One of the pillars of successfully achieving peace is the ability to understand, respect and tolerate differences in others without prejudice or discrimination. The opposite is happening in relation to the Ahmadi Muslim sect in Pakistan, Indonesia and increasingly in Britain. This intolerance is promoting an environment reminiscent of the Apartheid in South Africa, deeming the Ahmadis as non-Muslim heretics deserving of government persecution. This time, however, the rejection of their rights – in this case, freedom of religion – has crossed over borders, making the ideological grounds of discrimination seem all the more hefty. The international environment has seemingly turned a blind eye towards what has been happening in Pakistan and Indonesia (among other Muslim populated countries) against the Ahmadis, as well as the momentum that is building within Britain against them. Rising Islamophobia is the polar opposite of the traits needed for achieving peace and stabilising this issue.
The Ahmadi, or Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, has been persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists since its inception in 1889. According to alislam.org, the official website of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, their point of difference from mainstream Islam lays in the belief in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s (1835 – 1908) claims to be a prophet of Islam. Mainstream Islamic tradition holds Muhammad as the last prophet, and thus any prophets after him are not legitimate in their eyes. This has led to the deep rooted ideological discrimination against the Ahmadis, resulting in persecution and the loss of their right to practice their religion without being condemned as criminal.
In Pakistan, where both the Ahmadi sect and the discrimination started, a 1953 nation-wide, violent riot broke out against Ahmadis based on the idea that they are heretics. Then, the Pakistani Constitutional Second Amendment of 1974 criminalised the Ahmadi sect of Islam, declaring them non-Muslim infidels, solidifying the culture of takfirism (declaring infidelity) against Ahmadiyyas. Later, Ordinance XX of 1984 permitted Ahmadis to be imprisoned for three years and fined for everyday expressions of their faith that other Muslims within Pakistan would not have thought twice about. Even the use of the most common greeting “Assalamu Alaikum”, (and other variants depending on location and dialect), could send an Ahmadi to jail. This restriction against expressions of faith subsequently led to further discrimination against Ahmadis, as claims like “they do not perform Hajj to Mecca” (which is one of the core pillars of Islam) gave grounds for calling them non-Muslims. However the only reason they do not perform this is because they are not permitted to. This creates a cycle that only works to further accentuate reasons for discrimination against Ahmadis.
In Indonesia, a Joint Ministerial Degree in 2008 disturbed their right to freedom of religion; a Universal Declaration of Human Rights requirement. While according to the International Crisis Group, officials publicly stated that
“the decree allows Ahmadiyah members to practice their faith, as long as they do not try to disseminate it to anyone else,”
lobbyists against Ahmadis rejected this compromise and even attempted to enforce the decree on their own. This decree came about as a result of a number of different scenarios. The International Crisis Group states they included: systemic lobbying for action against Ahmadis; the anti-Ahmadi support from government institutions that monitor beliefs and sects; and the June 2008 militia attacks on opponents of the decree. Furthermore, the ICG also highlights that the Indonesian government feared further violence if they continued putting off said decree. The report comes to the conclusion that “the outcome suggests a government that has no clear vision of basic principles itself but rather seeks compromise between those who speak loudest.” This is a dangerous idea, as the rise in fundamentalism becomes stronger and more pronounced throughout the world.
In Britain, a Pakistani based group called the ‘Khatme Nabuwwat’ have spread their anti-Ahmadi ideology to the West where many Ahmadis have moved to escape persecution, inciting violence against the Ahmadiyya living there. The recent murder of an Ahmadi shopkeeper in Glasgow, Asad Shah is an example of this. The Khatme Nabuwwat, according to the Human Rights Watch,
“do not inflict violence themselves, but they provide an enabling environment for a number of actors to do so. There are enough violent groups in Pakistan, enough radical population in Pakistan, that if accusation is made enough times and loudly enough – that is murder. Khatme Nabuwwat do this with the very clear desire of leading to that outcome.”
This same principle of enabling can be seen within Britain through the 2010 distribution of leaflets targeting an Ahmadi butcher, as they claimed him being a non-Muslim meant the meat was subsequently not halal. This led to customers boycotting the shop. Their obvious desire to raise their distaste for the sect into British media shows how they are hoping to ignite the same type of discrimination against Ahmadis within the West.
International responses have included Human Rights reports from NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities issued an announcement urging Pakistan to ‘restore human rights’ in 1985, but none of these reports or demands made any real differences. They failed to implement any kind of systemic or lasting response that adequately challenges the ideologies which have led to the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims.
In order to secure peace for Ahmadis, governments need to acknowledge that their contribution to anti-Ahmadiyya activity is only adding flame to the fire. Both Pakistan and Indonesia have allowed popular uprisings against the Ahmadis to shape their policies toward them.
The Muslim Council of Britain on the 6th of April 2016 condemned acts of discrimination, extremism and hatred, and called for other Muslims to publically acknowledge that Ahmadis practice the teachings of Islam and have the right to identify themselves as Muslims. The council also condemned violence against all people on grounds of faith. This is a great move in terms of gaining momentum against rejecting the Ahmadi right to freedom of religion.
Movements like these need to work their way into governments, and the only way to do that is to incite popular opinion that the Ahmadis deserve to be treated with the right to freedom of religion just like other Muslims. Popular opinion that Ahmadis are not real Muslims was what got them into this problem in the first place, so it is a logical way to get them out of it. The international community must put more emphasis on the protection of the rights of Ahmadis not only in the form of unattainable and out-of-reach reports that don’t touch the zeitgeist of the population, but through assisting local movements and organisations that support real people who care about the issue. These organisations should endeavour to reach government spheres of influence so as to make a lasting change. Governments need to stand strong against vocal groups that influence them towards acting in ways that lead to human rights abuses, and work together with international institutions to promote more peaceful and tolerant relations with others. The international community should also work to spread awareness by bringing the issue closer to the forefront of the media so as to attract people and resources to tackle and resolve the problem. The last thing that the Ahmadis need is for Islamophobia to stop an intellectual mobilisation toward tackling the discrimination and the violent outbreaks against them.