They both share belief in the prophethood of Muhammad, reverence for historical prophets, belief in the oneness of God (tawhid), accept the Qur’an as their holy text, face the Kaaba during prayer, accept the authority of Hadiths (reported sayings of and stories about Muhammad) and practice the Sunnah. These are the Ahmadis (Ahmadiyya faithful) on the one hand and other Islamic sects otherwise referred to as orthodox or mainstream Muslims, on the other. To non-Muslims, both groups are Muslims and are of the same brotherhood in Islam. But it may surprise many that the animosity existing between the two is worse than that which exists between them and Christians, or the faithful of other religions.
On account of certain doctrinal differences, the orthodox Muslims do not regard the Ahmadis as Muslims or equal brethren in the faith. Their hatred of Hamadis is across the globe and it sometimes gets so bad in some Islamic countries that the Ahmadis are persecuted, attacked and hounded into exile.
Unlike most Muslims, Ahmadis believe their sect’s founder, a 19th century Indian named Mizra Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet. This and other theological disputes have brought charges of heresy, particularly in Pakistan, where the sect has endured more than 50 years of discrimination and violence. Ahmadis are banned from calling themselves Muslims or referring to their religious establishments as ‘mosques.’ In May 2010, the Hamadiyya community suffered its worst attack when 86 people were gunned down in an hour-long siege of two mosques in Lahore. In the aftermath of last year’s flood, some displaced Ahmadis were denied aid.
Ahmadiyya is an Islamic religious movement founded in India towards the end of the 19th century, originating with the life and teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), who claimed to have fulfilled the prophecies about the world reformer of the end times, who was to herald the Eschaton as predicted in the traditions of various world religions and bring about the final triumph of Islam as per Islamic prophecy. He claimed that he was the Mujaddid (divine reformer) of the 14th Islamic century, the promised Messiah and Mahdi awaited by Muslims. The adherents of the Ahmadiyya movement are referred to as Ahmadis or Ahmadi Muslims. Ahmadi’s emphasis lay in the belief that Islam is the final law for humanity as revealed to Muhammad and the necessity of restoring to it its true essence and pristine form, which had been lost through the centuries. Thus, Ahmadis view themselves as leading the revival and peaceful propagation of Islam. The Ahmadis were among the earliest Muslim communities to arrive in Britain and other Western countries.
But soon after the death of the first successor of Ghulam Ahmad, the movement split into two groups over the nature of Ghulam Ahmad’s prophethood and his succession. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believed that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had indeed been a “non-law-bearing” prophet and that mainstream Muslims who categorically rejected his message were guilty of disbelief in Islamic prophecies. The Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, however, affirmed the traditional Islamic interpretation that there could be no prophet after Muhammad and viewed itself as a reform movement within the broader Ummah. The question of succession was also an issue in the split of the Ahmadiyya movement. The Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement believed that an Anjuman (body of selected people) should be in charge of the community. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, however, maintained that Caliphs (successors of Ghulam Ahmad) should continue to take charge of the community and should be left with the overall authority.
Views of mainstream Muslims
Orthodox Muslims, however, consider both Ahmadi movements to be heretical and non-Muslim for a number of reasons, chief among them being the question of finality of prophethood, since they believe members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community do not regard the Islamic prophet Muhammad as the last prophet. The Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement does not subscribe to this belief; its members, in fact, do not see Ghulam Ahmad as a prophet in the conventional sense. Ahmadis claim that this is a result of misinterpreting Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s statements referring to his coming “in the spirit of Muhammed” (similar to John the Baptist coming in the spirit and power of Elijah). Ahmadi Muslims believe Ghulam Ahmad to be the Mahdi and the promised Messiah.
The Ahmadiyya faith claims to represent the latter-day revival of the religion of Islam. Today, the Ahmadiyya community has a presence in 195 countries and in every country but Pakistan, they are legally identified as Muslims.
Central to the Ahmadiyya is the belief in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the Promised Messiah and Mahdi. Ahmadis emphasise the implementation of the Kalima (the fundamental creed of Islam) as essentially linked with the Islamic principles of the rights of God (Arabic: Haqooq-Allah) and the rights of His creation (mankind) (Arabic: Haqooqul-Ibād).
Ahmadis believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was divinely commissioned as a true reflection of Muhammad’s prophethood to establish the unity of God, remind mankind of their duties towards God and God’s creation, to emphasise both aspects of religion which Ahmadis believe is the need of the present age. As such Ahmadis hold that Ghulam Ahmad was the representative and spiritual readvent of all previous prophets. From the Ahmadiyya perspective, the Christians have erred with regards to the rights of God in that they have attributed divine status to a mortal human. And it is on this account that in Islamic eschatology the promised reformer has been named the Mahdi (the “Guided One” – a title meaning one who is naturally guided and is an heir to all truths and in whom the attribute of “guide” of the Almighty is fully represented). Ahmadis also hold that the Muslims have erred with regard to the rights of creation for they, unjustly raising the sword and calling it Jihad, have misunderstood the concept and purpose of jihad in Islam. It is on this account that he has been called the Isa Messiah (“Jesus the Messiah”) – a term which relates to his function in re-establishing the rights of people by reforming their distorted, violent notion of “Jihad” just as Jesus Christ came principally to reform the hearts and attitudes of the Jewish nation.
