There is a community of Muslims in the UK who many Muslims refuse to accept as Muslim. A community of people whom in many countries worldwide are actively persecuted – denied the right to go to perform Hajj in Mekkah, denied the right to call themselves Muslim, denied the right to own official mosques and quite simply denied the right to freely live the way they wish to in line with their beliefs. On many occasions they have been victims of violence and even been killed…
Yes, this brothers and sisters in faith and humanity is the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. For many, simple referring to my fellow brothers and sisters is somewhat of a “blasphemy”. Now I’m not going to get into religious “debates” here. Instead, I’d like to present a guest blog by an associate of mine – Dr Irfan Malik who is himself a member of the Ahmadiyya community and based in the UK. Here’s his honest and quite often shocking story of the discrimination that he and his fellow community members face each and every day here in the UK and across the globe.
Persecution Faced by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community was founded by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmed in 1889 in Qadian, India. He proclaimed to be the ‘Promised Messiah’.
Our community is now established in over 200 countries, with tens of millions of followers. The UK chapter was established in 1913 and built London’s first Mosque, known as ‘The London Mosque’ inaugurated in 1926 in Southfields. We are guided by our spiritual leader and Khalifa, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmed, the 5th successor to the Promised Messiah [pictured].
The community is actively involved in humanitarian and charity projects all over the world. Each branch regularly holds interfaith events and peace conferences. We portray the true peaceful message of Islam, as taught by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Our motto is: Love for all, hatred for none.
Unfortunately however, our peaceful community has been the target of persecution in other Muslim countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and across the MENA region – simply due to our beliefs.
I will now give a summary of how Pakistan has treated Ahmadiyya Muslims over the years.
Legalised discrimination in Pakistan
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community has suffered decades of religious discrimination and persecution in Pakistan. Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, it is estimated that 302 Ahmadis have been killed for their beliefs.
In 1974, under pressure from religious clerics, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto passed legislation declaring the Ahmadiyya community as non-Muslims. In 1984, General Zia ul Haq decided to impose even stricter restrictions on the Ahmadiyya community by introducing the Ordinance XX, thereby forbidding Ahmadis from calling themselves ‘Muslims’ or even posing as one.
Public preaching or professing of beliefs was banned and Ahmadiyya Mosques had to be renamed ‘places of worship’. It became illegal for Ahmadis to give the call to prayer (Azan), publicly recite the Holy Qur’an, or greet people with ‘Assalam alaikum‘ (‘May peace be upon you’) [as is commanded for every Muslim].
A person found guilty of these crimes would face three years imprisonment or even a death sentence if sentenced under the current blasphemy laws. These laws and ordinances have severely undermined Ahmadis’ rights to freedom of religion or belief and have further increased their experiences of discrimination and hostility in Pakistan.
Below are some examples of recent acts of violence:
- In May 2010, 86 Ahmadiyya Muslim worshippers were murdered by terrorists in two Lahore Mosques
- In July 2014, in Guranjwala an Ahmadi lady and two children were murdered after their homes were set alight by a mob
- In November 2015, a chipboard factory belonging to Ahmadis was ignited in Jhelum by a crowd
- In December 2016, four Ahmadis were arrested by the security services in Rabwah and their printing press was closed down
In my ancestral village of Dulmial in Punjab, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque ‘Darul Zikr‘ was attacked on 12th December 2016 by a huge mob of over 4,000 people. They used semi-automatic weapons to gain entry and set fire to the mosque. The local police were overwhelmed and unable to stop the assault and eventually the Pakistani army were called in to gain control. One Ahmadi Muslim, my uncle, died during this violent attack. The mosque remains sealed to this day and is guarded by armed police.
A recent report entitled ‘Ahmadis in Pakistan Face an Existential Threat‘ published by the International Human Rights Committee, explores the ongoing persecution faced by Ahmadi Muslims across Pakistan in detail and is worth a read.
Life in the UK: Intrafaith relations
In the UK, Ahmadiyya Muslims have also suffered discrimination and persecution with the most horrific example being the murder of shopkeeper Asad Shah in Glasgow in March 2016. Unfortunately, the hatred continues to be propagated by certain preachers.
Personally, I have experienced situations where an Interfaith Council asked us to change our name to ‘Ahmadiyya Association‘ instead of ‘Ahmadiyya Muslim Association‘. Some Muslim leaders have also advised us to leave certain police and council consultation meetings as they didn’t accept us as ‘Muslims’, whilst a leading academic criminologist backed out of researching hate crimes against Ahmadi Muslims due to concerns about their safety.
Most recently, as we launched an event as part of ‘Visit My Mosque’ day in February this year, there was a campaign and sermons telling people not to attend. The recent billboard campaign advertising the beliefs of Ahmadiyya Muslims has also received complaints and several displays were removed.
Hate against Ahmadiyya Muslims is in fact common place on social media and YouTube. Whilst ‘Islamophobia’ is regularly highlighted and researched, the hate against Ahmadiyya Muslims and sectarian issues within the Muslim community are infrequently mentioned or studied. I am extremely thankful to Tell MAMA and Faith Matters as these projects/organisations have had the courage to raise and challenge this type of hate.
Organisations monitoring and recording hate crimes need to highlight these terrible acts for all, regardless of faith, colour and creed and not be selective. As Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations declared: “We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race”.
Dr Irfan Malik, is a GP based in Nottingham (UK). An active member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, he is also a keen First World War researcher.
Credits and acknowledgements
I’d like to thank Dr Malik for this thought-provoking peace and offer my sincere condolences for the loss of his uncle.
I urge each and every one of you who have read this piece to share and spread the message that this type of abuse is simply not acceptable. For everyone out there – and especially non-Ahmadi Muslims – I urge you to report intrafaith-based hate crime, to welcome your Ahmadi brothers and sisters and to challenge the hate-fuelled discriminatory rhetoric out there. We need greater inclusion, great unity and less hypocrisy of “peace and unity”. Actions speak louder than words. Rights are for all – regardless of your particular thoughts, opinions and beliefs.
For more information and to take action, please visit the following Amnesty UK blog.