During a recent vacation to the Cayman Islands, Toronto-based imam Aizaz Khan of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community found himself sitting in on a celebration of the Christian faith.
After a church in George Town heard Mr. Khan was organizing interfaith dialogues, the congregation reached out and invited him to an anniversary celebration.
“I was happy to join in this happy occasion with them. What I saw during their congregation were teachings like, don’t lie, don’t steal, increase brotherhood in the church, be a peaceful human being,” Mr. Khan said. “I was speaking to them later on and telling them that if we actually look at our two religions, we can find more in common than we can find differences.”
Interactions like these are what Mr. Khan said he will remember about Cayman and his work to launch an educational initiative here called “Coffee and Islam.” Rather than harbor ill feelings about anti-Muslim rhetoric he encountered in person and on social media while on island, he said he is inspired to work harder at building bridges between communities.
While Mr. Khan has already returned to his home in Toronto, he said the door remains open for Caymanians to meet with local Muslims about their faith and culture.
“Although there are people here in Cayman who have misunderstood the religion of Islam and misunderstood the campaign Coffee and Islam, it’s OK. If anything, we have to try harder to think of other methods, other ways to get the peaceful message of the religion of Islam out. This is something we will continue to do,” Mr. Khan said.
He said he and others from the Ahmadiyya faith, a branch of Islam, live by the motto, “love for all, hatred for none.” He hopes to promote this message in his conversations about Islam and dispel the misconception that extremism and Islam go hand-in-hand.
“Just last weekend, 38,000 members of our community converged in London, U.K., to actually stand against ISIS, to march against extremism, to pledge their allegiance to a leader of our community who actually teaches us to be peaceful human beings and to treat others with kindness and love, which is inherent in the teachings of the religion of Islam,” Mr. Khan said.
“It’s disgusting to know that there are people out there who will ascribe themselves to a religion that literally means peace and yet commit some of the most atrocious and heinous crimes against humanity, which is another reason why this sort of education has to take place.”
He ascribes extremism, in large part, to politics and social conflict in the Middle East, and disavowed those who use scripture to justify violence.
Dozens of people reached out to Mr. Khan while he was in Cayman and took him up on his offer for a free coffee, he said. Others approached him on the street to chat.
Many of these conversations never touched on the topic of religion, Mr. Khan said. For those who had never met a Muslim before, he said, they were often happy just to have the opportunity to speak with him.
“I have had a lot of conversations just on the street, seven minutes, eight minutes, sometimes less. Every time someone walked away, they walked away with a smile on their face.” Mr. Khan said.
Mr. Khan attracted a barrage of anti-Muslim comments on social media after appearing on Cayman 27. Dozens debated the significance of Mr. Khan’s Coffee and Islam initiative on Facebook. While some came to his defense and welcomed Mr. Khan to the islands, others were not so kind. Comments were also passed on the choice of Anwar Choudhury, who is Muslim, as Cayman’s new governor.
Given the current political environment, Mr. Khan said he has become accustomed to pushback on and demonization of Muslims who openly practice their faith. These tensions only motivate him more to promote education about his community.
“Many people have asked … why are you doing this when you know that you are going to be hated for it? This is something that actually drives us, knowing that there is so much ignorance regarding the religion of Islam,” Mr. Khan said.
“But that’s exactly what Coffee and Islam is for, to show people that we’re Muslims. We’re not extremists. We’re not terrorists. Now is your opportunity to come, talk to us, ask your questions. I assure you that very quickly you will come to realize we do have more similarities than we do differences.”
Those interested in meeting with a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Cayman can reach out online through www.facebook.com/islamcayman..