Ahmadiyya moderation not all its cracked up to be

I really hate to be a party pooper but there are some questions that need to be asked. There appears to be a growing consensus that the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam is one that should be encouraged and promoted as a welcome representation of moderation within that religion. Even Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League, frequently expresses admiration.

Anne Marie Waters

LONDON. The Ahmadis are characterised as a group that is supportive of integration and as a shining example of how Islam can fit happily within a modern liberal democracy. Theyve been warmly praised by the Mayor of London and several high profile Members of Parliament; primarily for their charity work and the promotion of community understanding and integration.

I however have some reservations. I have debated with members of the Ahmadiyya sect and am somewhat uncomfortable with this firm acclaim.

To give them their due, the Ahmadi community in Britain does regularly preach peace and unity, and on their UK website Love for All, Hatred for None they call for the rejection of violence and terrorism, the separation of mosque and state and the promotion of Human Rights including complete freedom of religion for all.

 

To mark the Queens Diamond Jubilee (a celebration of 60 years of the reign of Elizabeth II), the Ahmadi community sent a message of support by way of advertisements on London buses which read Congratulations Your Majesty. Furthermore, they frequently support the annual Poppy Appeal in Britain, which honours British troops and remembers the fallen. This is all to their credit and should not go unnoticed or unacknowledged.

However, there is a major sticking point at least for me. To my mind, the level of civilisations in a society can be measured by observing the status of women. If women are mistreated, or diminished or degraded, it is difficult to label that society one of peace or justice. It is also rather difficult to label a religious group moderate if it expresses support of, or not does condemn, violence or oppression of any kind.

With this in mind, I will recount to you an occasion at University College London in December 2011. Maryam Namazie and I took part in a debate with two members of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam; the motion being Sharia Law Negates Human Rights. You can watch it in full here  On the other side of the debate were Ayyaz Mahmood Khan and Jonathan Butterworth, both Ahmadiyya Muslims.

Following the speeches, the first question raised from the audience was on the matter of wife-beating, and the fact that this is sanctioned, indeed commanded, in Sura 4:34 of the Koran. Rather than reject the sentiments of this verse, Ayyaz Mahmood Khan attempted to deny it with the usual out of context apologism. He attempted to brush aside the consequences of the verse by stating that men who beat women are rotten people who were going to beat their wives anyway.

While this is undoubtedly true, it doesnt quite address the fact that the Koran allows them to do it, or what this says about the position of women in Islam. Khan then goes on to say that beating his wife is essentially a mans last resort. He claims that the beat her command only applies when a wife becomes violent. The example he provided was if she beats her husband, she raises her hand, then she begins to hate her husband, and begins to have illicit relationships outside the home. Finally, he added that when beating a woman no marks should be left on the body.

 

There is much about this explanation that simply doesnt wash, the most obvious being that unfortunately for Khan, the Koran doesnt actually say any of that; it simply says beat her, he has added the rest. Secondly, to his mind, if a woman begins to hate her husband or have illicit relationships, it is then perfectly legitimate to launch into physical abuse. I, and most truly moderate or civilised people, reject male violence of any kind against women, and do not present a list of occasions in which it is acceptable.

Furthermore, there is no difference between Khans misogynist acceptance of violence and that of Sad Arafat who, on Egyptian television in 2010, also described violence against women as a last resort. Arafat outlined all of the steps (admonish her, dont share her bed) a man must take to discipline his wife, before it becomes acceptable to beat her. When he does decide she has been disobedient enough, the beatings should not be hard. The fact is that there is no difference been Khan and Arafat, and yet Khan being Ahmadiyya is praised as a moderate, whereas Arafat would no doubt be condemned for those views by many of the same people.

The sharia punishment of death-by-stoning was also raised at the debate. Maryam Namazie was told by Khan that such a punishment did not exist in Islam. Namazie sought to clarify by asking whether or not there was a hadith (sayings and actions of Muhammed which, together with the Koran and Islamic jurisprudence, form the basis of sharia law) allowing for people to be stoned to death for adultery. Khan insisted there was not. Here is what he had to say on the matter the following day:

Had Maryam asked me, Has the Holy Prophet (sa) ever ordered that a man be stoned to death? To this, I would have had to answer yes, and then hope and pray that the moderator would give me a minute or two (which isnt really enough) to explain the whole background of those specific Ahadith. But of course, at the time, the opportunity did not afford itself to give this entire explanation. So I gave her the direct answer to her question, which was a big, NO. Only to silence her. Because I didnt want to get into this whole issue during the debate

 

In 2012, an all-male group of Ahmadiyya members got together http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1uNoUz9xSE ) to discuss the Innocence of Muslims film which had apparently denigrated Muhammed and was deemed widely offensive. While speakers at the event did condemn the violence that followed the publication of the film, Jonathan Butterworth described this as a natural reaction.

There was also some consensus that such films should not be made again, or as Iftikhar Ahmad Ayaz (OBE) put it, the world should be free from the denigration and the slandering of the founders of faiths. He was clear that this should be achieved through peaceful means, but the fact that he wishes to deny peoples right to criticise religion is anti-democratic and does not represent a moderate view. What is the difference, for example, between Ayazs position and that of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation who seek a global law, via the UN, to criminalise negative stereotyping of religion? There isnt any.

 

Ive heard it said, more than once, that the Ahmadiyya community are widely maligned, oppressed and persecuted across the Islamic world because of their message of moderation and peace. This is not strictly true though. The Ahmadiyya are persecuted because they are deemed to be blasphemous. On their UK website, they state that they are the only community of Muslims to have accepted the Promised Messiah Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

In Pakistan, a law introduced in 1984 has been used to persecute Ahmadi members there for posing as a Muslim. In 2013 a British doctor was arrested in Pakistan for just that offence,  and as Reuters reported some mullahs promise that killing Ahmadis earns a place in heaven. Might this persecution go some way to explaining their call for freedom of religion, while also calling for restrictions on those of who criticise it?

 

There is some credit due to the Ahmadiyya community in Britain for their efforts to integrate to mainstream British life, and indeed for their charitable work. Moreover, the persecution of this group is appalling and deserves unequivocal condemnation. However, it is difficult to see any distinction between many of their core beliefs and those of other Muslims who we might label extreme. Some prominent representatives have opposed non-believers right to criticise or mock religion, have lied about stoning, and attempted to apologise away misogynist violence. Perhaps we need to be rather more careful before applying the label of moderate to men who stand in such positions.

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Did you like this article? Good journalism costs money but due to constant attacks on our website we cannot have subscribers at the moment. We therefore hope that you will support us with an economic contribution.