He wasn't budging from where he stood. Neither was his hand from where it rested. He watched me, obviously nervous, waiting for some magical proof of my non-terrorism. Proof I didn't have. Meanwhile, despite somewhat freaking out, I was amazed. I was amazed that he equated terrorism with being American. I was a terrorist not because I was Pakistani, but because I was an American, a "goddamn American" at that.
It felt like the twilight zone. Americans? Terrorists? No, no, but we were the victims of terrorism. We were the good guys. That's what 9/11 was all about, right? The whole world knew this. I saw Ground Zero with my own eyes after the towers fell. It was absolute carnage. I wept with my fellow Americans. Terrorists did that to us Americans. We did nothing wrong, right? And all this was even before we discovered that Osama bin Laden was hiding just a few hundred miles from where the police officer and I stood that day in Pakistan. How dare you call us Americans terrorists?
None of that would've mattered to the officer at that point. He remained silent, but stared me down, waiting; for what, I wasn't sure. But, I was sure it was something I didn't have.
And suddenly, it hit me. A light bulb literally turned on. The proof I needed to show that I wasn't a terrorist. Just as soon as the idea entered my mind, however, the fear of exposing it forced me to reconsider. Dare I show my evidence? Proof would require breaking a cardinal rule, one that my family had warned me never to break.
Even before I left for Pakistan, everyone repeatedly--particularly my parents--sat me down and warned me, "Listen, Qasim, you've got a big mouth, understand?"
"Umm, okay... Thanks?"
"But when you get to Pakistan, under no circumstance, for any reason, to any person, particularly to the government, do you ever break this rule. No matter what happens, you absolutely, positively, do not--"
"Should I be writing this down?"
"Just listen! Under no circumstance are you to reveal to someone, anyone, that you don't know personally, that--"
"This sounds important. I should probably write this down."
"Don't tell them that you are an Ahmadi Muslim! That's the single rule! Do not tell them you are an Ahmadi. Just ignore it and move on. Police tortured your cousin to near death, your other cousin was lynched, and too many things can go wrong. Too many are being killed. The last thing we need is you getting arrested or killed because you can't keep your big mouth shut. Do you understand?"
"Actually, I can probably remember that. Don't think I need to write it down."
"Qasim, I'm being serious."
"Yeah, sure sure, no problem, got it."
"NO, do you understand? You do not mention you're an Ahmadi! Under no circumstance! Zero. This is not a light matter, Qasim."
"Yeah yeah, got it got it, I won't mention it. Mouth closed."
Well, I guess I've never been particularly good at following orders. Middle children, psychologists say, tend to be more rebellious than the eldest or youngest because they supposedly get less attention. I am a middle child. And not that I'm bitter at my jerk siblings for hogging all the attention, but what I did next was probably the exact recklessness I was told to avoid.
"Officer, I'm not a terrorist, and the proof is that I'm an Ahmadi."
I blurted it out flatly, without emotion. I paused, envisioning Hollywoodesque furies of anger erupting from the officer. I might've flinched a little.
Instead, it seemed to catch him completely off guard. "You're...a Qadiani? An American Qadiani?"
"Erm, yes, an American Ahmadi. "So you know I'm not a terrorist."
I had a point. Despite the persecution, Ahmadis have never once instigated, retaliated, advocated, or endorsed any form of terrorism. Despite his obvious prejudice against "Qadianis," he knew this. The officer remained stoic, pondering over his next move. As was my big mouth habit, I kept talking.
"I'm visiting from America, but I was born here. I'm an Ahmadi; I'm just here to visit family. I assure you I have no bomb. I actually have difficulty getting my cell phone battery out of its case. I couldn't possibly put together a whole bomb."
He gave me a confused look. I guess my goddamn American humor must have been lost on him. Whatever the case, he gave me one more hard stare, and slowly took a step...backwards. Then another, then another. He put his gun back in its holster and without saying another word, turned around and walked back the other way.
I did a little happy dance in my head and breathed a huge sigh of relief. My heart was beating like mad. I'm not entirely sure I understood then the danger I had been in. Instead, I was in shock that I was called a terrorist in my birth country. Despite everything, I walked away with a swagger knowing that I mentioned my faith to a cop and lived to tell about it.
This article is excerpted from Qasim Rashid's book The Wrong Kind of Muslim: An Untold Story of Persecution and Perseverance.