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Bureaucracy and rational organization in the service of faith: some histories and constitutions

In the final section of the chapter, and following the example of the waqf-e-nau, I consider in more detail some Ahmadi organizations, national and global, for women and for men, in order to give a more concrete sense of the ways in which Ahmadi institutions help to sustain what in Weberian what in Weberian terms could be characterized as an ‘ethical salvation religion of brotherhood and compassion’ (Weber in Kalberg 2005:246).

Ahmadi history recounts that the first constitution for an auxiliary organization was that of the Lajna (women’s organization) established in 1922 in India. This followed closely on work by the jama ‘at to develop the educational provision available to girls that had taken place in the years immediately preceding and which was set up, following the example of the British education system in India, on modern lines. This was also one aspect of the institutionalization of Ahmadi-yyat beginning with the education of children in segregated schools so that the content of the curriculum could be closely monitored to meet the community’s religious requirements. Unlike other faith groups at the time, the Ahmadis did not take a collective position on the education of girls until the time of the second khalifa,36 when the issue of female education became one that engaged the organization at the level of the leadership in formulating a community position and establishing schools and then later colleges to provide Ahmadi-approved education to girls and women.37 The relative delay in dealing, as a community, with the educational needs of girls and women by comparison to other faith communities and sects in the Punjab was, almost certainly, the result of pragmatic and institutional rather than for religious or ideological reasons.

In 1915 the khalifa ‘established the Anjuman-i-Taraqqi-Islam (the Committee for the Propagation of Islam) in which he outlined a plan of action whose goals' included ‘found[ing] primaiy schools in the Punjab' (Jones 2008:201, citing Lavan 113). From this it is not explicit if the schools were to cater to girls as well as boys, but Walter was able to report that some work had been done on this front by 1918 (Walter 1918:117) and Powell, quoting the Ahmadi journal Review of Religions, makes clear that the education of girls was indeed one of the goals of the Ahmadis in the early twentieth century:

[F] emale education should be made compulsory for the Community and wherever there did not already exist Ahmadia schools for girls new Ahmadia schools might be started and where the starting of the school was not practicable, Ahmadi girls might be educated in the Government Girls’ Schools up to third standard of the primary schools compulsorily and that after this stage had been reached choice might be given to the individuals to pursue any course that they thought best to follow according to their peculiar circumstances and that where there were no Government Girls’ Schools, girls be educated at home.

(Review of Religions 1923:22/1-3:23 in Powell 2000:151)

This clearly suggests that by 1923 there were already some Ahmadi girls' schools established in the Punjab. Basic primary level education was all that was mandated by the Ahmadis at this time and while many girls did receive more education than this it is also very likely that the early age of marriage for girls and the financial and class position of the families themselves played a significant part in limiting the education many received.

As with the other reform movements that championed the education of girls from the late nineteenth century onwards, so too did the Ahmadi Muslim male leadership outline the requirements for Ahmadi girls and how best to educate them for their social and religious roles in the community (Powell 2000:134). The Ahmadis, despite entering the field of education for girls rather later than many other groups in the Punjab, entered under the direction and guidance of the leadership and was able to build on an increasingly bureaucratic organization which made implementation and success in terms of the provision of education more likely, more comprehensive, and more uniform across the community but particularly for those living in or near Qadian.

In terms of Ahmadi provisions for the religious and moral education of women, it was not until 1922, following on from the institutionalization of primaiy education for girls and still under the leadership of the second khalifa that a formalized Ahmadi organization was set out within a constitutional framework. This constitution laid out the structure of the Ahmadi women’s organization which was made up of elected and nominated office bearers at national, regional and local levels. The lajna constitution for Ahmadi women continues today as the organizational and bureaucratic structure within which the women’s auxiliary organization of

Enchantment and the ethic of brotherhood 111 the Ahmadiyya community fonctions.38 The constitution of the women’s auxiliary organization, the Lajna Imaillah Silsila ‘Aliya Ahmadiyya,39 consists of 204 paragraphs explicitly stating that women’s religious and social education is necessary within a clear religious framework as part of the effort ‘for attaining the objects of our creation’, which leads to the ‘spiritual, intellectual and moral uplift' of each individual woman. Such education is considered to be best when organized by women for women and girls, and takes as given the primaiy role of a mother in educating her children, for the ‘future progress of the Jama'at is . . . greatly dependent upon the role played by . . . women’ (Lajna Constitution, Aims and Objectives:?).

