What Is It About Ahmedi Beliefs That Bothers The Pakistani Mainstream So Much?

What Is It About Ahmedi Beliefs That Bothers The Pakistani Mainstream So Much?
Pakistanis, it seems, hate Ahmadis so much that even in the UK there have been cases of incitement to murder through “Kill Ahmadis” leaflets at a mosque. A British Ahmadi shopkeeper, Asad Shah, was murdered in 2016 – his killer was made into a hero for the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in Pakistan. The social media accounts of some Pakistanis in Western countries show derogatory remarks against the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement. Additionally, among some Pakistani student associations in Western universities, space and resources are restricted for individuals other than mainstream Muslims. While Pakistanis express their religious identity and sensibilities, they deny the same right to Ahmadis. Similarly, while they raise concerns against Islamophobia and uphold their narrative on the human rights violations in Kashmir, they conveniently sideline the discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis at the hands of their own communities.

This necessitates the question of why Pakistanis hate Ahmadis so much that they would even take such hatred along with themselves to Western countries.


Purification ritual?

One possible explanation lies in the observation that this level of hatred is not seen in the Pakistani diaspora against Jews or Hindus, for whom conspiracy theories are rife in Pakistan. What this means is that we hate that which is closest to us. Indeed, the religious practices of Ahmadis are closest to Sunni Muslims – in contrast to Shia Ithna Ashari, Ismaili, or Bohra practices. Sometimes, it is discovered that those who vociferously rail against Ahmadis have had personal or family involvement in the Ahmadiyya community. Much like the Christian and Jewish converts to Islam who imported their anti-Semitism, some Ahmadi converts to Sunni Islam bring their own bias. Therefore, to erase their past, former Ahmadis or affiliates engage in a “purification” ritual.


Iqbal’s affiliation

One example of this is the poet philosopher Iqbal (d. 1938), who according to Ahmadi sources, praised the Ahmadiyya movement, and shared public platforms with Ahmadi leaders – until he changed his position, perhaps just four years before his death. To put this into context, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, died in 1908. Iqbal’s father and his teacher, Sayyid Mir Hasan (d. 1929), were admirers of Ahmad. His elder brother had formally joined the Ahmadiyya movement, and Iqbal himself pledged allegiance to Ahmad in 1897. Iqbal also sent his eldest son Aftab Iqbal (d. 1979, to be educated at the Ahmadiyya community school in Qadian.

In 1900, he praised Ahmad as the most profound theologian among modern Indian Muslims. In 1910, two years after Ahmad’s death – and despite Ahmad’s claims which irritated the orthodox clergy – Iqbal referred to the Ahmadiyya movement as a true model of Islamic life. He would also consult the first Ahmadi Caliph, Hakim Nuruddin (d. 1914), on matters of Islamic law. Even in 1935, he mentioned that the Ahmadi beliefs on the death of Jesus and the interpretation of the second coming of Jesus provide the Ahmadiyya movement with a rational basis.

He also deemed it permissible to use the terms nabi or paighambar (prophet) in a metaphorical sense for non-prophets in poetry. Additionally, he referred to a true believer as imbued with the spiritual qualities of prophets and the archangel Gabriel. In his Armaghan-e-Hijaz, he says: “By the one to come, is it meant the original Jesus or a Mujaddid possessing the attributes of the son of Mary?” which seems to be compatible with Ahmadi beliefs. However, he expressed his disagreement and opposition to the ideas of a new prophethood.

Thus, it seems that having affiliated with the Ahmadiyya movement for a substantial part of his life, Iqbal later became disillusioned with it, and in a ‘purification’ ritual wanted to disassociate himself from it. Although given his Sufi leanings, it seems that he was not necessarily opposed to the Ahmadi beliefs per se, but rather the intensity with which they were expressed. That is, he was not as concerned with the claims of a promised Messiah or a Mahdi, as he was with the claims of a new prophethood or the Ahmadi-inspired excommunication of those who didn’t accept the new prophethood.


Probing doctrinal differences

The proximity of Ahmadis to Sunni Muslims necessitates exploring the doctrinal difference that has allowed Muslims to push the ‘exceptional’ case against Ahmadis. Generally, and crudely without any nuance, the majoritarian understanding is that Ahmad claimed prophethood, rejected the doctrine of jihad and was a British stooge. Such claims are often projected as sound bites instead of the original writings of Ahmad, which are banned. Often, the level of hate speech approaches where Hitler had books burned and people were fed false dogma against Jews prior to the Holocaust.

Now if we want to know about Ahmadi beliefs instead of hearsay, we have to go to the source material, which is banned. This is partly because we cannot rely entirely on conversations with Ahmadi colleagues, just as a vast majority of Sunni Muslims do not always have the textual references on their beliefs. Based on the source material presented in the Ahmadiyya case, it becomes clear that the secondary issues of the virgin birth, the death of Jesus, the doctrine of jihad, being a British stooge, and kufr fatwas on mainstream Muslims are all a tempest in a teapot. However, these secondary issues collectively exacerbate the response to the primary issue of prophethood.

Therefore, addressing these issues first would go a long way when it comes to addressing the main issue. This would also allow people to recognise how prejudice impedes a rational examination of the issue and compounds what should have been a simple difference of opinion.


The doctrine of jihad

So far as the doctrine of jihad is concerned, the teachings of many Muslim scholars including Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and others are not that different from those of Ahmad. Generally, Muslims of the 19th century expressed loyalty to the British government: a point that must be underscored when we use our decolonization lens to look at those times. In terms of jihad, such Muslim scholars restrict it to collective defensive action and with restrictive stipulations when the Islamic faith and practice is endangered by an aggressive power. The 19th-century Muslim scholars and elders rejected the 1857 rebellion, as they opined that they were allowed to freely practice their faith under the British government.

Among others, Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi (d. 1831) expressed that jihad was not feasible against the British, as they were neither oppressing Muslims nor preventing them from religious practices, while Nazir Husain (d. 1902) viewed the 1857 rebellion to be a breach of covenant and declared it sinful to participate in it. Similarly, Muhammad Husain Batalvi (d. 1920) opined that the age of sword is no more and that Muslims who participated in the 1857 rebellion were like beasts. Sanaullah Amritsari (d. 1948), who staunchly opposed the Ahmadiyya movement, opined that the ulema (clerics) declared jihad with the sword as rebellion and prohibited it. Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) mentioned that this was the age of the pen, not the sword.

Likewise, contemporary Muslim scholars like Ghamidi and Khan focus on tazkiyya nafs (purification of the soul). Thus, exaggerating the mainstream’s opposition to Ahmadi beliefs on the doctrine of jihad is logically unjustified.


Jesus – virgin birth and death

As far as the virgin birth is concerned, despite the mainstream position, many Muslim scholars and elders believed that Jesus was not born of a virgin and that he had a father. Such Muslims include Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (d. 1898) and Ghulam Ahmed Pervez (d. 1985). Muhammad Asad (d. 1992) expressed that neither the Qur’an nor the tradition inform us about the chain of causes of Jesus’s birth and that the relevant verses allude to Mary remaining chaste by marriage. In a similar vein, Daryabadi (d. 1977) mentioned that interpreting the verses to understand that obstacles to Mary getting pregnant by her husband were removed did not constitute kufr (disbelief).

Among other scholars, Ghamidi believes in the death of Jesus and does not put much stock in Hadith texts that depict his second coming. Generally, Ghamidi rejects such eschatological texts, which strengthens his case against the Ahmadiyya movement. By rejecting such texts, he rejects any coming of a promised Messiah or Mahdi.

It is, therefore, interesting to note that those who insist that Jesus is alive or that he would come again, open themselves to scrutiny on not just the supernatural nature of their claims but also on the charge that they might not recognise Jesus on his return, especially when religious texts are replete with examples of how people awaited prophets only to ostracise and spurn them. Regardless, the issues of the virgin birth and the death of Jesus, and any difference on such issues, does not seem to be sufficient to constitute heresy – at least if we examine the mainstream disagreements on it.


The Ahmadis’ own fatwas of kufr

Often, mainstream Muslims claim that Ahmadis deem other Muslims kafirs, and do not pray behind non-Ahmadi imams. Indeed, some claim that the first foreign minister of Pakistan, Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi, refused to pray at Jinnah’s funeral. Such allegations are uncalled for, contradictory and reminiscent of the saying “ulta chor kotwal ko dante” (the thief rebuking the jailer). This is because if mainstream Muslims deem Ahmadis as kafirs and socially ostracise them, then why should they expect Ahmadis to open their marginalised spaces to them? Moreover, historically, going against the environment in which rival Muslim groups profusely excommunicated one another, Ahmad condemned the practice of takfir. In his work Tiryaq-u- Qulub from 1902, he expressed that it was not his creed to call any Muslim kafir and that no one becomes a kafir by denying his claim. Similarly, in Haqiqat al Wahy from 1907, he highlighted what he saw as the dishonesty of Muslims who branded Ahmadis kafirs but then accused them of calling all Muslims kafirs.

However, Ahmad deflected kufr fatwas on him through the Hadith that the kafir epithet is returned to the one who uses such labels. He also emphasised that the imam leading prayers could not be someone who had passed takfir on Ahmadis, for one could not pray behind someone who, according to the Hadith text, had the charge of kafir deflected back on him. In his work Al Hakam from 1904, he referred to Muslims who remained neutral to him as belonging to “our own category.” Thus, the issue of Zafarullah Khan not praying at Jinnah’s funeral has to be viewed in this context, and the scrutiny is better placed on why Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, including Maulana Maududi, refused to pray – when they were clearly not as disadvantaged as Khan.

In short, the focus is better placed on majoritarian Muslims, who have rabidly engaged in takfir and compared each other with Ahmadis. For instance, where Maulana Izaz Ali (d. 1955) deemed Maududi’s party more harmful for the Muslim faith than Ahmadis, Maududi’s affiliate Islahi deemed Ghulam Ahmad Pervez’s ideology as a heresy worse and more extreme than that of Ahmadis. In essence, focusing on Ahmadi refusal to pray behind those who deem them kafirs is simply unwarranted.

Where do we go from here?

What should have been a simple difference of opinion has been turned into a needless political issue that has led to the persecution of Ahmadis. Consider for instance, how several past Muslims, despite holding different opinions, were able to praise Ahmad for his valiant defense of Islamic beliefs against Christian missionaries and the Hindu proselytising Arya Samaj movement.

For instance, on Ahmad’s death, Abul Kalam Azad (d. 1958) expressed that “In spite of our strong differences with Mirza sahib in respect of some of his claims and beliefs […] the literature produced by Mirza sahib in his confrontation with the Christians and the Aryas has received the seal of general approval […] (and that) it is not likely that a man of this grandeur will be born again in the religious world of the Indian subcontinent.” Similarly, Zafar Ali Khan’s (d. 1956) father Sirajuddin Ahmed Khan wrote for the Zamindar paper in 1908 that “though we personally did not have the honour of believing in his claims or revelations, nonetheless, we consider him to be a perfect Muslim.” Likewise, Sayyid Mumtaz Ali (d. 1935) wrote that, “although we do not believe him to be the promised Messiah, his guidance and teaching was indeed messianic for the spiritually dead.”

However, with constant political agitation and vested political interests over the decades, each subsequent generation of Pakistanis has been expected to jump on the hate bandwagon. This hatred has become inter-generational and one that seems to spread to Western countries, as Muslims immigrate their hatred along with themselves. All of this reduces Islam to a zealously guarded cult or a Coca Cola-type brand instead of a universal umbrella of inclusion.

But if Islam is to be converted into a narrow cult, then what are we to do with the Hadith texts, as illustrated by Hashim Kamali, that the Prophet (PBUH) advised people to avoid suspecting the worst in the speech of others while they can still attribute a favorable interpretation?

As is, even within mainstream Islam, many Sunnis do not marry Shia Ithna Ashari, Ismaili or Bohra individuals and vice versa. Certainly, doctrinal differences and many differences in ritual practices have not been diluted even when there is no hindrance in marrying individuals from different denominations. Why could it not have been the same for Ahmadis, who also face the same challenges of changing times and circumstances and the issue of fossilizing faith with changing worldviews?

It is quite possible for individuals of different faiths and denominations to live peacefully without being threatened by one another. After all, only a small proportion of people convert from one faith or denomination to another, as often the human capital accumulated in one tradition is too difficult to jettison.

It is, therefore, only our insecurities and base emotions that instigate us to rail against those we envy. Apart from explanations based on proximity and limiting competition, at the root of all this anti-Ahmadi hate are our insecurities that have been passed down from one generation to another.

The views expressed here are the writers own and do not necessarily reflect Friday Times-Naya Daur's editorial policy.