NORWICH – They came to bring a message of peace, educate the curious and clear up misconceptions about a religion that is misunderstood across the western world.
They were met with intolerance and resistance. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association of Canada (AMYA), an auxiliary branch of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, brought the teachings and message of their religion to the Norwich Library on Saturday, Jan. 14, to meet with interested members of the community.
The open house featured an event called “Tribute to Mother Mary (An Islamic Perspective)” in which members explained the significance of Mary in the Islamic faith. Previously, members of the group had gone door to door in the village asking homeowners if they wanted to know more about the Islamic religion and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “The purpose of this is to eliminate misconceptions and stereotypes (of Muslims),” said Said Arif, a student missionary with the AMYA group. “(And to present) the Qur’an and Islam as a peaceful religion, because that is what it is.” While speaking with Adam Alexander, a representative for the group, a couple of people gathered to listen to what he had to say about Islam. Far from listening to learn about a different religion, they seemed to grow more agitated as Alexander spoke. One man interrupted the conversation to preach about the Lord Jesus Christ and debate with Alexander about which religious leader was a liar, since both holy texts contained contradictory stories about Jesus.
The man, who set up a mini-protest outside the library room, handed out religious tracts with his contact information at the bottom, encouraging people to not believe what the Muslim faith had to say about Jesus. Alexander said that most homeowners in small towns such as Norwich received the group with open arms, mostly because of the topic of the Mother Mary, whom they hold in great esteem. For the most part, residents in Norwich had done the same, and he said the group respected the wishes of anyone who didn’t want the pamphlet or more information. “We’re not going around disproving any people’s religions,” he said. “We have no interest in their conversion.” They just wanted people to view the Islamic faith differently, as certain religious groups had given the faith a bad name, he said. “Don’t judge Islam by Muslims, judge Muslims by Islam,” he said.
Alexander stressed people can’t make generalizations about something like religion based on a small group of fanatics. The religion, he said, is based on intentions and sincerity, with tolerance of other religions an important part. Alexander, who was initially born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness and converted to Islam after several years of questioning, didn’t raise his voice or become frustrated with the protester, but rather listened patiently while the man, Bruce Woodford, according to his handout, spoke. The debate continued long after the interview finished and Alexander eventually had to ask the man to leave because “he was being rude and intolerant.” Even after the man left, Alexander expressed admiration for the man’s faith, saying he believed “all good people will go to the same heaven” regardless of their brand of faith. Arif said that the group also contributes to the community by doing blood drives, fundraisers and other community events.
By Sabrina Burrell For the Sentinel-Review