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Sameness and difference: situating the Ahmadis

A people out of place

A recent Islamic studies textbook for sixth graders, serving the requirement for compulsory faith education and prepared in accordance with the guidelines ‘given by the Federal Ministry of Education, Pakistan’, characterized the history and beliefs of the Ahmadi Muslims for its readership of 11-year-olds as follows:

The British hatched numerous conspiracies during the freedom movement to delink Muslims from their faith. They were keen on mitigating the love of the prophet (PBUH) from the hearts of Muslims. In 1891, under the patronage of the British, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, a liar, made a false claim to prophethood. His disciples too falsely pose to be Muslims. Accordingly, after the establishment of Pakistan, on December 7,1977 (sic, for 7 September 1974), it was legislated by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that no Qadiani can deceive the Muslims by calling himself a Muslim, because anyone who believes anyone to be a prophet after the Holy Prophet (PBUH) becomes an infidel (Kafir).

(AHRC and IHRC 2015:138)

Although the message here seems quite unambiguous, the ‘instructions for teaching staff drive it home by explaining that, ‘having got the lesson’, the students ‘should become aware of the evil of Qadianis [Ahmadis]’ (AHRC and IHRC 2015:138).

Generations of Pakistanis have grown up with and absorbed one version or another of this account of Ahmadi history and theology, especially those whose lives have been shaped by the ever greater Islamicization of Pakistan over the last 50 years. It is accounts like these that have been repeated, embroidered and legitimized in schools and madrassas, in the popular media, in sermons and in state discourse. And these accounts are today widely disseminated globally, throughout the Muslim diaspora and its presence on online social media.

A UN report on education and religious discrimination in Pakistan found evidence in ‘interviews with public school and madrassa teachers . . . that they had limited awareness or understanding of religious minorities and their beliefs, and were divided on whether a religious minority was a citizen’. The report further concluded that ‘views expressed by teachers about Ahmadis, Christians, and Jews often were very negative. Interviews showed that these biased sentiments were transmitted and held by the students’ (in Hussain, Salim and Naveed 2011:11). During the rule of Zia ul Haq (1977-1988), the number of madrassas doubled and the education system was reformed to ‘implement the Islamic principles and protect the Pakistani ideology’, which required a review of secondary and tertiary level teaching materials to ensure that they complied with this ‘Pakistani ideology’. During this time:

[national history was presented as a string of events leading to the idea of creating an Islamic state. In libraries, secular and purely scientific books that were unrelated to religion were gradually replaced by religious literature. The study of Arabic and Islamic history and traditions was given impetus. The authorities simultaneously reduced allocations for secular education.

(Belokrenitsky and Moskalenko 2013:284)

The extract from the Islamiat for Class VI textbook confirms the findings of the UN report and offers a telling example of the ways in which Ahmadis have been positioned within narratives of national history and state building, and of the role they have been made to play as scapegoat in the project of consolidating an orthodox and increasingly intolerant community of faith. And to the extent that the text follows not only the guidance of the Ministry of Education but also the pronouncements of many religious leaders, it allows us a glimpse into the role played by state, cultural and religious institutions in determining the fate of the Ahmadis of Pakistan. These are the concerns of this introductory chapter.

The origins of the animus directed at the Ahmadis by other Muslims reside in the ways in which the claims of prophethood made by Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of Ahmadiyya Islam, have been understood and misunderstood over many years. During the late years of the nineteenth century, Ahmad claimed to be a niujaddid (renewer of the faith), masih man 'nd (the promised messiah) and the mahdi (the rightly guided one who will appear at the end times together with the messiah). For many Muslim individuals and institutions, the Ahmadi attempts to reconcile these claims with the belief in the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood, a core tenet of Islam, are merely forms of sophistry designed to disguise what they see as heresy. Grasping these differences and disagreements is essential for understanding the place of the Ahmadis in the Muslim world (and I return to the issue of prophethood in more detail shortly). But focusing on doctrinal differences obscures from view what is a no less important social and cultural sameness. From this perspective, the vehemence of the demonization of the Alunadis in the textbook extract quoted at the start of the chapter can be read not so much as a statement of the obvious but as an anxious effort to make visible what may not otherwise be visible. After all, the Ahmadis in many respects behave like good Muslims, observe the same rituals and practices, study the same religious texts and, in Pakistan, they eat the same food, wear the same clothes and speak the same languages as other Pakistanis. And it is precisely here that the fear enters of the

Sameness and difference 3 outsider who can pass as an insider, the enemy within, and hence the justification and need for ever finer and more precise definitions of who is a genuine insider and the lurking suspicion that even this is not enough to ensure that everyone is clearly and unambiguously classified.

In addition to the forms of their daily lives and many of their beliefs and rituals, the relocation of the Ahmadis to Pakistan at partition, and then migration to the UK mirrors in many respects the transnational migration patterns of many South Asians over the last century, moving from one nation to another in the subcontinent or Africa before heading west to Europe or North America. Yet Ahmadis, rather than being studied for the many similarities they share with other South Asian groups, including shared experiences of colonialism, migration and sectarian and communal conflicts, have often been studied in terms limited to their distinctive beliefs and the socio-political consequences of their adherence to these beliefs. Past studies have, inevitably, focused on what is different about the Ahmadis, and this often then serves as some kind of self-evident explanation, almost as though it were natural, as to why Ahmadis have been targeted by other Muslim groups, leading to the apparently inevitable political, social and religious forms of persecution they have been subject to in South Asia, and increasingly also in other Muslim majority states such as Indonesia and Algeria.

