In commenting on a CNN article about the missing Saudi journalist, Ahmadiyya Muslim leader Richard Reno posted the following at Facebook:
“While I oppose overthrowing foreign leaders (see Libya) or fomenting rebellion in other countries, turning a blind eye to human rights abuses is wrong. Selling weapons to regimes that engage in human rights abuses or killing civilians is not only immoral, but makes you complicit in their crimes against humanity. Putting money over human lives is morally repugnant and must be stopped. Arms sales to Saudi Arabia must be stopped regardless of the financial impact to American businesses.”
I reached out to Richard to interview him on this subject. Here is the interview:
Paul Louis Metzger (PLM): Richard, your Ahmadiyya Muslim tradition claims that the pen is mightier than the sword. Please unpack that statement, and connect it to the allegation that the Saudi Arabian government had a leading journalist critic killed and dismembered.
Richard Reno (RR): It was reported that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr”. In Islam learning is a requirement of all, whereas use of the sword only applies to specific situations of self-defense to repel aggression. The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) declared that this was the age of the Jihad of the Pen. He explained that in the early years of Islam Muslims faced violent persecution because of their faith and were permitted to defend themselves. But in the current age Muslims are generally free to practice their faith, so the Jihad of the Sword does not apply. Instead Muslims should engage in a Jihad of the Pen to defend their faith and propagate it through peaceful means.
Likewise, dissent should be handled with the pen or through speech until it is used to incite violence. Wise leadership will see dissent and legitimate criticism as an opportunity to improve. They should view their position of leadership as a responsibility and as servants of their people and strive to improve themselves rather than silence the people. This was the example of the Prophet Muhammad and his early successors.
The main point of my statement was a criticism of our (the United States) current practice of selling weapons to nations in the war-torn Middle East. As has been demonstrated time and again, selling weaponry to these nations only leads to further conflict and lead to unintended consequences. Often governments will use these weapons against civilians, violently suppressing dissent, or they end up in the hands of extremists creating new conflicts or further fueling existing ones. As the President’s statement last week made clear, one of the primary motivations for these weapon sales is economic benefit.
Last year, His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community remarked during the 14th Annual Ahmadiyya International Peace Symposium in the UK:
“In my opinion, this view is completely senseless and only encourages the further production and sale of extremely dangerous weapons. Indeed, it is such justifications that have caused the world to become embroiled in a never-ending arms race. For the sake of the good of mankind, governments should disregard fears that their economies will suffer if the arms trade is curbed. Instead, they should think about the type of world they wish to bequeath to those that follow them.”
We should discontinue selling arms in a region where we know that they will be used to the detriment of the people present, especially to nations that have a poor record on human rights.
PLM: Your own tradition has experienced severe persecution in the Muslim world given your particular beliefs. Can you please explain what is distinctive about your beliefs, and why other Muslim groups or Muslim governments persecute your tradition?
RR: It is true that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has faced persecution in several Muslim nations. In some countries this persecution is state sponsored where Ahmadi Muslims are forbidden by law from openly practicing or expressing their faith. This is due our belief that God sent Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the Imam Mahdi and Promised Messiah of this age. Ahmad emphasized religious dialogue and rejected the idea of violence in the name of religion. He spoke out against the politicizing of religion and maintained the only principles required for government from a religious perspective was the freedom of religion. If this principle was met, then it required obedience to that government regardless whether it was run by Muslims or not. These beliefs did not sit well with the establishment ulema some of which chose to persecute Ahmadis. It is truly tragic that these nations have turned away from the Qur’anic principle of “Let there be no compulsion in religion” and embraced the very same type of persecution that the Muslims faced at Mecca in the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
PLM: Not only do you think the pen is mightier than the sword, but also you maintain that the pen (in this case human rights) is mightier or more important than the dollar bill. What in your Muslim tradition gives rise to this conviction?
RR: Putting profits over human lives demonstrates callousness and an extreme lack of compassion. If someone were to sell a weapon to someone that they knew would use it to rob a bank or commit a murder, then we would demand justice against both the perpetrator and the person who assisted them in committing the crime by selling them the weapon. Why should we apply a different principle when it comes to international arms sales? The Holy Qur’an says:
O ye who believe! be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore, follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do. (4:136)
PLM: As a Christian, I share your conviction about the pen being mightier than the sword as well as the dollar bill. How might Christians and Muslims partner together in service to human rights here and abroad, including promoting freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and preserving human value over market value?
RR: I believe it important that we stand up for one another. We should not limit our compassion to our coreligionists, but should extend the freedoms that we desire for ourselves to others who may have beliefs different than our own. Muslims should stand up for Christians who face persecution in Muslim nations such as Asia Bibi in Pakistan. Likewise, Christians should speak out against persecution against Muslims such as the Uyghurs in China, or even those facing discrimination here in America.
I also think it is important that we keep our dialogue respectful. In the age of the social media dialogue and debate, whether or political or religious, has become so offensive and divisive that it makes it almost impossible to remain civil. Internet trolls indulge in the most disgusting hate speech imaginable solely for the purpose of inciting a negative response. Almost every point can be made without using inflammatory language. It’s also important that we call out our coreligionists when they cross the line. Freedom of speech is an important principle, but it is also important to use it responsibly. Just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should.