The recent tragic murder of Ahmadi Muslim Asad Shah in Glasgow by another Muslim has brought much of the anti-Ahmadi prejudice latent in the UK Muslim community into sharp focus.
As an Ahmadi Muslim who has spent six years on the Muslim student scene, I've seen my fair share of anti-Ahmadi sentiment. Ahmadiyya student societies have experienced multiple incidents of other Muslim student bodies attempting to 'protect the faith' by disrupting our events, emailing their memberships 'warning' people of our 'deviant' views, trying to stall the creation of our societies and then attempting to shut us down thereafter. There has even been an incident where our students were physically assaulted whilst manning an outreach stall, and another where a Muslim student handed out leaflets that declared our death meritorious. The attitude of many young Muslims towards Ahmadi Muslims was typified for me when the then-president of my university's Islamic Society emailed our committee informing us that we shouldn't use the word 'Islam' in our event titles. As we were holding an event on the topic of "Women in Islam", they kindly suggested that "Women in Ahmadiyya" would be more appropriate. How thoughtful.
This tendency amongst young British Muslims of turning Islam into Islam™ is inherited behaviour. It stems from a subcontinental mindset that deems it legitimate to consider a group of self-identifying Muslims who follow the five pillars of Islam and believe in the six articles of faith as being non-Muslim, whether that group 'realises' it or not. This time-old tradition has been continued by the upper echelon of Muslim representation in the West. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), whilst condemning the murder of Shah, on Thursday released a statement reiterating their position that Ahmadis aren't Muslims. In this stance they are joined by even the most 'moderate' mainstream Imams of the West. I will never forget a reply I received from Cambridge University's Timothy Winter, once named 'Britain's Most Influential Muslim', in response to a painstakingly polite invitation to dialogue I had sent him. To my 344 worded email, I received only these few in reply:
"Please do not bother me with this. You know your status in the eyes of the Muslim community."
These edicts of disbelief are problematic as they act as a stepping stone of dehumanisation that leads to discrimination and, in extreme cases, active persecution. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Pakistan, where Ahmadis' non-Muslim status in the eyes of their detractors was written into law, causing the community to face intense state-sanctioned persecution. Whilst law and order exist in the UK, the prejudice still runs deep.
Be this as it may, many Muslims reading will wonder if the unsavoury edicts are essentially justified- maybe Ahmadis aren't Muslims, and we should simply seek to reduce the discrimination that understanding entails. A cursory glance at the Prophet Muhammad's definitions of a Muslim, however, expose these edicts as simply being prejudice in the garb of theology. In the census of Medina, the Prophet required self-identification and nothing else, saying, 'Write down for me the name of everyone who call himself a Muslim.' On another instance he declared that, "Whoever says, 'none has the right to be worshipped but Allah,' faces our Qibla (direction) during the prayers, prays like us, and eats our slaughtered animal, he is a Muslim; he has got the same rights and obligations as any Muslim has."
The modern day clergy however, apparently know better than the founder of Islam. The MCB for instance have adjudicated that, 'the cornerstone of Islam is to believe in One God and in the finality of the prophethood of the Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him.' This invented definition of a Muslim stems from a mistranslation of the basic declaration of faith in Islam, with the word 'final' appearing nowhere in the original Arabic. But the statement still raises an important question: do Ahmadis deny the finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad?
The answer from Ahmadis is that they believe in the finality of Prophethood at least as much as other Muslims do. That is, they believe that Muhammad is the final law-bearing Prophet. Nothing can be added or taken away from the teachings of Islam. However, all Muslims agree that the Prophet Muhammad himself said that Muslims would one day descend into the materialistic and dogmatic condition of the Jews at the time of Jesus, necessitating their rejuvenation at the hands of a reformer bearing the title of 'Messiah, Son of Mary.' This Messiah he repeatedly described as being both a follower of Islam and a Prophet at the same time. The only difference between Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis is concerning the identity of this 'Messiah' figure. As Ahmadis believe that Jesus died a natural death, they take these prophecies as being metaphorical, finding fulfilment in the messianic qualities of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Non-Ahmadis disagree with these ideas, and believe that Jesus ascended to heaven, therefore allowing the prophecies of his descent to be taken literally. But either way, all muslims believe that there will be a follower prophet after the Prophet Muhammad- be he Jesus, or someone akin to Jesus.
If you found that hard to follow, it's because the real differences between Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis concern very technical issues of interpretation. They very obviously do not concern the basic definition of a Muslim. The MCB's definition of a Muslim is as self-serving as it is self-created, ruling millions of Muslims out of the pale of Islam if they don't agree with their specific understanding of the nature of Prophethood. Islam™ indeed.
Personally, I have little hope for the older generation of Muslims who have inherited over a century of anti-Ahmadi propaganda. Rather, it is my generation I have some hope for. With the knowledge available from the internet and the increased visibility of Ahmadis in society, perhaps they can look past the myopia of many of their forefathers. Perhaps they can finally discard this well-worn doctrine of ignorance and hate. And if they do, then maybe the next time they give their salaam to an Ahmadi Muslim, they can look them in the eye and truly mean it.