Tackling anti-Ahmadiyya bigotry isn’t a job for the MCB – they’re part of the problem
The murder of Asad Shah in March this year brought simmering tensions within Muslim communities sharply into focus.
Muslim rights group MPAC UK were quick to cry ‘Islamophobia’ when news first broke that Mr Shah, a popular shopkeeper from the Shawlands area of Glasgow, had been stabbed to death. Their initial outrage vanished though, when it emerged that the killer was another Muslim. Preliminary media reports focussed on Mr Shah’s final Easter message of love to his “beloved Christian nation” and racists tweeted the story out with delight as proof of Islam’s intolerance of tolerance. A Muslim had been killed by another Muslim for loving Britain! What greater proof of Islam’s incompatibility with British values?
The truth, it emerged, was more complicated. Mr Shah was a member of the pacifist Ahmadiyya sect. He was not murdered for wishing us Brits “Happy Easter” – he was killed for being part of a heterodox, reformist Muslim sect by an extremist Sunni, pumped full of hate for a Muslim whose interpretation of Islam differed from his own.
Vigils were held in Glasgow and a GoFundMe page to raise money for Mr Shah’s family raised over £110,000. Scots and other Brits were trying to get their heads around what had actually happened – the first Muslim sectarian killing on British soil. And this is when the insidious, ugly nature of anti-Ahmadiyya bigotry started to become apparent.
Scottish Human Rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, who had attended the funeral prayers of Asad Shah and called for Muslim unity, received death threats from Muslim extremists.The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association organised an inter-faith event in Glasgow. Jews, Christians, Sikhs and others attended – but there were no representatives of other Muslim sects. A Sunni Muslim man had murdered an Ahmadi and not one Sunni Imam felt they should pay their respects.
Glasgow Central mosque and the Muslim Council of Britain both released obfuscatory statements condemning violence while skirting around the fact that were it not for the bigoted refusal of Sunni organisations to acknowledge that Ahmadis are Muslim, and the Takfiri mindset (when one Muslim group declares another outside the pale of Islam), Asad Shah would most likely still be alive. In a stroke of breathtaking victim-blaming, the MCB complained about the pressure they were under to describe Ahmadis as Muslims:
“Despite our clear theological beliefs, we note that pressure is mounting to describe this community as Muslim. Muslims should not be forced to class Ahmadis as Muslims if they do not wish to do so, at the same time, we call on Muslims to be sensitive, and above all, respect all people irrespective of belief or background.”
It’s worth noting that even within the MCB, this issue is far from clear-cut. Assistant Secretary General Miqdaad Versi, had a month earlier tweeted his concerns about Sunnis protesting alongside British racists to stop the building of an Ahmadiyya Mosque in Scunthorpe. His description of the mosque as a “mosque” is at odds with the MCB’s official statement that Ahmadi mosques (which they described using the derogatory term Qadiyani) are not actually mosques. When the Ahmadis announced the opening of their large mosque in Morden, the MCB was so upset when the BBC and other media outlets described it as a mosque that they released a statement telling media not to do so. The apparent outrage of the MCB over semantics would be comical were the ramifications not so serious.
A bit of sub-continental history
Back in 1974, under pressure from extremists, Pakistan’s secularist government enacted laws declaring Ahmadis non-Muslim. Islamists had long agitated against Ahmadiyya teachings, whose fundamental tenets include no violence and a clear separation of politics and religion. The theological debates around Ahmadis regarding the finality of the prophethood etc. miss the important political reasons for the victimisation of Ahmadis, whose beliefs are actually no more unusual or heterodox than those of many other Muslim sects. In fact, a quick Google search shows the diversity of Muslim sects and the endless theological wranglings among them.
From a sociological perspective, there was a combination of factors that made Ahmadis targets. First, there was a perception that Ahmadis were better educated, had more money and were more successful than other Muslims. Islamist media spread the argument that Ahmadis had benefitted from British rule in India. The significant role of Ahmadis in the Independence movement was downplayed. At one point during the Independence struggle, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, quit politics and set up a law practice in London. It was an Ahmadiyya missionary who persuaded him to return to Pakistan, and Jinnah’s first foreign minister was also an Ahmadi. Many Pakistani historians believe that Jinnah’s original vision for Pakistan was secular. Faced with the uncertainty of minority status in an India independent of British rule, Pakistan was to be a state where Indian Muslim minorities and others could be certain of equal rights – it was never meant to have a state religion.
