Sectarianism

Nearly 3 weeks ago an Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper was murdered by a fanatical Muslim who claimed that the man, Asad Shah, had “disrespected Islam”. Mr Shah was known to wish Christian customers well on events and sometimes handed out gifts, and this was reasonably connected to the murderer’s motive. And today “Kill Ahmadi” leaflets were found in a London mosque. It goes without saying that killing over any sort of any sort of political or spiritual disagreement is stupid and barbaric, but I want to play the Devil’s advocate on an issue: Are Ahmadis Muslim? (For disclosure, I’m a religious heretic so I’m not on any side, fanatics would have my head cleaved too).

The premise of being a Muslim is based clearly on the statement that you believe in one god (Allah) and that Mohammed is his messenger, and that he is the seal of the prophets; that is, there can be no more.
Although Ahmadis are Muslim in that they put Mohammed as the primary prophet, therefore accepting the Qu’ran and Hadith (sayings), they put the Indian-born Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a secondary/returning prophet, and it’s Ahmad’s added influence that sets apart Ahmadis from Sunni and Shia Muslims. Though there is a dispute between the latter two it is not over the prophet but who should succeed in leadership.

The problem for Ahmadis is quite obvious (but, to repeat, not any justification for intolerance or violence). If being a Muslim requires you to believe that Mohammed is the final messenger of God, then believing a subsequent different-looking prophet makes you non-Muslim from the perspective of those who follow the majority orthodox pre-Ahmadi teachings. You can make an analogy: If a Christian says he believes in God and that Jesus is his prophet (or son), but adds on that he also believes in Mohammed, he cannot be a ‘Mohammedan Christian’; actually, you could say that, but pre-Mohammed Christians would not except that heresy. It would be easier if Mirza Ghulam Ahmad designated a new religious name, but then again his idea was to keep within the framework of Islam.

There’s an analogy with open-source software. We call derivatives of an original work forks, and it might be easier to think of Ahmadism as a fork of Islam. It maintains links with Islam but is a separate product even though it maintains much of the same belief and practice. It’s easier to respect upstream than downstream. Islam itself could be thought of as a fork of Christianity which was a fork of Judaism, and derivatives of each are what leads to sectarian clashes. With this in mind it is not irrational for Ahmadis not to be accepted as Muslims, in the same way that Jesuit Jews and Mohammedan Christians is a logic error for the other Abrahamic religions. Can you be a monotheistic Hindu? But disagreement’s not a good reason for discriminatory and violent behaviour (in fact, there’s no good reason for that); why dirty your hands with blood when your creator can sort that out later? We even see many women who cannot relate to or support men who have had a sex change. (“I’m a born-female, you’re not.”), but they’re not killed.

From the other perspective – leaving Devil’s advocacy – if Ahmadis want to call themselves Muslim that really is nobody else’s business. If there is a divine creator, only they know who is truly Muslim and self-definition is of little worth. You may call yourself Muslim and do little or nothing worthy, but your saviour, you believe, is that you were born under (or accepted) non-Ahmadism. I think it’s easy to see who wins between a murderer and an innocent.

There’s an easy truce. Sunnis and Shias don’t have to accept Ahmadis on an intellectual-spiritual level but they should treat them like human beings because that’s one thing we all are. Ahmadis, for their part, should probably abandon ever being wholeheartedly accepted by the majority as valid Muslims. I hold that thought with sadness. The pessimism is warranted because fanatics of totally different faiths don’t make life easy either.

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