Saturday, November 23, 2013

On Mainstream Muslims' Refusal to Learn about the Violence against Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan

A couple of weeks ago, the Ahmadi association at my university sponsored a talk by an Ahmadi scholar who was to come talk about the persecution of Ahmadis and other minorities in Pakistan. The cover designed for the talk mentioned nothing about whether Ahmadis are Muslim or not (I think it's stupidity, ignorance, and evil on the part of whoever denies them their right to declare themselves Muslims!), and it was definitely not about--and was not advertised to be about--Ahmadis' response to mainstream Muslims' claim that Ahamdis are not Muslims and therefore deserve to be killed, as is happening in Pakistan every. single. day. I cannot stress enough that the cover and the talk were simply about the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan. It was intended to be, and it indeed was, about the violence committed against Ahmadis on a daily basis in Pakistan, mostly by terrorists but the government, too, has its role in the persecution.

So when an officer from the Ahmadi organization contacted the community/campus mosque Facebook page and requested that the talk be shared on the page so more people become aware of it, the mosque rejected it. Twice. The second time, the mosque's administration responded to the officer with something that I don't know if I'm allowed to paste here but will paraphrase.  (I know because the officer posted about it on his Facebook.) So the mosque goes something like: We can't share this on our page because there's concern among students and parents that there's an Ahmadi on the MSA board; just like you don't consider us (Sunni) Muslims, we don't consider y'all Muslims.

Whoa there - "just like you don't consider us Muslims"? That was a misleading claim that is actually completely inaccurate. Ahmadi Muslims *do not* consider any other sect of Muslims non-Muslims or kafir or whatever.

I thought the way the Sunni community handled the issue was terribly unfair. People are dying because of their beliefs in the country of most of the people who go to that mosque. The least we could've done was to make ourselves aware of this violence against them and try to figure out what we can do from so far away to end it. Acknowledging others' right to existence does not require that we agree with their beliefs. So I have been highly disappointed with the mosque because of this issue, and I intend to discuss it with the imam some time soon so that I can be assured that the community is better than what they made itself appear during this incident.

To make matters worse, though ... the khutba (sermon) the Friday following the incident was about how Ahmadis are not Muslim ... and the Friday before that, during a talk on campus by a Muslim (Sunni) cleric/sheikh/imam, a talk about marriage and how to maintain chastity and all, the imam conveniently pointed out that marriage among Sunnis and Shias may be acceptable if the couple is okay with it (that's progress there from what I grew up with and from the popular opinion around, so that was good to hear! BUT!), BUT ... marriage to Ahmadis and Ismailis is not okay because these two groups are not Muslims; they've deviated from Islam. The thought that there may have been an Ahmadi there, like the Ahmadi officer of the MSA ... oh my God. So insensitive. So unfair. I wonder how the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would deal with this "issue" of the Ahmadis.

That said, however, I understand that the mosque itself is under pressure from Sunnis because, as I am told, most of its funding comes from the Sunni community (the Shia Muslims at the university have a different organization and mostly avoid associating with the MSA; they also have a separate mosque, which is much, much far from campus, but a couple of my Shia friends do come to this campus mosque every now and then). While I understand this, I just don't think it's fair to take sides simply because of funding. Or whatever other reasons there might be. Fine, you may say that Ahmadis are not Muslims. But *what* justifies not informing people, other Muslims, about the violence committed against a group of humans in a Muslim country? I cannot for the life of me figure out even one reason why something could be wrong with educating people about such an important reality. While we choose to keep ourselves as uninformed, as ignorant, as much in denial as possible of the killings of Ahmadis, Christians, Shias, the Hazara people in Pakistan, we Sunni Pakistanis are among the first on campus to talk about the violence committed against Palestinians by Israel! This isn't to say that we shouldn't talk about violence against Palestinians. We need to, and I'm glad that I know hardly any Muslim who supports what Israel does to Palestinians daily. But my point is the old proverb "Charity begins at home." You see, this same violence is also happening in the homeland of many of those who are anti-violence in Palestine but refuse to learn about the violence against Ahmadis in Pakistan. Why? What's so attractive about keeping remaining uninformed and ensuring that others in your community also stay uninformed?