But Islamist clerics like the Deobandis and Jamaat-e-Islaami who had previously argued against the creation of Pakistan now claimed it as their own and started to peddle a narrative of Ahmadis as ‘Enemies of the State’. The Ahmadi refusal to engage in violent jihad was cited as an example of how they had been ‘created’ by the British to prevent armed Muslim uprisings. Ahmadiyya belief that there “there is no compulsion in religion” again clashed with vested Islamist interests claiming that the punishment for leaving Islam is death. The biggest issue of course, was that by saying that religion was personal and had no place in politics, Ahmadis directly opposed the concept of a Sharia state, in effect saying that Pakistan’s Islamist parties had no place in politics. In doing so, this tiny minority made powerful enemies.
Over the next few years, things got worse for Ahmadis. Islamist dictator Zia-ul-Haq introduced blasphemy laws and further amendments to the Pakistani constitution which meant that Ahmadis had to denounce their faith in order to vote (so were effectively disenfranchised) and all Muslims in Pakistan had to sign a statement declaring Ahmadi beliefs false in order to get a passport or ID card. Other laws included imprisonment for selling Ahmadi books, having Islamic inscriptions on their graves, describing their places of worship as ‘mosques’, and three years for wishing Salaam – the Muslim greeting. There were restrictions preventing Ahmadis from gaining senior government or military jobs and Ahmadi students and children were ostracised and isolated – both unofficially and through government channels.
Khatme Nabuwwat and lessons in semantics
The main instigators behind all this were the Khatme Nabuwwat – ‘finality of the Prophethood’ – movement. They claimed that the Ahmadi belief in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, an Indian who the Ahmadis consider a reformer, contradicted the Muslim belief in Muhammad as the ‘seal of the prophets’. Ahmadis dispute this – they interpret ‘seal of the Prophets’ as meaning the final ‘law-bearing’ prophet and argue that Ahmad is the Muslim reformer or “Mahdi” that all Muslims await. They say Ahmad’s role was to revive and bring Islam back to its roots rather than introduce new laws.
Theological debates aside, Khatme Nabuwwat’s sole purpose is the denial and refutation of Ahmadi beliefs. Besides this, they have declared Ahmadis apostates and therefore, under conventional Islamic scholarship, ‘wajb-ul-qatl’ – worthy of death. They have many prominent supporters, not least among Pakistan’s main Islamist party, the Jamaat-e-Islaami. Even today, the victimisation of Ahmadis means that when 94 Ahmadis were killed after extremists attacked two of their mosques in 2010, the Pakistani media’s main preoccupation was with ensuring any condemnation didn’t accidentally describe Ahmadi mosques as ‘mosques’ [one can’t help but see parallels with the MCB’s demands to the BBC]. For Khatme Nabuwwat, Pakistan’s draconian laws were not enough and wherever Ahmadis went to seek sanctuary, Khatme Nabuwwat followed.
Which brings us to Asad Shah.
Minorities within minorities
Not long after Ahmadis set up their global headquarters in the UK, Khatme Nabuwwat and affiliated organisations began to arrive. Their mission? To tour UK mosques informing the faithful of the ‘deceptions of the Qadianis’ (derogatory term for Ahmadis). An Ahmadi family friend told of how two generations of children from a Sunni friend’s house had learned to read the Koran with her mother. After a Khatme Nabuwwat visit at their local mosque, they stopped the lessons saying they were afraid of being brainwashed. In 2010, Ahmadi businesses were targeted for boycott across the UK and an election husting at Tooting Islamic Centre degenerated after the Conservative candidate was forced to hide in a cupboard after being mistaken for an Ahmadi.