The women who are charged with delivering the aims of the constitution are themselves organized at the national, regional, and local levels with a clear hierarchy of offices. At the apex of the women’s organization is the national president (sadr), who is responsible for new initiatives and the implementation of programmes to further the religious and social development of women and girls as well as the income generation required to continue existing programmes and fond new ones. The national president is also responsible for ensuring that any new initiatives or day to day instructions from the khalifa are also implemented. In the UK today, the national president has authority over more than 10,000 women and girls, a considerable budget, and oversight of the organization of many thousands of hours of voluntary labour offered by women for their faith.

The offices to be staffed by women volunteers in the 1922 constitution included president (sadr), vice president, general secretary, assistant general secretary, education secretary, a secretary for spiritual, religious and moral training, a finance secretary, a publications secretary, a physical health (sport) secretary and so forth running to some 18 positions. Pious practice was and is an explicit requirement for nomination and election to a position of authority within the women’s organization as paragraph 115 of the constitution makes clear: ‘No office of Lajna Imaillah shall be entrusted to a lady who does not observe purdah’. This is a regulation which, as an aside, also helps to explain why, as today across the world more and more Muslim women have returned, for a variety of complex reasons, to veiling, there has been no equivalent ‘return to the veil’ for Ahmadi women for whom this has been, since the inception of Ahmadiyyat, a core part of their identity and practice (cf. Mahmood 2005; McDonald 2006; Tong and Turner 2008:48 etc.).40

The explicit justification for this modern, rational and bureaucratic women’s constitutional system was explained in a letter by the khalifa himself as serving the needs of the faith because ‘the vigorous participation of Ahmadi women was as essential for the success of the Community as that of men’ (Lajna Introduction). In his own words:

The mistrust and mal-feelings against Islam which are being spread amongst children by the enemies of Islam can only be countered thr ough the efforts of our women. Similarly the spirit of sacrifice can be produced only through the efforts of the mothers. Apart from their own spiritual, intellectual and moraluplift, the future progress of the Jama‘at is also greatly dependent upon the role played by our women in this respect.

(Hadrat Kalifatul Masih II 1922 cited in Lajna

Constitution Aims and Objectives)

Here the very future of the Ahmadi Jama ‘at is considered to rest on the efforts of the women, their sacrifices and their work to counter the enemies of Islam as perceived by the khalifa. To ensure the success of the women, however, the second khalifa organized them into a modern hierarchical bureaucracy which women staff and nm for other women and which reports to and takes directives from the khalifa himself. Some women may have authority over other women but the khalifa retains authority over everyone in the jama 'at and has the final say on which initiatives will, and which will not, be supported.

While there is no question of the importance to the jama ‘at of the work of women, their independent initiatives in many fields furthering Ahmadiyyat, the access women have to space within the mosque, events which are held by women and their control over funds, it may be considered that the prominence given to the role of women may have to do not simply with the Ahmadi interpretation of rights accorded to women in Islam but also to do with the particular place and time in which Ahmadi Islam came into being. For while Ahmadi Islam does seek to control women’s behavior so that it accords with Ahmadi interpretations of Islamic teachings, the particular form this took in colonial India needs to be understood as part of a wider struggle for power in a context of religious competition in a period of rapid social change. In such a context, the new Ahmadi sect of Islam increased its chances of survival and growth by explicitly drawing in half its members, the female half, and using the knowledge and skills the more educated women already possessed to teach those who lacked such advantages not only how to become more pious through Qur’anic reading classes but also to transmit this knowledge to their children and so ensure that Ahmadiyyat would spread and continue over time. A return to the ‘true Islam’ was sought by utilizing modern organizational techniques. Ultimate authority and the power that comes with this, while delegated to women officeholders in the Lajna, is derived from the charismatic authority of the khalifa and is not independently held by any member of the Lajna f

