Local Muslim sect's event will emphasize loyalty to U.S.

Tipton, USA - Imran Malik has lived in the United States for about 30 years, 20 of them as an American citizen.

Like all legal immigrants, he took an oath renouncing previous allegiances and pledged to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Yet today, Malik, an electrical engineer from Tipton County, and other members of his small Ahmadiyya Muslim group will declare their loyalty to the United States -- not with a formal oath but during a special "Muslims for Loyalty" event. They will explain to gathered law enforcement, congressional staffers and anyone else present that theirs is a peace-loving community that sees love of country -- this country -- as an article of faith.

"The people of the West may have an image of Muslims being terrorists or that the religion of Islam may support that activity. We believe the people of the United States may also think that if you are a Muslim living (here), your allegiance may be to your religion or to your original country, more so than the U.S." Malik said. "All of those are not correct."

The Ahmadi, a small sect of Muslims who believe the messiah returned as a prophet in India and died in 1908, are scattered all over the world. The highest concentration is in Pakistan. Many of the American Ahmadi -- estimated at 17,000, with about 200 in Indiana -- are Pakistani immigrants.

That fact and the recent killing of Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan lends some additional timeliness to the loyalty event, which was planned weeks before bin Laden's death.

"We are pleased that he has met his end," said Malik, a native of Pakistan. "Justice has been done."

But the group also hopes the timing will give their words a wider audience. At the least, said Malik, it offers "a higher level of obligation to make things better."

An ABC News/Washington Post poll last fall found that fewer than 40 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Islam -- lower than in the days after the 9/11 attacks.

The "Muslims for Loyalty" event elicits mixed emotions in people such as Safaa Zarzour, secretary general of the Plainfield-based Islamic Society of North America. Zarzour said he understands why the Ahmadi are holding the event, but he's not sure it is the best answer to quell suspicions.

The Islamic society has tried to build friendships with leaders of other faiths and engage in social justice causes.

"That is the way to go as opposed to standing up and making statements that, frankly, those who don't want to believe you won't believe," Zarzour said, "and those who do believe you will feel sorry for you."

The Muslim Alliance of Indiana has been engaged in similar bridge-building across the state. Shariq Siddiqui, one of its officers, called the loyalty event interesting.

"They feel that the loyalty of American Muslims is being questioned and that it needs to be said that we are loyal," he said.

Local Ahmadis -- lacking a mosque -- gathered for Friday prayers in the living room of a suburban Fishers home. Visiting missionary Irshad A. Malhi told the assembly -- 12 men in a front room, six women behind a curtain in a larger sitting room -- that the concept of jihad has been misunderstood.

"Killing of other people is absolutely wrong and is not according to the teaching of Islam," Malhi said. The Ahmadi messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, taught his followers to "spread peace on earth."

Some local Ahmadis acknowledge they will never be able to convince everyone who doubts Islam.

"No matter what people think of Muslims," Muzaffar Ahmad said, "the religion teaches us to be loyal to wherever we live."