Ahmadiyya is a Muslim-based movement that follows the teaching and practices of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th-century Indian religious leader. Ahmadiyya Islam is now established in many countries although its adherents have been persecuted for unorthodoxy
Where does Ahmadiyya come from?
Ahmadiyya (or Ahmadis, or the Ahmadi) follow the same holy scriptures and teachings as Sunni and Shia Muslims. The key difference is they believe the promised messiah was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian, India. He claimed to be the expected reformer of the latter days and the “awaited one” of the world’s religions (the words messiah and mahdi are also used). His mission was to revive the peaceful teachings of Islam and “engender in people’s hearts the love of God and the duty to serve mankind”.
Its roots are in the Punjab and, after Indian partition in 1947, most Ahmadis moved to Pakistan. Ahmadiyya is now established in more than 210 countries worldwide, and since 1984, its global headquarters are in the United Kingdom. The community opened its central Mubarak Mosque in May 2019 in Tilford, Surrey.
In 1914, the movement split and the smaller Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam was formed. It believes Ghulam Ahmad was a reformer, but not a prophet.
What do Ahmadis believe?
Ahmadis follow the same five pillars of Islam as most Muslims, as well as the Six Articles of Faith and the same holy scripture, the Quran. In terms of jurisprudence, they tend to follow the Hanafi school of Islamic law.
The founder’s mission was to revive the peaceful teachings of Islam and “engender in people’s hearts the love of God and the duty to serve mankind”. The community emphasises peacefulness and a spiritual interpretation of jihad, and they espouse “Love for all, hatred for none”.
Each year the community holds its annual gathering, the Jalsa Salana, which is billed as the UK’s largest Muslim convention.
The most important distinction between mainstream Islam and Ahmadiyya is their beliefs about the leader, Ghulam Ahmad. By claiming to be a prophet he contravened a core belief in Islam, coming from the Quran, that Muhammad is the last prophet. Ahmadis make a distinction between prophets who bear the law (of whom Muhammad is the last) and non-legislative prophets, including Ghulam Ahmad. They interpret the Quranic text that translates from Arabic as “the seal of the prophets” to mean “the greatest of the prophets”, not “the last of the prophets”.
For most Muslims, this is a step too far, whereas for Ahmadis, it gives significance to the reform message of their founder. This dispute has led to plenty of social unrest abroad and in the UK, with religious beliefs justifying discrimination or violence.
Why is the group so controversial?
Perhaps the most well-known aspect of Ahmadiyya is how contested the community is. Members of the community say they are Muslims and characterise their tradition as a reformist movement within Islam. Most Muslims say the Ahmadi are not Muslims, and they may oppose or oppress Ahmadis as heretics or apostates.
Language is tricky for those writing about the community, because calling them “Ahmadi Muslims” or referring to their opponents as “other Muslims” implies that the Ahmadi are, in fact, Muslims, but this is precisely the theological point that most Muslims dispute.
Conversely, headlines that ask “Are Ahmadis really Muslim?” buy into the logic of orthodox Islam, thereby helping to marginalise Ahmadis. There is no clear, easy “neutral” language to use about the community, but word choices suggest picking sides, and this has implications for communities in the orbit of Islam. Some Muslims may use the word “Mirza’I” or “Qadiani” — these refer to the founder (Mirza) and the place of his birth (Qadian), and both are considered derogatory and should not be used.
Why is the organisation based in Britain?
The community, established by Ahmad in 1889, is led by a system of Khilafat (spiritual leadership). The community’s fifth khalifa (caliph) is Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (born 1950). Ahmadis refer to him as His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, or just His Holiness.
Masroor Ahmad was elected as the community’s fifth caliph in 2003. He is the nephew of the fourth caliph, Mirza Tahir Ahmad. Tahir Ahmad was elected in 1982, and two years later he left Pakistan to Britain after President Zia-ul-Haq outlawed public expression of Ahmadiyya.
Zia-ul-Haq’s law followed a constitutional amendment in 1974 which declared the Ahmadi as non-Muslim. Indonesia passed what is called the “joint decree” in 2008 prohibiting public activities and professions of faith from Ahmadiyya, considering these “deviant from the principal teachings of Islam”. Thus, the two countries with the highest Muslim populations, severely restrict this religious community and its practitioners.
Are Ahmadis persecuted in Britain too?
Conflicts are not as open in UK, though one can still find pamphlets and posters attacking Ahmadiyya in certain British mosques. In April 2019, the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom fined Channel 44, an Urdu-language television station, for comments from a guest about Ahmadiyya. Ofcom found that Channel 44 breached three clauses in its code, covering offensive material, hate speech, and derogatory treatment of religions.
British Ahmadis will sometimes speak of discrimination in mosques, working in shops and restaurants, and even just walking in the street. The most serious of such events was in March 2019 when Asad Shah was stabbed to death at his shop in Glasgow. Tanveer Ahmed, a Sunni from Bradford, admitted murder and was jailed for a minimum 27 years.
Since Mr Shah’s murder, groups have pressured Muslim organisations to oppose the oppression of Ahmadiyya. The Muslim Council of Britain condemned “all forms of intimidation and violence against people of all faiths and none”, but it did not offer to include the Ahmadiyya among the groups it represents. A statement from the council said: “Muslims should not be forced to class Ahmadis as Muslims if they do not wish to do so, at the same time we call on Muslims to be sensitive, and above all, respect people irrespective of belief or background.”
Further information and comment
Dr Michael Munnik, Cardiff University
Professor Ron Geaves, Cardiff University