By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
13 May 2020
Imran Khan came with the promise of creating a new Medina in Pakistan. Myths have great power, especially if it is dressed up as an answer to present day problems like inequality. Reality dawned rather quickly on the Khan government and it soon abandoned even the talk of bringing back the ‘glorious days’ of Medina. First, it were the Mullahs who held his government to ransom for weeks together. Then, his inability to stem the tide of forcible conversion of minority religious groups, especially Hindu girls, exposed his hypocritical rhetoric of Naya Pakistan. The exclusion of the Ahmadiyya community from the newly established National Commission of Minorities, is the latest example of how the Khan government has buckled under Islamist pressure.
The Ahmadiyyas arose as a distinct Muslim group during the 19th century. Most of their theology arose from their active engagement with Christian and Hindu groups who were writing disparaging commentaries on Islam. In the process, the Ahmadis charted a slightly different course in their understanding of the concept of prophetic tradition within Islam. The Ahmadis make a difference between prophets who were sent as ‘bearers of laws’ and prophets who were sent to ‘renew the law’. In this understanding, Muhammad was the last law bearing prophet and hence they consider him as the seal of prophets. However, they also sacralise their ideologue, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who they argue was sent to renew the law. This conception of prophet-hood, however, is not very different from the dominant Sunni Hanafi concept of the Mujaddid, who comes to renew the faith from time to time.
Despite this, there has been a long perception about Ahmadis that they deny the finality of Prophet Muhammad. Although theological attacks have been made against the Ahmadis since their inception, it was only after the creation of Pakistan that the movement against them became political and got intensified. The threat of Hindu dominance no longer there, the Pakistani nation-state imagined an internal enemy in the form of Ahmadiyyas. This despite the fact that the Ahmadi Muslims were at the forefront of the Pakistan movement. Soon after Pakistan was created, Shia and Sunni traditionalists, ably supported by Islamists like Maududi demanded that Ahmadis be considered non-Muslims and be removed from all positions of power.
Violence against Ahmadis erupted in Lahore during 1953-54 in which nearly 2000 of them were killed. The government initially resisted the Mullahs and the Islamists but eventually gave up, and in 1974, under the left leaning Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims. Despite this forcible exclusion, Ahmadis continued to practice their faith as Muslims. In order to further stigmatize them, the Pakistan state brought an ordinance in 1984 which forbade the Ahmadis to practice their faith as Muslims. Ahmadis could no longer preach, say their prayers, or even repair their mosques. Periodic targeted violence against the Ahmadis has resulted in their migration to other countries. Human Rights Watch and US Commission for International Religious Freedom have periodically called out the Pakistan establishment for its enabling of ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom’ against the Ahmadi community.
In India, Muslims have not been far behind their Pakistani counterparts. In the not so distant past, prominent Indian Muslims have lobbied hard to prevent any national politician from visiting any Ahmadi religious congregation. Muslims who have been projected as liberal and progressive by the mainstream media have been personally involved in vandalizing Ahmadi religious exhibitions. Mullahs and their minions have organized numerous Khatm e Nabuwwat conferences to explicitly target the minuscule Ahmadiyya community in India.
Imran Khan wanted to include the Ahmadis as minorities and the cabinet had even circulated a note stating its intention of doing so. However, the government buckled under pressure, the note was modified and the idea of including Ahmadis as minorities was dropped. While the state vacillates between inclusion and exclusion, the Ahmadis themselves do not want to be included as minorities. They consider themselves to be as Muslims as any other group and want to be treated as such by the larger society and the state. In the raging obsession of Pakistan with the Ahmadi question, no one wanted to know their opinion and what they thought regarding the whole issue. The back and forth on the issue has had the effect of bringing back the negative spotlight back on the already beleaguered community. If there is a fresh attack on the community, it is the Pakistan state which should squarely be blamed for it.
Islam is not a religion like Christianity having an elaborate ecclesiastical authority. This lack of centralised structure is the reason of so much internal diversity within Islam. Not just in terms of Mazahib (law schools), but also within each of them, the different Masalik (sects) attests to a certain recognition and internalization of the principle of diversity. There is therefore no standard way of being a Muslim. Problems arise when either the state or groups within Muslim society arrogate to themselves the power to define what constitutes Islam or its attendant practices. The important question to remember is this: if there is no concept of clerical establishment in Islam then no one has the right to condemn the faith orientation of any Muslim group. Anyone doing so is going against the very same Islamic principles which he/she wants to uphold. And therefore, any person who self identifies herself as a Muslim must necessarily be treated as one, without any questions asked.
One notices a strange silence within the Indian Muslim community regarding the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. In India, Muslims are waging a valiant struggle to retain their rights and dignity against a relentless army of hate arrayed against them. It is therefore important to show solidarity with all minority groups (religious or otherwise) elsewhere, more so if that happens within South Asian countries. A selective condemnation will only hurt the present Muslim cause in India.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com