Liberal Muslims who are conversant about the Qadiani Ahmadiyya community have to walk a very fine line: the Ahmadiyya are discriminated against in Pakistan and are targeted by extremists in that country and liberals generally don’t want to be part of any judgmental discourse on what they perceive as a theological matter.
It has been frustrating to try to talk about the social, political and legal aspects of the Qadiani minority’s problems in any independent manner. Without delving into the history, it has been easy to toe the Qadiani Ahmadiyya propaganda line without much critical analysis. While we agree religion-based extremism in Pakistan is a grave threat, we could not get liberals to think about the Qadiani propaganda from an angle not tinged by the unacceptable emotions directed against the Ahmadiyya by the religious mafia in Pakistan.
People we have directly tried to engage have included Yasser Latif Hamadani, Zofeen T. Ebrahim, Saroop Ijaz and Sana Saleem, among others. We have tried to convince these liberals that we, as former Ahmadis, can never condone any act of violence, suppression of civil rights, or discrimination against the Ahmadis but we have to tell you of our experience: that this seemingly ‘reform’ movement is a new religion with a new prophet. And that it is as misogynist and sectarian as the Taliban, and has the latent tendency of being every bit as violent and land-grabbing as the Taliban. There cannot be firmer ‘true believers’ than those with a latter-day prophet.
Leave it to Nadeem Paracha, the doyen of Pakistani liberal writers to grasp the crux of the matter with this gem: “star[t]ling irony of a left-liberal government passing a controversial theological edict.”
Paracha’s painstakingly unbiased summary of the 1974 issue does not draw a conclusion but leaves one with the unmistakable thought: The government should not have meddled in religious matters — but having meddled, it had no choice but to ‘solve’ the issue in the way that it did. In our video, you can hear the anecdote about how Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was privately convinced by a simple argument by a Muslim scholar: he was asked, what if another person claimed to be prime minister?. That is the supreme irony of the Qadiani Ahmadiyya faith: it claims to be part of Islam while having an entirely parallel universe that is always engaged in a zero-sum game with Muslims. They will not inter-marry with Muslims, not pray behind the Imam of the Kaaba during Hajj (as all fractious and fighting Muslims will do once a year) and not participate in funeral prayers of Muslims — thus excluding themselves from the three cohesive aspects of Muslim society: prayer, marriage, funerals and Hajj.
It does not require a degree in theology to understand that this is a parallel religion, albeit an offshoot of Islam — like Bahaism and the Druze. (The 2013 edition of the ‘500 Influential Muslims’ book makes this exact distinction). A. K. Shaikh and I have been relentlessly trying to persuade Muslims that they have to learn how to live with new religions branched out of Islam without using the loaded words ‘apostate’ and ‘kafir’.
In summary, I would like to commend Mr. Paracha on the much-needed objective analysis in the English language that Pakistan’s liberal elite so sorely needed. Below, I will just try to fill in some gaps in the political saga that might be of interest to readers:
What Paracha Missed
The ‘parallelism’ with Islam is so entrenched within the Ahmadiyya that its second ‘Khalifa’ — the one who caused most of the damage — really believed in establishing an ‘Ahmadi state’. His first attempt was in Kashmir which alienated Allama Iqbal, a fellow member of the Kashmir Committee. The Radcliffe award during partition gave Gurdaspur District to India by not including Qadiani Ahmadis among Muslims, although it may just have been a justification of a foregone conclusion taking into account land irrigation issues. His third attempt was to step up proselytization in Baluchistan in 1950 and 1951, openly declaring that he wished to make it an ‘Ahmadi state.’ His fourth and successful attempt was the establishment of Rabwah (now Chenab Nagar) where the writ of the state of Pakistan did not extend until 1975. The attack on the train in 1974 was commissioned by the internal militia of the Qadianis and it never occurred to them to go to the police or involve the state authorities — a natural consequence of the mindset of a ‘state-within-a-state’.
The ambition of the same second Khalifa — Mirza Mahmud Ahmad — is responsible for the lack of promotion of Ahmadis to higher civil and military posts. He never allowed Zafrullah Khan (Pakistan’s first foreign minister, an Ahmadi) to separate his religious beliefs and state duties and to not address Ahmadi sectarian rallies when Zafrullah Khan was Pakistan’s first foreign minister. Zafrullah Khan was bound to obey his spiritual master and had there been any indication from the ‘Khalifa’ to put his nation’s trust above addressing sectarian meetings, history might have been different. A few generals and senior civil servants, including M.M. Ahmad (a brother of the third Khalifa and Pakistan’s Secretary of Finance) would make the trek to Rabwah to seek advice and would invariably do the bidding of their religious master. When John F. Kennedy (first Catholic president of the U.S.) was questioned on similar lines about the Pope, he had no hesitation in saying that his oath to the state would override any directive or edict from the Pope. Zafrullah Khan, nor any of the generals, could ever bring themselves to say that — and I doubt if any serving bureaucrat or army officer from the Qadiani community can say that.
Why was Mirza Mahmud so short-sighted? Well, he was not. In re-invigorating his flock after they had dwindled to a few thousand by the early 1930s, he had to build a cult-like environment of personality and a family- peeri mureedi that exists to this day. The persona that he had created would not allow him to give senior Ahmadi civil and military officers the public assurance that their first duty was to the state. In fact, he instituted the ‘Oath of the Ahmadi’ : to uphold the Khalifa above everything else in life.*
Once the 1974 constitutional amendment was in place, the Qadiani Ahmadiyya refused to accept it and started the ‘Kalima campaign’ and other such civil disobedience campaigns. A little-known ordinance was passed in 1980 that did not specifically name the Ahmadis or Qadianis and was generally worded to disallow the usage of certain reserved epithets — *sahaba *(companions of the Prophet (saw)), *umm-ul-mu’mineen *(mother of believers, as in wife of the Prophet (saw)) etc. Both the Qadiani and Lahori Ahmadiyya use some of these epithets for companions, wives etc. of their founders and leaders. Muslims are outraged by such usage just Anglicans would be outraged if the Bahais started calling their leader in Canterbury (England) as the ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’, as the term ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ has a unique connotation in Anglican theology.
The Qadiani group showed little sign of complying with the 1980 ordinance and used their campaigns and arrests to seek asylum abroad. It was then that we had the infamous vaguely-worded 1984 Ordinance that singled out the Qadiani/Ahmadi groups and spelled out the activities that were prohibited and left it open-ended.
Thank you, Nadeem Paracha, that liberals can now talk about the social and political aspects of this issue without the theological overtones.