Whenever I have attended receptions or events where Huzoor has addressed dignitaries and guests, I have always witnessed that the impact of Huzoor’s words is incredibly strong and positive.
Time and again, I have seen people openly admit how Huzoor’s presence and words have changed their view on Islam for the better. I have met scores of people who have felt deep emotion and pride at seeing and hearing Huzoor.
Nonetheless, the atmosphere amongst the guests in Philadelphia was amongst the most emotional I have ever seen.
When I talked to many guests, the feelings of joy, relief and emotion were inescapable. Joy at the fact that they had been able to meet Huzoor and to listen to his message of unity and hope. Relief at the fact that they now knew that Islam was not the religion of extremism they had feared. And they felt emotion that finally there was a voice who spoke for their rights.
Amongst the people I met, one person I will not forget was a middle-aged African-American lady, a practicing Christian, called Anetta Curry.
As we sat together for a few minutes in the same hall where minutes before Huzoor had delivered his address, she repeatedly became emotional, as she reflected on an evening that had made a profound impact on her.
As we sat down together, Anetta Curry told me she had come to the event with some very strong preconceived beliefs about Islam. She said:
“Definitely, I came here with a very different impression of Islam and Muslims. Before I came here, I was fearful – actually very fearful. You do not know what thoughts I had in my heart! I actually believed that this Mosque was going to be built as a front for terrorist financing and as a hub of extremism and that you would plot another 9/11 at this Mosque. It’s no exaggeration to say that I thought that this Mosque will destroy the peace of this city and in fact of the United States. You know I may be the only person open enough to admit this but there are thousands of other people in this city who have exactly the same fears that I had. They hide them but the fears exist.”
I was taken aback by her words. In fact, I was a little stunned. In the past, I had experienced a lot of people who had preconceived notions of Islam as a ‘violent’ or ‘extremist’ religion.
Yet, here was a lady who was telling me she thought our Ahmadi Mosque was going to be used to plot a huge terrorist attack and that her views were shared by thousands of others.
Upon reflection, I realised that it was not at all surprising she had such fears of Islam or that thousands of others shared similar concerns, given how divided the United States has become in recent years and how fears of Islam and of Muslims have been spread by the media and countless other influential figures.
I asked Anetta, why she had accepted our invitation to attend the Mosque opening when she harboured such fears about Islam.
In reply, she said:
“Because I was raised to give people the chance to present their side of the story and to get first-hand information. I was taught to investigate to find out the truth. So, yes I was scared but there was no one who was going to stop me coming!”
Before I could ask anything further, Anetta told me about her experience of listening directly to Huzoor. She said:
“I had those fears right up until the moment your Caliph started speaking. But as soon as he started to talk, he immediately put my heart at ease. He made me feel comfortable. Honestly, I cannot tell you how glad I was that I came this evening! Today, after listening to him I feel I have been educated. I have realised that every religion has some bad people but that we should not assume all Muslims or Mosques are extremist.”
Wiping tears from her eyes, Anetta continued:
“Even the way he looked and spoke put my heart at ease. The Caliph is so elegant, so beautiful. It is as if there is a halo around him. I feel so peaceful now. I feel so peaceful. You have no idea how peaceful I feel! I never expected to feel like this. I honestly never did. I was in awe of the Caliph. I kept looking at him and thinking he is a man of truth and a man of peace. The more he spoke, the more I relaxed and eventually every single fear I had completely disappeared.”
Telling me about those parts of Huzoor’s address that particularly affected her, Anetta said:
“At one point the Caliph said that if any neighbour ever needs our assistance the Ahmadis will be there for them. At that point I felt so emotional. His words and language were so touching and poignant. At another point, he said that Ahmadi Muslims will be there to wipe away the tears of their neighbours. What he does not know is that when he said these words, I began to weep and had real tears in my eyes. I thought of how my fears were completely wrong and how miseducated I had been.”
Given her initial suspicion and downright fear, I found what Anetta said next quite incredible. She said:
“The sad truth is that I do not feel this welcomed in my own community and in my own church as I have felt in this Mosque that I thought was going to be a terrorist centre. The Caliph is a man who is embracing us and it is like he is a shield for the people of Philadelphia and further afield.”
Anetta told me to write down carefully what she was going to say next. She spoke slowly and carefully to ensure that I was able to note down her exact words. She said:
“I promise you that I am going to tell my people everything I have seen and heard here tonight. I am going to tell them about Islam and educate them, like I have been educated. My name is Anetta Curry and I promise you that Anetta Curry is going home with a message to tell her people to embrace this Mosque, just like this Mosque has embraced me. That is my mission now and what I am going to do. I promise. I promise. This is my task and I’m not going to waste any time. Starting tomorrow, I am going to be preaching the message of the Caliph!”
With that our conversation came to an end. We had talked for just a few minutes but those few minutes remain marked indelibly in my mind. It was a moment in time I doubt I will ever forget.
I had seen first-hand how Islam’s fiercest critic had become Islam’s advocate. Islam’s denouncer had become Islam’s defender. Why? Because she had seen and felt the blessings of Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya.