The Minority’s Minority

July 26, 2012 by  
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Pakistan, Tehelka Magazine, Dated July 28 2012: Sunni supremacist groups have terrorised the Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan and declared them non-Muslims. This hatred is now taking roots in India.

“The breed of Qadianis will never change. They may multiply up to 99 generations; still the 100th one will continue to be a dualist-infidel and apostate. The reason is that their crime is a never-ending one. The offence will never cease to exist in their progeny. Let it be clear to every Muslim that the crime of apostasy runs throughout the lineage of a Qadiani. If he is adamant and refuses to renounce his apostasy, then Allah’s sacred soil deserves to be cleaned of his foul existence. By the law of Shariat, they should be awarded capital sentence because they are dualist-infidels (zindiq). If they are masquerading as Muslims on the globe, it is because they have not been sentenced. Hunt the liar in his mother’s haunt [Britain]. I ask my Muslim brethren — Don’t you have any grace left in you to answer these shameless Qadianis? Peel their camouflage off from every nook and corner of the world, just as it has been done in Pakistan.” – From a booklet published by the Majlise-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Trust, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

IN RECENT days, as news of the Higgs Boson and the so-called god particle swept across the globe, some commentators in Pakistan referred to the strange and paradoxical case of the late Mohammad Abdus Salam. A physicist of renown and Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate, Salam is hardly remembered in his country, and even mocked because he belonged to the Ahmadiyya or Qadiani sect of Islam. In recent years, as Sunni supremacism and an extremist, Wahhabi form of the religion have gained ground in Pakistan, Ahmadiyyas have found themselves under attack.

Is the fire spreading to India? The Ahmadiyya sect was born in this country, its adherents being followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th century religious preacher who lived in Qadian, near Gurdaspur in Punjab. Yet today, a silent social boycott of the community in India is isolating it from other Muslims.

No one knows this better than Jehangir Ali, 82, a wizened resident of the Old City in Hyderabad. We are standing in his house, part of a complex that includes the 398-year-old Qutub Shahi Mosque, the family graveyard, living quarters and a small poultry business. “Look around you,” he says, “what do you see?” This reporter looks around — there are trees, a railway line, and more trees. There’s nothing really; rare open spaces in the otherwise congested neighbourhood of Falaknuma.

That’s exactly the point Ali is trying to make — his and his family’s exile from the community. His family — including those of his two sons and two grandsons — has not just been excluded and pushed to the margins, it has been repeatedly threatened.

Religious zealots, backed by the Andhra Pradesh Wakf Board, are claiming ownership of the mosque Ali’s family has so lovingly tended to.

“This mosque was in a bad shape when my grandfather came here in 1890,” says Ali. “He became its caretaker and spent his money restoring it. Not even a single person came here to read namaz back then. Even today, no one else comes here to pray except us. They still want to throw us out.”

On 18 February, the Wakf Board issued an order resolving to “take over possession of the mosque and the graveyard from the custody of the Qadianis. Since Sunni or Shia mosques cannot be administered by non-Muslims, it is ordered that the said property be taken under the Wakf’s direct management”. In effect, the Wakf Board declared the Ali family non-Muslims.

Despite his frail health, Ali is not giving up. “I will continue to tackle all this legally,” he says. “My father rests here in his grave and so will I. And so will my son and his son and his.”

While his determination is admirable, Ali’s case is not unique. A growing intolerance is beginning to leave its impact on India’s Ahmadiyyas, in line with disturbing trends in other parts of the Muslim world. What is particularly worrying is it is not just a radical fringe that is attacking Ahmadiyyas but established and powerful Muslim organisations as well.

During a public meeting at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan in May this year, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind called for a “complete social boycott” of Ahmadiyyas. Deobandi leaders, under Abdul Qasim Nomani, congratulated the Andhra Pradesh Wakf Board for its decision to take over Ahmadiyya properties and urged Wakf Boards of other states to do so.

Muslim political parties such as the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) are hardly immune to such hate speech. In March, an Ahmadiyya mosque in Saidabad, Hyderabad, was attacked while many people, including women and children and the elderly, were offering prayers. Stones were pelted and a petrol bomb assault threatened if the “Qadianis don’t fall in line”.

In Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid area, it is not uncommon to see posters that call for “eliminating the Ahmadiyyas off the face of the earth”. On 24 September 2011, an exhibition related to the Quran was organised by an Ahmadiyya organisation at the Constitution Club, walking distance from Parliament House in New Delhi. It was vandalised and forcibly shut down by Islamist fanatics, with the Delhi Police unable to guarantee security. In Kerala, mobs have shut down Ahmadiyya book exhibitions in Kannur and Kozhikode.

Victims of hate An Ahmadiyya mosque in Hyderabad operates with closed shutters (left); Policemen carry an Ahmadiyya victim after the 2008 attack in Lahore

WHO ARE the Ahmadiyyas and how are they different, if at all, from other Muslims? Ahmadiyyas differ from Sunnis on two counts. First, they consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who laid down the principles of the sect on 23 March 1889, in Qadian, as a great messiah who championed the true teachings of the Prophet and so purged Islam of fanatical misinterpretations. Sunnis say this means Ahmadiyyas don’t accept the finality of Prophet Muhammad — and don’t consider him the “Seal of the Prophets” — but accord Mirza Ghulam Ahmad the status of Mahdi (Redeemer of Islam, as guided by Allah).

According to Ahmadiyya scholars, Prophet Muhammad prophesied that the Promised Messiah would be found near a white minaret directly east of the city of Damascus. This prophecy, they believe, was fulfilled with the birth of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in Qadian. Not only is Qadian to the east of Damascus but at 31o North it is almost on the same latitude as the Syrian capital (33o North).

Second, Ahmadiyyas differ in the interpretation of the term “jihad” or holy war. They say they have a more gentle definition of jihad, in which the war is waged against one’s own lowly desires. The main goal of every Ahmadiyya is to exert himself/herself to the fullest for self-improvement. Thus, violence of all forms is shunned and there is an emphasis on reforming one’s character. To be fair, other Islamic and non-Ahmadiyya schools also speak of such an interpretation of jihad. Nevertheless, Ahmadiyyas use it to distance themselves from the extremes of the Wahhabis.

Fareed Ahmad, the London-based foreign affairs secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, says, “Our jihad is different from the jihadi acts that confront us on television screens and in newspapers. For the Ahmadiyyas, jihad does not seek self-glory, power or grandeur. In Islam, the greatest jihad is to conquer one’s self. That doesn’t require swords, bombs or bullets. Rather it needs a pure heart.”

There are other minor differences between Ahmadiyyas and bigger sects of Muslims, but those are largely of a non-theological nature. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad preached Jesus had not died at the Crucifixion but had escaped to India and spent his final years as a mystic in Kashmir.

All that is in the distant past, the current wave of violence against the community is no more than 3-4 years old. According to the Qadian-based Syed Tanvir, spokesman of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat, it goes back to the Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya’s centenary celebrations in 2008. “Our yearlong celebrations across India were attended by many people,” says Tanvir. “This angered some of the radical mullahs. They decided to break us in every way possible.”

Relatedly or otherwise, the worst attack on Ahmadiyyas in Pakistani history took place in May 2008. Suicide bombers and terrorists armed with AK-47 rifles ravaged two Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore, killing 98 people. Declared non-Muslims as far back as 1974, Pakistan’s Ahmadiyyas had found their lives, mosques and beliefs under threat from Sunni supremacist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jahngvi and the Jaish-e-Mohammad.

From Pakistan, the flames have spread. There is a growing anti-Ahmadiyya sentiment in Indonesia and Malaysia. In Indonesia’s Java province, three Ahmadiyyas were murdered by a mob of 1,500 in February 2011. None of the attackers was brought to justice. Ahmadiyyas also report oppression and discrimination in Muslim countries of Central Asia and Africa.

In India too, an inclination to resort to violence against Ahmadiyyas is becoming visible in Sunni mosques. In Hyderabad, special donation boxes labelled “Radh-e-Qadaniat” (Eliminate the Qadianis) are found installed in mosques, and common Muslims are invited to give freely to kill “the Qadiani dogs”.

However, unlike in Pakistan and some other Muslim-majority countries, the law of the land in India backs the Ahmadiyyas. A Kerala High Court judgment of 1970 makes it clear that Ahmadiyyas have the right to call themselves Muslims and that other Muslim sects cannot force them to abandon their Islamic identity. The judgment observed Ahmadiyyas were Muslims because, like other Muslims, they adhered to two fundamental tenets of Islam: the supremacy of Allah as the One God; and recognition that Prophet Muhammad was a messenger and servant of Allah.

Even so, there are other forms of exclusion that Indian Ahmadiyyas suffer. The sect has been kept out of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, a body that is supposed to represent the diversity of Indian Islam. Since Ahmadiyyas are a minority within a minority, they are hardly a votebank. This has led to an undeniable callousness on the part of politicians and law-enforcement agencies, and created a fear psychosis among Ahmadiyyas.

After the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind called for a social boycott of Ahmadiyyas, members of the community alleged being forced to leave their houses by non-Ahmadiyya Muslim landlords or jobs by such employers. In cities such as Hyderabad and New Delhi and small towns of Kerala, Ahmadiyyas who run small businesses and shops say they are losing customers.

There is logic to the economic targeting of Ahmadiyyas. Every Ahmadiyya, irrespective of his financial standing, gives a 16th of his income to the faith. This is sent to Qadian to keep the religious mission going. In addition, an Ahmadiyya also needs to contribute a 10th of his income if he is to be buried in the “heavenly grave” and become a “moosi”. (It is a graveyard located in Qadian and Rabwah in Pakistan, established after Partition. It was set up by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and all those who are moosis by virtue of their monetary contributions are buried here. A burial here is therefore a ticket to heaven.)

In his book The Ahmadis: Community, Gender and Politics in Muslim Society, Antonio Gualtieri notes, “It is clear that it is economically sacrificial to be an Ahmadi. Of course, if someone simply has no income, then these contributions are waived. But even a poor Ahmadi is expected to contribute proportionally from his meagre income to the jamaat.”

Internationally, unlike Sunnis and Shias, Ahmadiyyas have no State power or nation to support them, and no network of wellfunded charities underwritten by governments in West Asia. They depend on bottom-up contributions from within the community, and as such practice what they consider a more democratic structure. If the contributions from the community dry up, it would cripple the Ahmadiyya mission. As Syed Tanvir says, “The aim is to break the backbone of our community, which is sustained by contributions of our members. They believe if Ahmadiyyas are financially destroyed, then the faith too will disappear in India.”

The economic debilitation of Ahmadiyyas seems to happening in tandem with a social boycott. Reports from several cities say qazis are refusing to perform the nikaah of an Ahmadiyya bride or groom. Sunni families are being advised to have no social or economic dealings with Ahmadiyya families.

THERE ARE more than 50,000 Muslims in Hyderabad’s Jalakoocha neighbourhood. Barely 100 of them, just about 15 families, are Ahmadiyya. When TEHELKA visited these families, they were clearly in fear. Some of them refused to talk to this reporter openly on the street.

Mohammad Ibrahim, 36, is a tailor in Jalakoocha and had to bear the fury of a 100-strong mob earlier this year. They vandalised his shop and only means of sustenance. “I can’t say what will happen, and when,” he shrugs. “I remember the mob shouting ‘Qadiani murdabad’ as they destroyed my shop. It was a terrifying moment for my family. The police do nothing… If I name the culprits, my family will be in trouble.”

Not too far away, at the busy intersection of Afzalganj, is the Masjid-i-Ahmadiyya. The mosque is draped in a big and ugly plastic sheet to protect it from the weather. There was a protective wall till a year ago, but it “collapsed” mysteriously one day. Attempts to rebuild it have been sabotaged by radical elements who keep threatening the mosque’s caretakers.

Most mosques anywhere in the world have their doors open. The Masjid-i-Ahmadiyya functions with its shutters closed. A lone police constable is seated at the entrance. He is a Muslim but a non-Ahmadiyya and distinctly unsympathetic when asked why the mosque is in such a dilapidated condition. “They [Ahmadiyyas] deserve this,” he insists. “They forcibly occupy Muslim mosques and then cry when they are shown their rightful place.” As TEHELKA started to photograph the mosque, the policemen grew excited. “I advise you to get out of here or you too will be in trouble,” one of them warned.

Inside the Masjid-i-Ahmadiyya, there is hardly any activity. In a small room — barely 8ftx6ft — sits Maulvi Sadi, the man in charge of the mosque. He expects trouble to come knocking anytime. “The growing aggression towards us is being instigated by politicians,” he says. “In the 2009 Assembly election, Asaduddin Owaisi and the MIM lost considerable influence. The CPM has made a dent in the Muslim vote. Owaisi is trying to revive his fortunes by telling other Muslims that the religion is under threat because of Ahmadiyyas. He is using religion to unite our Muslim brothers against us.”

Expectedly, MIM President and Hyderabad MP Owaisi has another view. “We consider the founder of the Ahmadiyya religion to be a mad man,” he says. “A man whose fantasies and beliefs are laughable. If I use the name of TEHELKA and print my own magazine with that name, how would you feel? Does it not violate copyright laws? Start a new religion if they want, but if they begin altering the fundamentals of Islam, then it cannot be tolerated at any cost.”

Owaisi is entitled to his beliefs but the fact is the same Constitution offers the same rights to Ahmadiyyas as well. At least in Hyderabad, there is a sense that the hate campaign against Ahmadiyyas is being run in collaboration with arms of the State, the political class and the law-enforcement agencies. Ahmadiyyas talk of the crudeness of an assistant commissioner of police (ACP) in the Old City. A Muslim himself, he has warned Ahmadiyyas against taking out religious processions, and cautioned they would have to face raging mobs.

“It is unfortunate that some in India are embracing the radical mindset of Pakistan,” says Maulvi Sadi. “An Ahmadiyya will never resort to violence even if he is attacked first. That is our greatest strength. It is being seen as a weakness.”

FROM A belligerent social campaign, there is an inevitable push towards influencing State policy against Ahmadiyyas. In May this year, Mohammad Bashiruddin, the Grand Mufti of Jammu & Kashmir, demanded the state Assembly pass a law that decreed Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims. “There has been a significant rise in the influence of Qadaniat in Kashmir,” said the Grand Mufti. “The Islamic Sharia Council has made it clear all across the world that Qadianis are non-Muslims. Designating Qadianis as non-Muslims will address the concerns of the people of Kashmir.”

It is not as if the police and state governments have succumbed to such pressure uniformly. In May, a small congregation of Ahmadiyyas was attacked by extremist Islamists while at a seminar in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu. Posters were torn up, hate slogans raised and the event vandalised. However, the police responded quickly and escorted the Ahmadiyya families to safety in Coimbatore, 30 km away.

Some theological scholars couch their antipathy for the sect in the fight against colonialism. They argue that the fact that the Ahmadiyya community’s international headquarters are in London is evidence it comprises “British stooges”.

“During the British period, Ahmadiyyas were a colonial design to damage the Islamic community,” says Akhtarul Wasey of the Zakir Hussain School of Islamic Studies at Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia. “The British resented the fact that Muslims wanted to stay free and not under the rule of anyone. Their founder bowed in reverence to the colonial masters and renounced jihad to make the British comfortable. Ahmadiyyas are therefore not just anti-Islam, they are anti-India in their hearts.”

While that may be an overstated contention, there is admittedly a theory among sections of non-Ahmadiyya Muslims that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was encouraged by the British Raj to divide the Muslim community in India, and to renounce jihad as warfare in the days following the 1857 uprising.

The Ahmadiyya founder’s own writings don’t help matters. In Sitara-i-Kaiseriah, Mirza Ghulam writes: “I have not come to stimulate war and strife. I have appeared to open, in the manner of the first Messiah, the doors of peace. If the foundation of peace is not amidst us, then the whole religious order is useless. My contribution to the British is that I have distributed thousands of books in the country and the rest of the Islamic world telling people that the British are the benefactors of the Muslims and that it is their duty to obey them dutifully. The result of this was that thousands of people gave up their … ideas of jihad, which had permeated their hearts due to the teachings of ignorant mullahs.”

On the street, this has allowed the adversaries of the Ahmadiyyas to paint them as British and later American puppets, and acting against the better interests of Islam. On their part, Ahmadiyyas say they are being persecuted for being enlightened and open minded about interaction with the West and with other cultures.

The new hate expression for the Ahmadiyyas is that they are “Zionist agents”. Sunni clerics point to the Mahmood Mosque in Kababir, a neighbourhood in the Israeli port city of Haifa, as alleged evidence. This sea-facing Ahmadiyya mosque is close to an Israeli naval base. An overwhelming majority of the Muslims in Kababir are Ahmadiyyas, some of whose ancestors migrated from British India. To this day, Kababir receives many missionaries from Qadian, who propagate their faith among Palestinian Arabs.

To some Islamists, this amounts to a strategic export of the Ahmadiyya faith from India to Palestine via Israel. They consider it a serious threat and a part of Israel’s political designs.

All that is far away from the crowded streets of old Hyderabad or the dusty bylanes of Qadian, or indeed from the many small towns of India. It is here that India’s Ahmadiyyas, ordinary people with ordinary hopes, dreams and fears, live and it is here that they suffer silent and sometimes not-so-silent vilification. It would be a tragedy if they were left to fend for themselves.

– sai manish, tehelka.

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