Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
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.
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.
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
Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism