all of Europe and England really stood alone. But you knew that it could not stand forever alone against this might. Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain at that time; knew that everything hinged on whether or not America, the country if we find ourselves in today, this land of liberty where we do enjoy so many blessings of freedom, whether America would come to its aid or whether they would be left alone to fight this overwhelming force? President Roosevelt who fully understood the need for the United States to enter this war but who felt his hands were tied and didn’t really have the freedom or the running room to do what he believed America should do at that time, had sent his closest trusted advisor Harry Hopkins to England to tour the country to meet with Churchill to try and assess, did the British have the determination; the backbone; the wherewithal to continue to withstand this onslaught until somehow or the power and might of the United States could be mustered on their behalf? Churchill knew how much was at stake. So, he did everything in his power to show Hopkins everything, the devastation that Britain was suffering under the nightly bombing grenades. Yet even more than that, the determination and the grit and the steel in the spine of those same people who were trying to ward off the Nazi threat. Finally, it came to the last night before Hopkins would be returning to the United States to make his report to President Roosevelt. They were gathered for a final dinner, but there was a sort of a tension in the air because they knew how much hung on the report that he would deliver. Hopkins stood up and cleared his throat, and said, “I imagine you are all wondering what I will tell President Roosevelt when I return home.” And you could hear a pin drop in the room because, indeed, he had read their minds. That is exactly what they were wondering. He said, “I will answer you out of the book of books.” Then he proceeded to quote from The Book of Ruth in the Old Testament and said:
“Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people will be my people, and thy God my God.”
Then he added the words: Even unto the end; historians report that Churchill wept because his relief was so great but also his sense of reassurance that they were not alone. I would like to say to my Ahmadi brothers and sisters because, really and truly, I feel we are brothers and sisters. Those of us who love and admire your community know the goodness of your lives, the decency and the nobility of your teachings, and who also know of the suffering of your brethren in Pakistan. We want to say to you that whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. We will be with you; we will stand with you even unto the end. We love you. We are honored to be here for this glorious celebration, and I thank you all for permitting me to be part of it. Thank you.
(Transcribed from the video of the inaugural reception of “Fath-e-Azeem” Mosque, Zion, IL, on October 1, 2022: by Mahmud Ahmad Nagi and his grandson, Usman Mobusher (Age 14 years), both from Columbus, Ohio. Edited by Sayed Sajid Ahmad and Wajeeh Bajwa. Recording of this event is available at https://www.alislam.org/video/fath-e-azeem-mosque-inaugural-session-zion-illinois/)