Yet, while the Lajna was formally instituted in 1922 and is thus officially the first auxiliary organization of the Ahmadi jama ‘at to have been set up, with the Khuddamul Ahmadiyya for men between the ages of 15 and 40 set up in 1938, and the Majlis Ansarullah for men over the age of 40 in 1940, in fact, there were earlier men's auxiliary organizations which served as precursors to these latter men’s organizations (Al-Nahl 1990:4). Membership in the earlier men’s organizations was compulsory for the men of Qadian but optional for all others save those who held offices in the organizations. The first of these precursor organizations was announced in 1911 with a limited remit aimed primarily at extending the mission-izing of Ahmadiyya Islam. Members were exhorted ‘to acquire knowledge, to pay greater attention to the communication of the word of God, to cultivate feelings of brotherhood, to serve the faith with single-minded dedication and to try to utilize folly all opportunities of conveying the Message’ (The Badr 1911 in Al-Nahl

1990:4). It was this organization which made it possible for the first Ahmadi missionary, Choudhry Fateh Mohammad Sial, to travel to Britain in 1913.

With the establishment of the Majlis Ansarullah, participation became obligatory so that by ‘the end of 1941, in the vicinity of Qadian alone, as many as 50 branches had been established’ and further the branches ‘were required to submit their monthly reports by the 3rd of each month. A report form too was prescribed’ (Al-Nahl 1990:5; Tarikh-e-Ahmadiyyat 2018). In November 1940, a proposal to begin meetings with an oath of allegiance was adopted. The oath read:

I solemnly pledge that to the best of my capacity and understanding and to my last breath, I shall continue to exert to establish, strengthen and spread Ahmadi-yyat and true Islam and by the help and gr ace of God, I shall offer all possible sacrifices to see that Ahmadiyyat the true Islam stays supreme over all other faiths and spiritual orders and shall see that its flag continues to fly high and triumphant over all other flags and is never lowered. Amen O Allah! Amen O Allah! Accept this from us O Lord. Thou indeed art the Hearer, the Knower.

(Al-Nahl 1990:6)

By 1972 the Ahmadi jama'at had spread internationally to such an extent that a division to oversee the branches of the Majlis Ansarullah which were now established outside Pakistan was set up and these branches were sent copies of the ‘constitution and byelaws of the Majlis’ (Al-Nahl 1990:7). This initiative was followed in 1979 with a tour by the naib (deputy) sadr of the European and American branches to activate and streamline their operations. It was only in 1989, some four years after the khalifa had moved to Britain to live in exile, however, that the auxiliary organizations in each country where Ahmadis were established were set up to have their own presidents who were henceforth to report directly to the khalifa as did the presidents of the auxiliary organizations in Pakistan. This very significant organizational change, a move which reflected the globalization of the Ahmadi jama ‘at, was announced in London by the fourth khalifa in a Friday sermon in which he stated:

from now on each auxiliary organization in a country will have a Sadr of its own just as we have a Sadr for each auxiliary organization in Pakistan. And from now onwards these sadrs will send all their reports directly to Khalifatul Masih as do the Sadrs in Pakistan. All the current Sadrs who are elected as laid down, shall henceforth be Sadrs (of the subsidiary organizations) of Pakistan alone. The senior most office holders of the subsidiary Organizations in the rest of the world are designated from now on Sadrs in their own right. In other words, in England there will be Sadr Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya, England, Sadr Majlis Ansarullah, England and Sadr Lajna Imaillah, England. So will be the case in other countries in the rest of the world.

(Al-Nahl 1990:7,16)

With this, the khalifa further consolidated his direct hold over the global Ahmadi movement.

The organization chart reproduced as Figure 3.2 sets out the structure of a national Ahmadi auxiliary organization using the example of the Majlis Ansarullah Silsila ‘Aliya Ahmadiyya (for men over the age of 40).42

The organization chart makes visible the hierarchical organization structure with all committees of the Majlis Ansarullah receiving instructions from and reporting to the khalifa. The constitution of the Majlis Ansarullah sets out how

Majlis Shura meets once a year at the time of the annual meeting (ijtima) but can meet more than once and at any time.

Majlis ‘Amila Mulk (National Executive Committee) to meet at least once a month, members are nominated by the National President and serve for one year. Appointments to the committee are approved by the Khalifa.

Majlis Amina Ansarullah Mulk (national body) to hold an annual meeting (ijlima) at which the Majlis ‘Amita Mulk (national executive committee) presents report of it activities.