Here, while not ignoring or playing down some of the clearly distinctive features of Ahmadi Islam, I seek to understand just what is the same about the Ahmadis and other Muslim sects and minorities, so that their exclusion from Islam in the Pakistan government’s declaration that Ahmadis are not Muslim in 1974 has to be explained and not simply accepted as self-evident and inevitable. Further, given that exclusion from the fold of Islam does not necessarily have to lead to automatic social and political discrimination or justify the use of violence, this too needs to be explained.1 Ahmadis are not marginalized, scapegoated and persecuted simply because they have been declared non-Muslim but because of their complex social and political contextual location in colonial India, post-colonial Pakistan and in today’s globalized society. Understanding the logic of the processes that led to the exclusion of Ahmadiyya Muslims from Islam in Pakistan also serves to outline the similar processes that have resulted in the marginalization of Hindus and Christians and the sectarian violence against Shi’a Muslims, which has also taken place in Pakistan over recent decades. Pakistan, contrary to the explicitly stated intent of its first governor-general, is based on a modern conjunction of religion and state, a vision of the state as Islamic defined so as to limit the rights of, and over time increasingly exclude, all those who do not meet the officially mandated definition of Muslim. The Islamic state project that is Pakistan, through state processes which have, among other things, curtailed forms of Sufi traditional practice and made a narrow and ideological form of Islamiat education compulsory in state education, has made it possible for those who can identify as Sunni Muslim to be ‘citizens who belong’ and for all others to be rendered citizens who ‘belong less’ (Geschiere 2009:100; Ewing 1983; Leirvik 2008). And, in brief, it is these processes that go some way to explain why the almost 23% non-Muslim religiousminority population of Pakistan in 1947 declined to a mere 3% by 2013 (Ispahan! 2013; Hadi 2015)?

It is in the particularities of the sameness and difference of Ahmadi Muslims to other Muslim groups and other minorities,3 and how these have changed over time and across national territorial space that makes it possible to begin to understand how one group that shares, in many respects, the features of many other similar Muslim groups is singled out for particular scrutiny and treatment. This scrutiny and treatment have not remained the same since the foundation of Ahmadiyya Islam some 130 years ago. Just as the Ahmadis themselves have developed institutionally and reacted to change, so too have those who seek to curtail their influence and destroy them.

I am here drawing upon Appadurai’s suggestion that some minorities may be subject to violence from a majority not because of their differences but because of their similarities, or more precisely, because they blur the boundaries between groups, being both ‘ “us” and “them”, here and there... loyal and disloyal... [and are] unwelcome because of their anomalous identities and attachments’ (Appa-durai 2006:44). Appadurai is, of course, drawing upon Douglas’ (1984) insight that dirt is matter out of place and results from a given system of classification. And recognizing a group as metaphorical ‘dirt’ that does not fit the system requires that everyone be classified as belonging clearly and unequivocally to one category or another. Those who are then in the majority group may displace social anxieties on to the minority group, but this group may be particularly problematic to locate if distinguishing between them and the majority is not always straightforward.

The kind of overlapping and mixed identities described by Appadurai raise questions about possibly divided loyalties, and in the case of the Ahmadis these have been described in terms of what some have called their ‘state within a state', a reference to Rabwah, the town they built in Pakistan after partition, as well as a suggestion that their loyalties are primarily to govermnents and ideologies located outside Pakistan (e.g. Zaheer 1984)? The processes needed to turn a numerical minority such as the Ahmadis into such a significant threat to the state that it has to be eliminated then becomes one that requires, as Appadurai notes, ‘regularly mobilized and reawakened . . . powerful campaigns of. . . political propaganda' (Appadurai 2006:54). Such campaigns constitute ‘a remarkable feat of active ideological and political engineering. Even in themselves they could be seen as evidence of the effort required to build a successful national consensus in favour of the campaign against’ a minority such as the Ahmadis (Appadurai 2006:55). In Pakistan, this sustained effort against the Ahmadis has necessitated the active involvement of state institutions such as the Punjabi Auqaf Department5 (religious affairs), which funds public anti-Ahmadi media campaigns, including sponsoring billboards and patronizing organizations that distribute ‘pamphlets calling upon Muslims to kill Ahmadis everywhere indiscriminately' (Hamdani 2012). It is also visible in the government offices displaying posters with slogans incorporating language Ahmadis consider offensive such as the term ‘Qadiani' derived from the birthplace of Ghulam Ahmad in Qadian, India. Such slogans include ‘he who is a friend to Ahmadis is a traitor’ or ‘when a Muslim befriends a Qadiani, he causes anguish to the spirit of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)' (Hamdani 2012). In Appa-durai’s terms, it is the social uncertainty of the modern world coupled with the high level of ‘doctrinal certainty’ that comes from the education system itself that supports the hostility towards the Ahmadis and which focuses social, political and economic uncertainties on a single group who can then become the visible scapegoat and target of the majority population which takes on a predatory identity in the process (Appadurai 2006:91).

What follows is neither a history of the Ahmadis nor an account of Ahmadi theology: both are already available elsewhere (e.g. Friedman 1989; Lavan 1974). It is, rather, a set of episodes and fragments that engage with some aspects of history and belief as a way of situating the Ahmadis in ways that will, I hope, help frame the ethnographic studies of Ahmadi life in the diaspora that make up the subsequent chapters of this book.

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