And why are we so hesitant, so unwilling to learn about sects that are different from our own? In the U.S., "interfaith dialogues" are rather popular, but what about intra-faith dialogues? What about trying to understand another sect in your religion? Are we really so insecure about our own faith, our own spirituality, our own understanding of religion and God that we're afraid that learning about a belief different from ours might convert us to theirs, or something? Are we really that afraid of learning about *why* we hate each other? I can't understand this because my own experience with learning about others has taught me that the more I learn about others, the happier I feel with myself and with others. There's power in learning about others - we learn to respect and understand each other. Ignorance, however, according to my experiences of how I was before I got to where I am today, is so burdensome. Until a couple of years ago, when I was a judgmental, ignorant, arrogant person, I found myself constantly feeling burdened with the responsibility of judging people, judging who was right and who was wrong, judging who was practicing Islam "properly" and who wasn't. I feel so much happier now, so much more relaxed. I swear, people, learning makes us happier! Please make it a point to learn about a new people, a new group of people, a new religion, a new culture, a new sect, a new belief system, a new *whatever else* at least every week. And from their perspective, not from the perspective of their deniers and haters! (E.g., to learn about Ahmadis, you *do not* want to turn to Sunni, Shia, or other non-Ahmadi sources to educate yourself. Those are fine, too, but only and only alongside Ahmadi sources. Polemics doesn't offer us much to learn; it only keeps us more ignorant about our neighbor.)

Okay, so, I'm gonna paste here some of the comments I wrote on the status of the Ahmadi person who posted about this problem. I haven't sought anyone's permission to share their comments, so I won't do that, but if you're a Muslim belonging to a privileged sect of Islam (Sunni, that is), you can probably imagine how the conversation must have been like. It became heated in no time, with people throwing fatwas left and right about who's Muslim and who's not. My disappointment was also with some of the participants in the conversation who are upper undergraduate Islamic Studies students--which means they should by now be aware of how law works (e.g., how Islamic law was developed), what role power plays in which interpretation becomes the norm and popular at what time under which ruler/scholar/authority, and so on. And at the very least, recognize that the Qur'an is not a simple text that can be so easily interpreted and understood. Even if a certain scholar says Verse X means this, it doesn't necessarily mean that that's it, that that's the end of the discussion, that there can be no other interpretation or meaning of that verse. It simply means that that's *one* interpretation.

So here are my comments from that disturbing, disappointing, potentially-violence-inducing discussion:

- "No Ahmadi doctrine thinks of mainstream Muslims as non-Muslims, so that statement that "Just as you see us as non-Muslims" is misleading and false. I'm sorry that Ahmadis and othet minority groups have to bear this kind of treatment. This was a disheartening post to read, but keep working towards justice, Usama! You guys are doing great! Peace be with us all." 
- In response to someone who decided to educate us about why Ahmadis were not Muslims, I wrote: 
1. There's a difference between prophet & messenger. Theres no Qur'anic verse out there that wont have multiple meanings. The meaning that becomes popular is NOT a matter of truth but a matter of power--e.g., of whoever's interpretation wins or whoever's is enforced more widely. And power fluctuates. Things aren't always as simple as they appear. 2."The Sunni & Shia scholars looked into this and reached the conclusion that [Ahmadis are not Muslim]"? Who were these scholars? Why're they even concerned with who's Muslim & who's not, when we have so many other issues to be focusing on around the world? It's also so funny that they concluded that when even some scholars consider Shias to be non-Muslims or heretics. Sunni fiqh even says that prayers arent valid if led by a Shia! I hope you get my point here. 3. Letting Ahmadis believe what they want will lead to problems? What kinds of problems? 4. The event U. was interested in sharing was to educate people; why are we so immune to learning about them? It's precisely because of things like what youre saying, I think, that we need to spread word about this event. Way too many simplistic understandings of the Qur'an that lead to hell for those who disagree with mainstream interpretations.
- On the mosque page, when the Imam posted in response to the officer's status about how the mosque had responded to his request that the event be advertised on the mosque page, some people claimed that the Ahmadi officer shouldn't have posted about the problem publicly (I never understood why), and others said that there was no context provided and that his post was misleading, etc. So I replied with:
The context was provided, at least in the version I read. Very disheartening, although it was apparently to please [university[ (Sunni) Muslim students' parents. The last [...] speaker [mentioned above] had some unfair things to say about Ahmadis as well, so it's not shocking. But terribly sad & revealing of the status of Muslims today. We desperately need unity--and unity doesnt mean agreeing on everything. Why we or our parents would be so unwilling to listen to the Ahmadis' side of things for the sake of learning, I cannot imagine. We're so invested in "interfaith" dialogues, but what about intra-faith dialogues? If the purpose of interfaith dialogues is to promote a better, healthier world, why are we so immune to intrafaith dialogues, which would serve the same purpose? I also wonder how the response might have been had the request to post an event come from a Christian or Jewish or Hindu association. What might be the harm in learning about a sect, faith we are supposed to disagree with? (My sincerest apologies if the above post was not open for a response like this.) Peace to us all. Somehow.
- Someone replied that the mosque is a religious institution and should *not* be posting/sharing events about Ahmadi events (?!?!) and that the mosque has every right to refuse to share such events because Ahmadis aren't Muslim, etc., etc. A part of my response to this comment was:
The response from the mosque isn't shocking either; it's simply disappointing and can only do more harm, not good. We should be encouraged to learn about people we disagree with *from their perspectives* & as many other sources as possible. If we are personally not secure in our faith yet & fear that we might be swayed, then we shouldn't attend. But that doesnt mean we shouldn't encourage others to attend. And it is precisely because this is a religious institution that sharing word about the event in good faith with good intentions--of at the very least creating awareness about the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan--that the mosque should be sharing the post.
Someone then told us that we lay folks have no right to talk about this subject and that we should stop. So we stopped. (? Why can't lay people talk about this, though? Why can't a lay person like me say, "Your declaring people non-Muslims has political, real consequences!" I'm a lay person, and such declarations affect me as a human being, as a citizen of this world.)

So I went to the talk. Needless to say, there were certain people from that heated conversation whom I was expecting to see at the talk because I was hoping they'd at least be open to the idea of learning about the persecution of a group of people, even if they disagree with their religious beliefs, but ... needless to say, they were not there. The same ones who'd adamantly insisted that Ahmadis are not Muslim. I understand some of them may not have had the time to attend. 

The speaker started the talk with Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman accused of committing blasphemy who is still in jail. Who knows exactly what happened, but it looks like someone tried to pressure her into becoming Muslim, and when she refused, the accusations were thrown at her for having been blasphemous. No, seriously, that's exactly how the law works. Anything you say (or write) can and will be held against you anywhere you go if it contradicts mainstream religious thought. And there's no getting out of it once the accusation has been established. The speaker's focus was that people's own beliefs are important to them, and they are often willing to suffer for them than to give them up. And why should they have to give them up? Why should "agree with us" or "change to our religion/sect" be even an option for them, unless they so willfully personally willingly choose to do so per their own volition? Like Asia Bibi, Ahmadis are willing to die for their beliefs than to convert to those of their oppressors. While they become martyrs in the act, this needs to end--and it must end soon. For the sake of a more peaceful, more just world. For the sake of our children's right to a peaceful world. Shame on us for leaving them a legacy of nothing but violence, violence, and violence. A violent mess they'll have to clean up on their own when we're gone.

I learned a lot of things from the talk. I've been reading about violence against Ahmadis in Pakistan for several years now, but to hear about it from the perspectives of Ahmadis themselves is powerful beyond words. To hear it from the perspective of someone whose own family has been a victim, whose friends have been victims, whose relatives have been victims makes you angry. It makes you clench your fist, makes you want to get up and scream at the top of your lungs and beg those in power to put an end to all violence everywhere. But then you remember that without violence, those in power wouldn't be in power anymore.