Majlis 'Amila llaqa and Dila (Executive Committee Regional and District levels) to meet at least once every three months. Members serve for one year.

Majlis 'Amila Muqam (Executive Committee local) to meet at least twice a month. Members serve for two years.

Majlis 'Amila Halqa (Executive Committee sector-wise) to meet at least twice a month. Members serve for two years.

Majlis 'Amina llaqa and Dila (General body Regional and District levels) to meet at least once a year at which meeting participation of the Regional, District, Local and Sector-wise heads, representatives of the Shura and local office holders is mandatory.

Majlis 'Amina Muqam (General body local) to meet at least once a month and all members of muqam attend.

Majlis 'Amina Halqa (General body sector-wise) to meet at least once a month and all members ofhalqa attend.

Figure 3.2 Organization chart of Majlis Ansarullah Silsila ‘Aliya Ahmadiyya

Enchantment and the ethic of brotherhood 115 members are to be elected to official positions, who is to be excluded from standing as well as how often meetings are to take place. Officeholders are required to keep records of meetings, outline which goals and targets set by the centre they have met and so forth. The constitution also sets out how many representatives from the regional, local and district bodies are to be sent to the national level meetings. Each month reports from the sector-wise (halqa) groups are sent up to the national level where the reports are collated and summarized for the khalifa to review. By this means all local groups of 50 or fewer members are incorporated into increasingly numerically and geographically larger units for each nation and ultimately into a global Ahmadi institution with a single leader at its head. This institutional model is one that is flexible and well suited to a growing organization as a region can split into two and local areas into wards with relative ease based on a simple headcount of members. London, for example, was a single region until the early 1990s when increasing numbers of Ahmadis living there made the split into two regions, London A and London B, necessary. Today numbers are such that the community based around the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Merton constitutes a region in its own right and the ward (halqa), the smallest unit, around the London Fazl Mosque, comprises just three local streets, while the Fazl Mosque area itself is a muqarni (local) group, as are Putney and Wimbledon.

The monthly reports from each jama ‘at are produced by each officeholder for her or his particular remit. When they reach the national president, the reports are divided into their respective components and distributed to the different executive secretaries to work on. So the national tabligh (preaching) secretary, for example, will read through all the local tabligh reports, enter these into a spreadsheet and produce a summary for the national president to review before the khalifa is presented with the collated and summarized national level monthly report. Monthly reports in turn feed into end of year reports. The reports themselves record the number of meetings held, how many people attend, how well campaigns are going and so on.43 Such a system would not be out of place in any business or similar organization, and as with any bureaucracy the amalgamation and abstraction of work done at the lower levels of the institution into a general report for the upper echelons generates a ‘collective agency’, producing apparently objective, rational data that can be used as evidence of the achievements of the jama ‘at (Hoag 2011:82).

The monthly reports which have to be filled in can be quite detailed, as Table 3.1 from a 2012-2013 UK lajna tabligh (preaching) form shows. This form makes clear that women are expected to attend the jama ‘at meetings and additionally also actively to engage with the wider community, both with individuals such as neighbours and through schools and local charities, in order to make Ahmadiyyat better known to the women they encounter. Wherever they are and whatever they may be doing, they represent the Jama ‘at and are expected to participate in the social world around them. While the lajna tabligh form is necessarily outward facing and directed towards those who are not yet a part of the community, the lajna tarbiyyat (spiritual and moral training) monthly report form also reproduced here for the same year (2012-2013) shows how much emphasis is placed on the religious practices and development of each woman, and how the jama ‘at maintains a close interest in the spiritual development and duties of every woman.44

TABLIGH REPORT (To be filled in by Tabligh Secretary or Assistant)



Report Filled In By:Telephone:

Number of Bai’at(s) achieved this month Bai’at(s) achieved by:

Please make sure that you send a copy of the Bai’at(s) form with the report


No. of each

Please provide brief details of EACH event (attach extra sheets if necessary)

School Talk


Event L/K/A

1-1 Sittings

Literature: Books

Literature: Leaflets

Written to Media

Tabligh Meeting

Tabligh Workshop

OTHER - please give detail

Additional Tabligh Report - in relation to the 10% leaflet campaign


How many Lajna have become new school governors this month?