Instances like these, as well as threats of violence against both individual Ahmadis and organisations followed wherever Khatme Nabuwwat spread their poison. Yet, when “Kill Ahmadis” leaflets were found in Stockwell Green mosque shortly after Asad Shah’s murder, the Muslim Council of Britain was painfully slow to act – even though the leaflets, published by Khatme Nabuwwat, listed Stockwell Green mosque as their UK office. Media pressure finally led to the temporary suspension of Stockwell Green mosque and a backdated statement appeared on the MCB’s website saying that an ‘independent’ panel was being set up to investigate the allegations.
There were immediate concerns regarding the planned investigation:
- This was not the first time leaflets saying that Ahmadis need to “convert or die” had been found at Stockwell Green mosque. They had previously been found in 2011.
- Stockwell Green mosque is listed by Khatme Nabuwwat Pakistan as their overseas office.
- There is reams of evidence that Khatme Nabuwwat incites hatred against Ahmadis in Pakistan and other countries. A simple Google search proves this.
- Stockwell Green mosque hosted a Khatme Nabuwwat conference in 2015 where hate preachers were flown in from Pakistan to speak.
- Toaha Qureshi had, in September 2015, called for the trial – for blasphemy and treason – of an ex-Pakistani ambassador who had said he felt the laws targeting Ahmadis were unfair.
- A BBC Radio 4 documentary had featured Qureshi denying the leaflets were inflammatory; denying that Ahmadis are persecuted, and claiming that the vast amount of evidence of Ahmadiyya persecution collated by organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch was wrong. In fact, according to Qureshi, Ahmadis only claimed persecution because, “That is their desire, to come here, to get political asylum.”
On top of that, T&Cs of the investigation stated that the panel would “investigate the veracity of allegations made against Aalami Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nubuwwat in the media only in so far as its conduct and activities in the United Kingdom are concerned.” This is an international organisation. If ISIS operatives were found in the UK would investigation be solely limited to their actions on UK soil?
Things went from bad to worse when the constituents of the ‘independent’ panel were revealed. Shaykh Yunus Dudhwala used derogatory language, including the equivalent of the ‘N’ word to describe the “deceptions” of the “Mirzais, Qadiyanis, Ahmadis” in a Facebook post from August 2015.
Another panel member, Maulana Shahid Raza Naeemi OBE publicly stated that: “Sharia law says that if a Muslim changes their religion it is treason and the punishment for treason is death.” He was also one of the main speakers at a Khatme Nabuwwat conference held in 1999, when he said that “meeting with Ahmadis is more venomous than drugs.”
Based on the MCB’s response to date, it is highly unlikely that Stockwell Green mosque will be penalised. More likely, this ‘suspension’ is an attempt to wait out the media storm following Asad Shah’s death. Even if the mosque is held to account, the reality is that since Stockwell Green’s suspension there has been at least one more Khatme Nabuwwat conference in the UK, this time in Manchester. The carefully worded post on the website of the MCB affiliated Islamic Society of Manchester describes it as “various talks in love of the Prophet including about Khatam an-Nabiyyin (Seal of the Prophets)” and a disclaimer says: “This Manchester conference is not affiliated with any other event or organisation with a similar name.” Yet the Urdu text of the poster beneath says:
“Qadianiyat [derogatory word for Ahmadiyyat] is the biggest danger for today’s Muslim Ummah, as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad breaks due to that.”
And this is perhaps the most audacious aspect of the MCB’s ‘investigation’. It seems that the MCB and its affiliates are trying to contain the situation by claiming that the many branches of Khatme Nabuwwat in the UK are neither affiliated with the Pakistani Khatme Nabuwwat organisation or each other, while clearly espousing identical views. This seems to be the same tactic used by Toaha Qureshi of Stockwell Green mosque, who claimed no affiliation with the Pakistani Khatme Nabuwwat. Akber Choudhary, Khatme Nabuwwat’s European spokesperson, also claims that the various organisations – all named Khatme Nabuwwat and all viewing Ahmadis as apostates to be ‘converted’ or punished for apostasy – are not related.