Below are some of the things I learned:

- When you go for a national ID card or passport in Pakistan, you have to answer a question about your religion. The options are "Muslim" and "non-Muslim," right. So if you mark "Muslim," you also have to sign a statement that reads something along the lines of: I declare that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (founder of the Ahmadi sect of Muslims) is a kafir (non-Muslim) and that anyone who follows him is a kafir as well. Basically, that the person signing this statement is not an Ahmadi and agrees that Ahmadis are kafirs. Can you imagine what the state of a country must be if it's this obsessed with determining who's Muslim and who's not and to what extent--and literally naming people and saying they're not Muslim? Of course, Ahmadis cannot and don't sign this statement, so there's this big question of how citizenship works for Ahmadis in Pakistan. And this is one way through which the government, too, is involved in the persecution of Ahmadis and the violation of their rights.

- Pakistan does not let you go to hajj (the annual pilgrimage performed by Muslims who can financially and physically afford to go to Mecca and fulfill the 5th pillar of Islam) unless you're Muslim. That is, unless you've marked your religious identity as Muslim on that ID thing mentioned in the previous point. Ahmadis, therefore, are not allowed to go to hajj from Pakistan. The speaker told me that when his father came to the U.S. and was able to go to hajj, he (the father) was so overwhelmed with joy-- to be able to happily, comfortably, and safely declare yourself a follower of your faith without being killed for it and to be able to complete the 5th pillar of your religion ... can you imagine the joy, the feeling? I'd cry myself to death of happiness!

- Ahmadis in Pakistan get a badge that identifies them as Ahmadis. The speaker compared this badge to the Star of David that Jews were required to wear during the Holocaust.

- Ahmadis in Pakistan are not allowed to pray in public, cannot build mosques, cannot lead prayers, cannot even recite the kalma in public! (The kalma is the Muslim declaration of faith that states, "I testify that there's no one to be worshiped except God (Allah in Arabic) and Muhammad is his prophet." The Ahmadis believe this as much as any other Muslim believes it, but they're not allowed to say this in public in Pakistan while other Muslims are.

- If they recite the kalma, pray in public, call themselves Muslims in public, they are immediately accused of blasphemy, and thanks to Pakistan's sick, backward, inhumane blasphemy laws, anyone accused of blasphemy is imprisoned right away and sometimes killed as well.

- Ahmadis cannot vote in Pakistan. In order to do so, they must declare either themselves non-Muslims or their leader/messiah Mirza Ghulam a non-Muslim.

- There's no activism in Pakistan from mainstream Muslims to attempt to curb the discrimination, violence against Ahmadi Muslims. Individuals do stand up for Ahmadis' human rights and the violence against them, but they are killed for doing so and accused of committing blasphemy. Anyone who speaks against the blasphemy laws, too, gets killed (e.g., Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province who was killed precisely for openly saying the Blasphemy Laws were inhumane and needed be abolished. The person who killed him continues to be congratulated and rewarded for the assassination. Google it if you don't believe me. His own guard killed him, too.)

Well, this was depressing to write about. But it's a depressing reality, and we need to keep ourselves aware of it so we can contemplate different ways to stand against it and to stand with those being killed in the name of God for disagreeing with the status quo.

Peace be on us all. Somehow.

P.S. Any comment I receive on this post about why Ahmadis are not Muslim or otherwise in support of the violence against them or any other group of people will be deleted. I'm too familiar with this opinion, and I've had enough of it, so please no.


  1. All voliece and discrimination is wrong against any community,,, the solution is
    only possible when the state and religion are separated and affairs are
    run seculary,,,,
    Though that badge thing is exaggerated yet the prejudice remains ever where Vs ahmadis....
    Ahmadis could help by clarifying the perception against prophet hood of mirza ghulam ahmad and WAHI etc
    As Muslims of all school of thought be lived in the finality of nabbawat.
    So miss qrratugai.. it's right of every one to believe what ever he/she wishes
    but endorsement comes when u r logic is believed far and wide
    ,,,,,,,, PEACE.... (missing my keyboard... it take pains expressing Via touch devices)

  2. In case you want to add references for some of the points above, here is the link to Pakistan Penal Code (Govt's document that gives punishments for different crimes)

    See CHAPTER XV sections 295 - 298 especially 298-B


Dare to opine :)

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