Moderate Muslim Group Seeks to Refocus Islam

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Ahmadiyya Muslims have been outlawed in Pakistan, yet in America they are barely noticed.

Now, members of the small Islamic community -- known for its more moderate beliefs -- are taking to the streets, speaking out against terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Rasheed Reno is president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Portland, Ore.

Extremist views, such as attacking or killing those who leave the faith are considered "un-Islamic" by the Ahmadiyya Muslims.

Ending Extremism

From Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Iran, in many Islamic countries, Muslims who convert to Christianity or any other faith are considered apostates.

"The Koran says there is no compulsion in religion, so the idea that someone can be punished for changing their religion is completely foreign to Islam," Reno told CBN News.

The same goes for jihad, the waging of war or using violence to expand the reach and influence of Islam.

"The new jihad of this age is the jihad of the pen. We solve our disputes through intellect and through reason," Reno added. "The age of the jihad of the sword is over."

That was the teaching of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. He founded the Ahmadiyya sect in 1889 and taught against violence and the mixing of spirituality and politics.

Spreading the Word

Portland's Ahmadiyya Mosque is nestled in a residential neighborhood on the city's south side.

CBN News caught up with members on a Saturday morning as they prepared to blanket downtown Portland with fliers promoting their message of peace.

Later, they distributed fliers at Pioneer Square -- the same place where 19-year-old Somali Muslim Mohammed Osman Mohamud allegedly plotted to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2010. The FBI was tipped off by the suspect's father.

Many wonder what can be done to prevent young Muslims like Mohamud from becoming radicalized by extremist teachings on websites, in mosques and Islamic schools.

Reaching Islam's Youth

Ahmdiyya youth leader Salman Ahmed said lessons of peace and patriotism don't just begin at home.

"[It begins with] their parents, their family, and then the circles which they live in," Ahmed explained. "Their schools -- if they go to a mosques -- the mosques all have a responsibility to ensure that our children walk the right path."

Young Muslims are getting involved in the Ahmadiyya effort, like 13-year-old Shujah.

"I'm just doing this to promote the message that Muslims are not people that we see on TV every day -- the people that are bombing buildings," he said. "The people that do that are going against the teachings of Islam. Don't persecute Muslims. Just because you see a Muslim doesn't mean they're going to go and bomb a building."

Dan Sockle worked as a military contractor in Iraq. He now shares his experiences while teaching a course at Vancouver's Clark College.

"It's the moderate Muslim voice that we as Americans have been longing for, yearning for since 9/11," Sockle said.

"This is almost a two-for-one where it's not just a courageous, a bold step forward on behalf of moderate Muslims everywhere. But it is specifically in reaching out to those younger generations which should be our greatest concern," he added.

Rev. Anton Dewet is with the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Portland.

"I think the voice that they represent is not only a voice of reason, but also courage," he said. "It's a voice that we dare not lose and we should do everything within our power to protect this voice."

Where Do Christians Fit In?

But some evangelicals may find the collaboration with Muslims difficult.

Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land recently resigned from the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques because Baptists felt the group went too far in supporting Muslims.

So, how can evangelical Christians show support without compromising their faith?

CBN News visited Multnomah Biblical Seminary and spoke with Paul Metzger, a professor of theology and culture.

Metzger said Christians must hold true to their biblical and theological convictions about God and salvation, while also engaging with others.

"I think of Jesus' own words in Luke 10 about the Samaritan story... [the message] is to care for the person whom we would often ostracize or we would ignore, and Jesus says your neighbor is the person not like you, least like you," Metzger explained. "It's conviction with compassion. That's what scripture calls us to."

As for young Ahmadiyya Muslims like Shujah, more Americans may see them on street corners in their city, handing out brochures and spreading a message of peace and moderation -- with or without the supportive voices of others.

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