Ahmadis have been subject to various forms of persecution since the movement’s inception in 1889. The Ahmadiyya faith emerged from the Sunni tradition of Islam and its adherents believe in all the five pillars and articles of faith required of Muslims. The Ahmadis are active translators of the Qur’an and proselytizers for the faith. Converts to Islam in many parts of the world first discover Islam through the Ahmadis. However, in many Islamic countries, the Ahmadis have been defined as heretics and non-Muslim and subjected to persecution and often systematic oppression.
Pakistan has four million Ahmadis and is the only country to have officially declared the Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. There, their freedom of religion has been curtailed by a series of ordinances, acts and constitutional amendments. In 1974, Pakistan’s parliament adopted a law declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. The country’s constitution was amended to define a Muslim “as a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad.” In 1984, General Zia-ul-Haq, the then military ruler of Pakistan, issued Ordinance XX. The ordinance, which was supposed to prevent “anti-Islamic activities”, forbids Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim or to “pose as Muslims”. This means that they are not allowed to profess the Islamic creed publicly or call their places of worship mosques. Ahmadis in Pakistan are also barred by law from worshipping in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms, performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quoting from the Quran, preaching in public, seeking converts, or producing, publishing, and disseminating their religious materials. These acts are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. In applying for a passport or a national ID card, all Pakistanis are required to sign an oath declaring Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to be an impostor prophet and all Ahmadis to be non-Muslims.
Because he was an Ahmadi, the word “Muslim” was erased from the gravestone of the Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist, Abdus Salam.
And it’s not just Pakistan. The Ahmadiya are under siege elsewhere, including Bangladesh and, most recently, Indonesia. In Indonesia, Ahmadiyya had existed before Proclamation of Indonesian Independence. Wage Rudolph Supratman, who wrote the national anthem – ‘Indonesia Raya’ was an Ahmadi. However, Ahmadiyya as a controversial religious minority in Indonesia has only risen shar
ply in the 2000s with a rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
In 2008, many Muslims in the country protested against the Ahmadiyya movement. With violence and large demonstrations, these religious conservatives put pressure on the government to monitor and harass the Ahmadiyya community in Indonesia.
Public opinion in Indonesia is split in three ways on how Ahmadiyya should be treated: some hold it should be banned outright on the basis that it is a heretical and deviant sect that is not listed as an officially recognised religion in Indonesia; others hold that it should not be banned because of the freedom of religion article in the Constitution, but also should not be allowed to proselytise under the banner of “Islam” on the basis that this is misleading; still others hold that it should be free to do and say as it pleases based on the Constitutional right to freedom of religion.
It’s almost the same case in India. Although Ahmadis are considered to be Muslims by the government of India, according to a court verdict (Shihabuddin Koya vs. Ahammed Koya, A.I.R. 1971 Ker 206), the Islamic University of India and Darul Uloom Deoband have declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. Ahmadis are not allowed to sit on the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a body of religious leaders that India’s government recognises as representative of Indian Muslims. This is in spite of the fact that there is no legislation that declares Ahmadis non-Muslims or limits their activities and that the country has a significant Ahmadiyya population, most of whom live in Rajasthan, Orissa, Haryana, Bihar, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and a few in Punjab in the area of Qadian.
In Bangladesh, fundamentalist Islamic groups have demanded that Ahmadiyyas be “officially” declared to be kafirs (infidels). Ahmadiyyas have become a persecuted group, targeted via protests and acts of violence. According to Amnesty International, followers have been subject to “house arrest” and several have been killed. In late 2003, several large violent marches, led by Moulana Moahmud Hossain Mumtazi, were directed to occupy an Ahmadiyya mosque. In 2004, all Ahmadiyya publications were banned.
Here in Nigeria, the relationship between the two may not be violent or troublesome. But it is not also so cordial as it should be for people under the same brotherhood of faith. Just as in other nations cited above, Ahmadis and other Muslims in Nigeria do not worship together. Leaders on both sides have at one time or the other voiced the mutual resentment towards each other on the basis of their position on Prophet Muhammad being the last law-bearing prophet.
But rather than resort to physical attack to express opposition, both sides often engage in intellectual encounters to explain and prove their standpoints. In worship, neither of the sides will stand behind tje Imam of the other during prayer. Ahmadiyyas in Nigeria however do perform the requirement of pilgrimage to Mecca.