How many Lajna are already existing school governors?

How many Lajna have joined the PTA (Parent’s Teachers Association) this month?

How many Lajna are already part of the PTA (Parent’s Teachers Association)?

How many Non Ahmadi friends of Nasirat attended Nasirat classes this month? (please state NON-AHMADI ATTENDANCE)

How many interfaith meetings have been held this month? (please state NONAHMADI ATTENDANCE)

How many interfaith meetings have you attended - organized by other agencies/ faith groups etc? (please state how many LAJNA attended:)

How many bookstalls organized by the men have Lajna helped with this month?

How many neighbours have been contacted this month by any member of the family in order to help via khidmate klialq?

How many conversations have been held this month in which specifically being an Ahmadi Muslim has been mentioned?

How many Lajna have to radio programmes (sic), specifically in relation to issues concerning women in Islam, this month?

How many Lajna and Nasirat are using the email signature www.ahmadiyya.oig.ulC

How many organizations have been given the 10% campaign leaflet pack (as specified from the Central Lajna Tabligh Department)?

How many leaflets have been given this month to your personal friends?

Please indicate how many many contacts are under Tabligh at the moment:

Table 3.2 Lajna Tarbiyyat form



Total Tajneed:Secretary:

Secretary’s contact details (mobile, landline and email):

How many Tarbiyyati sessions were held this month?






What was the attendance for each session?

2. Love of Allah

How many members know the meaning of the attributes of Allah up to:


Up to 20

Up to 40

Up to 60

Up to 80

Up to 99


What steps were taken to promote the love of the Holy Prophet (saw), the Promised Messiah (as) and Kliilafat?

3. Salat

How many members offer 5 daily prayers?

Remind their husbands and children for Salat?

Observe congregational prayers at home?

Was congregational prayer offered at any meeting?

Were etiquettes of Salat checked in members?

Were member reminded about voluntary fast and nawafiTl

4. Friday Sermons

NOTE: Please remember that no programmes should be held when Hazoor’s (aba) live sermons are being broadcasted.


How many listen to at least 3 Friday Sermons in a month?

How many mothers have their children listen to at least 3 Friday Sermons?

Were the Friday Sermons discussed in the meeting?

Table 3.2 (Continued)

5. Islamic Morals (please provide details)

a. Which vices were pointed out and discussed from either the list provided or other sources?

b. Which moral values were pointed out and discussed from either the list provided or other sources?

6. Jihad against un-Islamic customs (please provide details)

a. What un-Islamic customs were highlighted that take place at births, deaths, weddings and in other spheres of life?

b. What Islamic practices were taught that should take place at births, deaths, weddings and in other spheres of life?

7. Upbringing of children

How many mother’s groups or coffee mornings were held?

Did you remind the mothers to pray for their children?

“How many members write regularly to Hazoor (aba)?”

How many members had family time/ discussion within their home?

8. Syllabus (please provide details)

a. Did you cover the monthly syllabus provided?

  • 9. Purdah
  • (to be asked quarterly, so include in December, March, June and August reports only)

Do all office bearers observe purdah?

Was a message regarding purdah at weddings given to members?

Have you explained ‘Mehram’ and ‘non-Mehram’ relationships?

How many members observe purdah?

a. What efforts were made for those who do not observe purdah?

b. What advantages of purdah were discussed?

c. What disadvantages of not observing purdah were discussed?

10. Extra activities

Please report all extra activities done and use extra page if necessary.