While the MCB ‘investigates’ Stockwell Green mosque, the IB Times has uncovered how deep the links are between Glasgow Central Mosque, another of the MCB’s affiliates, and Khatme Nabuwwat. “Kill Ahmadis” leaflets were also discovered there, and an anti-Ahmadi poster found in Glasgow’s southside shopping area listed Glasgow Central Mosque’s phone number in its contact details.
On the 15th of April, police had to ask Slough’s Jamia Masjid Ghousia (Diamond Road branch) to remove yet another poster urging the boycott of Ahmadi businesses from its premises. Last week, it emerged that Qari Hanif Qureshi, the hate preacher who called for the death of ex-Punjabi governor Salmaan Taseer for challenging the country’s blasphemy laws, spoke on May 4 at Luton mosque as part of an event at the Jamia Islamia Ghousia Trust. He also spoke at the same mosque last September, as part of it’s “36th Annual Khatme Nabuwwat conference”. For those in doubt, this chilling video of him speaking at another Khatme Nabuwwat conference shows him rousing a crowd to chant “Kafir” each time he uses the derogatory term “Mirzai” to describe Ahmadis. He demands that Ahmadis are boycotted in all aspects of business and social life – and the only exception? Sunni men should do everything in their power to persuade Ahmadi women to convert and marry them.
Shehryar Taseer, Salmaan Taseer’s son, believes it’s madness that Qureshi has been allowed onto British soil. He told Double Bind:
“People like Hanif Qureshi should be in jail. Not speaking freely and inciting comments against minority sects of Islam. He incited Mumtaz Qadri to murder my father. After Mumtaz Qadri was convicted of murder and terrorism, Hanif Qureshi showed solidarity by attending his funeral and speak[ing] in favour of the action (murder)”
He added: “I am confident he is fundraising in the UK and in other European countries, and now attaching himself to other Muslim groups in the UK. That alone is dangerous, because these groups usually turn to violence when they don’t get their way, especially when hard-liners are thrown into the mix.”
Is the MCB really unaware of these dangers?
The truth is that hatred against Ahmadis is endemic and institutionalised among the MCB’s affiliates. KN apologists like the MCB have developed a discourse repeatedly featuring the term ‘normative Islam’. This argument holds that a bigoted attitude towards Ahmadis is mainstream and that an attack on bigotry is therefore an attack on mainstream Muslim views. It is a culturally relativist and ultimately condescending view which argues that Muslims should be judged by different standards to the rest of us.
But arguments for ‘normative Islam’ omit the history of Khatme Nabuwwat and the anti-Ahmadiyya movement. Anti-Ahmadiyya sentiment is a modern, political construction. Before 1974 Ahmadis were considered Muslims by mainstream Sunnis; they worked with them, broke bread with them, and married them. Those who argue that ‘normative’ Islam inherently holds bigoted attitudes towards Ahmadis assume that Islam is timeless, homogenous and immutable; that it has no scope for reform, progress or variation. This is incorrect, as evidenced by changing Islamic scholarship and the many sects that have formed over time.
The MCB tries to portray every instance of anti-Ahmadiyya bigotry as a one-off, with mealy mouthed statements ‘condemning violence’ while defending the ideological position of extremists. The truth is that there is a pattern. Khatme Nabuwwat speakers of Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds travel back and forth between the West and the Indian sub-continent. They tour the country – London, Manchester, Glasgow – and Muslims who previously held no prejudice against Ahmadis are ‘educated’ into boycotting, socially ostracising – and worse. That the MCB is ‘investigating’ this is no different to when the Catholic Church ‘investigated’ its paedophile priests. It is in the interests of the MCB to cover this up. As for the Ahmadis, they’re caught in the difficult place between speaking out against persecution but then finding it exploited by the far-right as proof of ‘Muslim-on-Muslim hate.’ For this reason, many choose to remain quiet.
A real enquiry needs to take place, which is why I started this petition. This isn’t an internal matter between Muslims, to be sorted out amongst themselves. If we replace the word “Ahmadi/Qadiyani/Mirzai” in any of Khatme Nabuwwat’s speeches or literature with Jew/Muslim/Hindu we’d be disgusted at their hateful rhetoric. It’s time to quit with the double-standards and hold bigotry to account – whether it is perpetrated against Muslims, or by them.