Ahmadiyya Muslims Abdur Shahid, left,  and his son Atta Shahid engage in open dialogue with Mattoon resident Gary Stephen at the True Islam and the Extremists campaign event Friday at the Martinsville Community Center. Stephen said he attended the informational meet and greet event to gain knowledge about the Ahmadiyya’s beliefs. (Suzanne Williams/The Prairie Press)

Opening a dialogue

Area Muslims offer insight into true Islam at program for local residents

Area residents had the opportunity to learn more about the Muslim religion during a special program Friday at the Martinsville Community Center, led by area Muslims.

For religious freedom, Abdur Shahid slept in his vehicle with only a small blanket and an alarm clock. If he rested in the car, then valuable time was not wasted when commuting to one of his three places of employment in the Chicago area. The three jobs were a necessity to earn money for his basic needs, money to send his wife and their six children and to save the necessary funds to move the family from Pakistan to the United States of America.

“And he did all of that for one thing — religious freedom,” said American Muslim Atta Shahid on Friday afternoon at the Martinsville Community Center. It was a meet and greet event featuring the “True Islam And Extremist” campaign that is designed to reclaim the meaning of true Islam from extremists and correct common misconceptions about the Islam religion. 

“I had a small blanket and one wind-up time piece,” said Abdur Shahid. He only possessed $40 when he arrived in America and half of that was used for a cab ride to Chicago. He was able to gain employment and rent a small apartment. However, he didn’t have a drivers license and walked to and from work in shoes with holes in the soles. Eventually, Shahid earned his license, purchased a small car and then made the decision to often sleep in it.

“If I slept in the car, then I had more time to work and less time wasted on driving,” he elaborated. In 1986, he had the money to bring his oldest son to the U.S. and the next year Atta arrived followed by his wife and other children in 1989.

Open dialogue was the focus at the event with approximately 40 persons coming to the community center where campaign information was displayed. The Shahids, who are members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, talked one-on-one with those in attendance and presented the campaign’s 11 principles that represent true Islam. 

The two men, who own and operate the Marty-Mart and live next door in Martinsville, explained that true Islam, rejects terrorism. Terrorism is at the top of the list of the campaign’s focus because many Americans associate Islam with terrorism said Atta Shahid. “Our Ahmadiyya community is one group of Muslims working for peace. We are against violent extremism,” he emphasized.

The campaign also explains the other principle beliefs such as equality of Muslim women, separation of mosque and state, forbidding lying and following the Quran, loyalty to the country of residence and freedom of speech, religion and conscience.

“We are a sect that teaches peace,” said Abdur Shahid. The group believes that American Muslim leaders have fallen short when speaking out against extremist and have failed to adequately address terrorism.

“Peace is vital to stop violence. We need peace and there will be bad consequences if another war erupts,” said Abdur Shahid. He said the group also stands united against violence by educating Americans of their correct Islamic understanding as taught by the Quran and Prophet Muhammad.

“All beliefs are individual but the church is here in our hearts,” Abdur Shahid, putting his hand on his heart.  “It’s not my duty to change the world. I change and fix me and my heart and lead by example for those who may be close minded.” 

He said he is “a good citizen and neighbor. We need to be civil to one another.” The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington are an abrupt marker in his life.  He said the attacks changed the U.S., resulting in “a different country and society.” According to Shahid, every town has suffered a loss. 

“The change has been self-created by violence,” he said. 

Once he moved his family to American, Shahid eventually attended the Illinois School of Commerce and earned an accounting degree.

The Shahids are committed to educating small town America about true Islam and have plans on sharing the campaign in communities with a population of 6,000 or less.

“We are not here to convert anyone. We focus on educating the public and spreading awareness of our Ahmadiyya principles. This is to allow us to co-exist with no fears or antagonism,” said Atta Shahid.

The 11 principles and additional information about “True Islam and the Extremist” campaign are found at www.trueislam.com. 


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