It is hard to grasp from the outside just how much collective time is devoted to the preparation for meetings by members who have official roles to carry out and by those who are simply in attendance, and how much work is required to keep everything going, particularly given that almost everyone is a volunteer giving up what time they have after work, study, family and other responsibilities have been taken care of. And yet, despite the detailed organizational structure, the constitutions, policies and the sheer amount of work that volunteers do for the jama ‘at, bureaucracies, almost by definition, are never as rational and efficient as their self-representations would have us believe. Bureaucracies are of course, formidable situated, material, knowledge producing systems designed to shape practice, constrain individuals and produce a uniformity of outlook (Hoag 2011). Yet, much remains beyond the formal recording systems and some matters slip between documents when the needs of the organization at one level or another may benefit from such invisibility. As the time for completing the monthly forms comes around, I was told of the increased numbers of text messages and reminders from officials to lajna members asking them to attend meetings, visit schools, prepare materials and so on in order for this to be recorded in the monthly report sent to the centre. Rather than a material document for recording what is done, the forms thus become, at least for some women, the means of engendering the particular type of subject that is required for the institution (Hoag 2011:85). While some women find this encouragement a positive incentive, others may find it burdensome and may as a consequence choose quietly to distance themselves from regular and active participation in local lajna events. Others may continue to remain active in the lajna but on their own terms. The requirement, explicitly stated in the Lajna constitution, for example, that only women who observeparda can be elected for office seems to be undercut by section 9 of the tarbiyyat form, which asks the tarbiyyat secretary to state whether or not all office bearers observe parda. And this is a matter that arises, as I have met Ahmadi women in the UK who have held elected office yet do not observe parda. In one case, an articulate professional woman told me that her local lajna had asked her to stand for election because she was clearly competent but had also asked her to observe parda in order to be eligible for election. The woman replied that she would stand for election but would not observe parda. She was nominated and duly elected. In this case the evident abilities of the woman outweighed the formal requirement of parda, though presumably had another equally capable, willing and parda-observing woman been available she might well have been elected instead. Regulations in the documents prescribing some of the qualifications for office, piety included, play a role in the constitution of subjectivities, may prescribe forms of acceptable sociality and are central to the ways in which the institutions of the jama ‘at are imagined, encountered and in the case of this particular woman, resisted (Hull 2012:259-260).

The elections for offices themselves are conducted in what the Ahmadis describe as democratic fashion but where decisions reached by a local or regional group may be, and occasionally are, overturned by the khalifa. In one case where the person with the largest number of votes did not have her position ratified by the khalifa I was told that it might have been because the woman had young children and her role in the lajna would have been a very demanding and time-consuming one. Here, the interpretation by the women I spoke with of the khalifa’s decision was that he had not wished to overburden a young mother. In another case I was told of an elected official whose resignation was not accepted by the khalifa despite the official's advanced age. The rationale given by my interlocutor on this occasion was that it was known the man in question had no family to care for him and that keeping him in post meant that at work he would be with people who would see to it that his needs were met. This, coupled with the descriptions of appointed officeholders that part of their remit, albeit unofficial, is to listen patiently to members of the community who come to their offices, to offer them cups of tea, and to be of service in a more ‘social’ rather than in a formal bureaucratic fashion, suggests that the Ahmadi bureaucratic machinery, for all the material appearance of efficient, objective and rational organization, retains elements of Weber’s patrimonial administration in which efficiency by eliminating ‘from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation’ (Gerth and Mills 1946:215; see also Rudolph and Rudolph 1979) may not always be the most important institutional goal.45

The election procedures themselves were described to me by several people. A woman on the national executive committee described the voting process for the lajna at the national level. Voting takes place in a large hall where representatives from each local jama ‘at gather and may involve 300 or more women. Each woman is permitted to vote only once for each office. A person who nominates another or seconds the nomination is expected to vote for the person she has nominated or seconded. Each person votes by raising her hand and this is visible to all present. Negative campaigning is not permitted. And a young man told me of the first time he voted when he was just 15 and a new member of his local level Khuddamul Ahmadiyya organization. His father was president of the local Khuddamul and the young man had missed not spending evenings with him as he was out virtually every night as well as often busy at the weekends with jama ‘at business. When the time came to elect a new president for the local Khuddamul, the young man’s father was nominated to serve a second term and when it came to the vote the father was re-elected with only one vote, that of his own son, going against him. As voting is by a public show of hands everyone present saw how the son had voted and recognized that this was a vote by a son who just wanted to be able to spend more time with his father. The consequences for families of the demand on individuals’ time is one aspect of the sacrifice that members of the jama ‘at are expected to make for their faith. This public and rather poignant playing out of a private drama between father and son captures sharply the ways in which the demands of faith can test the boundaries between the familial and the communal but it lets us see above all the kind of sacrifice some Ahmadis are willing to make in order to keep alive an ethics of brotherhood against a world of disenchantment.

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