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The Muslims being hounded by Islamic zealots

Ahmadi Muslims are among the primary targets of the war on ‘blasphemy’.

Hannah Baldock

Topics Politics UK World

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Politicians and pundits rarely miss an opportunity to talk up the need to combat anti-Muslim prejudice in the UK. Indeed, all Britain’s major political parties (apart from the Tories) have even adopted the questionable definition of ‘Islamophobia’ formulated by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims in 2019 – namely, that it is ‘a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’.

Yet while there is a lot of focus on non-Muslims’ prejudice against the so-called Muslim community, there is very little acknowledgement of certain Muslim sects’ prejudice against other Muslims. In particular, there is a wilful ignorance of the prejudice directed towards Ahmadi Muslims by other Muslims.

Numbering some 12million worldwide, Ahmadi Muslims constitute a comparatively small Islamic movement. It was founded in British India in the 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, whom Ahamadi Muslims regard as a prophet.

Ahmad’s prophet status in the Ahmadiyya movement sets the sect apart from other Muslims. Most Muslim sects regard Muhammad as Islam’s final prophet. So for the Ahmadiyya movement to view Ahmad as a prophet is considered blasphemous.

The persecution of Ahmadi Muslims had, until relatively recently, been confined to Pakistan. There, they have been legally deemed ‘non-Muslims’ since 1974, and are banned from practising their religion in public. As a result of persecution at the hands of the Pakistani state, many Ahmadi Muslims have left Pakistan in recent decades to seek out a new life for themselves in the West. However, the Khatme Nubuwwat movement, a network of anti-Ahmadiyya organisations, has become increasingly influential in the West. As radical Pakistani clerics preach their contempt for Ahmadi Muslims both online and at international conferences, these refugees are no longer safe in the diaspora, either.

This was brought home in March 2016, when Bradford taxi driver Tanveer Ahmed drove 200 miles to Glasgow to stab and stomp Asad Shah, a shopkeeper, to death. Shah was an Ahmadi Muslim who had publicly ruminated on his faith on social media. Shah’s killing was celebrated by a Khatme Nubuwwat social-media account. Ahmed himself was later praised by extremist religious scholars in Pakistan for killing a ‘blasphemer’. Ahmed later posted videos to YouTube, recorded on a phone in Glasgow’s Barlinnie prison, urging fanatics to slaughter more followers of the Ahmadiyya sect. ‘Cut off their heads, cut off their heads, cut off their heads’, he told his fellow zealots.

Shah’s murder was shocking enough. But the response from representatives of other Muslim sects was even more so. Weeks after the killing in 2016, the Ahmadiyya community launched a ‘United Against Extremism’ campaign in Scotland. It was attended by members of the Sikh, Jewish and Christian communities. But representatives from the Muslim Council of Scotland (MCS) and Glasgow Central Mosque declined their invitations ‘at the last minute’. The MCS denounced the murder, but stated that nobody should be ‘forced to accept the Ahmadi Muslims as part of the wider Muslim community’.

The callous, intolerant response of the MCS and the Glasgow Central Mosque exposes the extent of anti-Ahmadi prejudice. But it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. A BBC investigation in 2016 claimed that Sabir Ali, head of religious events at Glasgow Central Mosque, was also president of Sipah-e-Sahaba, a militant Sunni-Islamist organisation responsible for sectarian attacks against Shia Muslims and Ahmadiyya minorities in Pakistan.

Anti-Ahmadiyya prejudice is more common in Britain than many are prepared to admit. In 2010, Suliman Gani, then the imam of the Tooting Islamic Centre, organised a boycott of Ahmadi businesses, calling them ‘Qadiani’, a pejorative term referring to Ahmadi Muslims. In 2016, the Charity Commission was forced to investigate Stockwell Green Mosque, after piles of flyers were found there asserting that Ahmadi Muslims should face death if they refuse to convert to mainstream Islam. Indeed, so fearful are members of Britain’s Ahmadiyya community that some have had to implement airport-style security arrangements at their mosques.

This ‘phobia’ towards Ahmadi Muslims is also present within public-facing Muslim organisations. In her 2019 report, Challenging Hateful Extremism, Sara Khan, the former commissioner for countering extremism, reported that Ahmadi Muslims had been barred from taking a seat on a local Standing Council on Religious Education (SACRE) after other Muslim representatives threatened to withdraw.

Prejudice against this already persecuted Muslim sect is clearly a growing problem in the UK. Yet our political and media elites seem to be steadfastly ignoring it. Indeed, Quilliam, the now defunct Muslim counter-extremism think-tank, partially rejected the APPG definition of ‘Islamophobia’ precisely because of its failure to address ‘intra-faith’ Islamophobia. As it put it at the time: ‘A definition which does not protect minority Muslim groups from attacks which – were they directed by non-Muslims – would be regarded as Islamophobia, is not fit for the purposes of our society.’ Yet most of the main UK political parties adopted the definition anyway.

The double standards are shocking. While politicians and commentators posture over Islamophobia, they turn a blind eye to what we might call Ahmadi-phobia among Muslims, even though this prejudice has already proven to be deadly. This intolerance towards so-called blasphemers poses a significant challenge to our liberal, secular society. We need to start taking it seriously.

Hannah Baldock is a journalist and researcher on radicalisation and terrorism.

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Topics Politics UK World

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