Comments on Ahmadiyya by public figures
Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa: IN 1947, during the budget session of the Legislative Council of Nigeria (under Sir Arthur Richard Constitution) when the Northerners were for the first time represented, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at feted them (the Northern representatives). The occasion took place at the Ahmadiyya Central Mosque, 21/23, Ojo Giwa Street, Lagos and it was presided over by the then Chief Secretary to the Government and Acting Governor General, Sir G. Beresford Stooke. The then Amir of Ahmadiyya Jama’at in Nigeria, Alhaji Maulana Fazil Rahman Hakeem (F.R. Hakeem), congratulated the representatives for having the opportunity to represent their people in the Legislative Council of Nigeria (Legco) and welcomed them to Lagos, on behalf of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at. Alhaji Tafawa Balewa (who had the opportunity of becoming the first Prime Minister of Nigeria after independence) was chosen as the spokesman for the other representatives, including Emir of Zaria, Emir of Gwando and Emir of Katsina at the occasion. In response to the welcome address presented to them by Alhaji Maulana F.R. Hakeem, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa said among other things: “If today I could stand before any Christian and I am able to discuss about religion with confidence, it was due to the Ahmadiyyat Islamic literature books at my disposal.”
General Yakubu Gowon – April 13, 1970 (Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation – 7p.m): The Head of State, Major General Yakubu Gowon has commended Nigerians for demonstrating their willingness to make peace particularly at the end of the civil war. He pointed out that there is a good understanding among the various religious groups in the country, adding that if this had not been so, there could have been more trouble in the country. General Gowon spoke during an audience he gave to the Supreme Head of the World-wide Ahmadiyya Muslim Organisation, Mirza Nasir Ahmad, at his Dodan Barracks residence. He said that it was remarkable to note that during the crisis, Nigerians, irrespective of their religious differences, cooperated in ensuring the unity of the federation. Gowon expressed appreciation for the contribution of the Ahmadiyya towards the moral, physical and intellectual progress of the nation. He noted that the Movement had built schools and clinics for the welfare of the people.
Alhaji Shehu Shagari, President: “…. I have observed with satisfaction the steady progress being made by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission in the field of gospel propagation and the establishment of schools, hospitals and clinics. The Mission’s efforts in this direction have been commendable and worthy of emulation by all voluntary organisations. My administration fully supports the initiative of all well-meaning Nigerians to establish through communal efforts, schools, hospitals and other social services provided that they render service without any sectional or religious inhibition … The Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission should justifiably be proud with the quality of men and women produced by its educational institutions and who are now rendering invaluable services to the development of this country…”
Alhaji Aminu Kano, Honourable Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Health and Education, during Jalsa Salana of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Nigeria in 1971 said: The Activities of Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission are commendable. The Federal Military Government is watching very closely the activities of Ahmadiyya Movement in Nigeria from the angle of health facilities and from the angle of education. That is why I am particularly in this party. I will like to say that in Nigeria today, millions of Nigerians are not able to receive necessary attention and I will like to say that there are only 3,000 doctors in Nigeria while we need 20,000 doctors….The Federal Military Government is prepared to help not only state government, not only local government, but also private organisations which cater for the welfare of the society, and Ahmadiyya Mission is one of the societies. So, Mr. Chairman, I will like to say that we in government appreciate very much the activities of any other mission. But because Ahmadiyya Mission interprets some of the activities of Islam in real terms that’s why we in government circle recognise the activities of that organisation. I like, therefore, to congratulate you Ahmadis for the number of hospitals you are building as in Lagos, in Kano, in many parts of the country and at the same time the number of schools and institutions you are building in primary schools, in secondary schools. This is exactly what Islam stands for: the elimination of sufferings from people no matter whom they are.”
Chief (Dr.) Clement M.S. Isong, Governor of Cross River State at the 30th Jalsa Salana of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Nigeria, December 1979: “I must note, first of all, that the record of the activities of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission (Nigeria) has been a very enviable one. The Mission has not only successfully competed with other religious organisations in the provision and expansion of medical and educational f
acilities for numerous Nigerians, but has dedicated itself to reforming our fast decaying society by preaching the high moral and spiritual values of Islam among its members.”
Chief Bisi Onabanjo, Governor of Ogun State during the 30th Jalsa Salana – December 1979: “The Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission has contributed in no small measure to the social and economic development of this country, particularly in the field of education. While I congratulate the officers and members of the Mission for their past achievements in this direction, it is my hope that they will not relent their efforts and that the Mission will by its actions continue to show itself as a progressive organization.”
Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, Governor of Lagos State, at the 30th Jalsa Salana of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Nigeria, December 1979: “The Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, a branch of the Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya Qadian, which has a very large worldwide followership, and this is hardly surprising for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission is actively involved not only in propagating Islam as a religion, but also its contribution and achievement in the field of education, medical and social welfare of Nigerians irrespective of creed or ethnic affinity. I am personally aware of the good work that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission has done in the establishment of primary and secondary schools. The various health clinics and dispensaries being run by your Mission in many parts of the country bear eloquent testimony to your commitment to our great country.”