May 6, 2014 By Interactive Scholars

The Ahmedi Question

I have grown up struggling against the Ahmediyyah sect in my locality. But however hard I tried to keep away from the sect; I have been increasingly drawn to its cultural elements. The western hip-hop, with its underpinning in the Nation of Islam, is one of the most vocal features of contemporary Muslim culture. The pietistic groups in the Hip-Hop tradition read and adopt as normative text Moulana Muhammad Ali’s translation of the Quran. He belongs to the Lahori faction of the Ahmediyyah sect. My problem lies in my consideration of the sect as being non-Muslim on the one hand and in my extolment of the group’s cultural legacy as part of Islam. How do you approach to the issue? An Ahmedi lecturer in my college strongly chided the mainstream Muslims for double standard: They consider Shiites, who believe in Mehdi and Imamate which is closely similar to Ahmediyyah belief in a person of Prophetic qualities succeeding the Prophet, as Muslims, while denigrating Ahmediyyas?

ahmediya mosque

The Khadija mosque, built by Ahmadiyya Muslims, is the first mosque to open in east Berlin and has provoked protests from nearby residents, who claim they fear an Islamization of their neighborhood.Credit: Zimbio

For the purpose of elucidation and of a more general treatment of the issue, we would like to classify the questioner’s doubts into three.

  1.  Is the Ahmediyyah sect Muslim or non-Muslim?
  2.  Is the claim of some Ahmedis that their belief in Mirza resembles the Shi belief in Imamate valid?

How can we treat Ahmedis and their legacies now? 1. What defines a Muslim is his/her belief that there is no God but the one and only God and Prophet Muhammad is not only his Prophet, but the Last one in the chain of Messengers. A Muslim believes in the convention that with Prophet Muhammad, the seal of Prophethood was closed and there is none to follow him.
This belief is attested to by the verse in the Quran: Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things. (33:40)

“Ahmedis, on the other hand, have argued that the founder of their community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1908) had Prophetic qualities in that he was privy to Divine communication. That qualify that Mirza Gulam Ahmad was a derivative Prophet in the sense that his Prophetic attributes were derived from the Prophet Muhammad.” (Asad.A Ahmed: 296)

In the lifetime of the Prophet himself, there was claim to Prophethood. The claim was advanced by Musailima whose followers spread sedition and mischief and who surrendered in the Yamama Battle led by Abubakar and was killed. Though Musailima’s wife, Saja al-Kahena also claimed to be the prophet she stopped her claim after the death of her husband.

Orientalist critics as well as some sympathizers have criticized the intolerant attitude of Muslims to the claimant of prophethood. Some critics argue that Islam itself is a sect that diverged from Christianity. Since its long debate touching on the history and philosophy of religions, which it take a huge tome to summarise, we would like to quote Fazlur Rahman, a modern Pakistani scholar who has deeply studied the Orientalist polemics and texts on Islam, on the issue:

“The proposition of the finality of the mission of Muħammad (PBUH) does appear to be corroborated by the fact that no global religious movement has arisen since Islam—not that there have been no claimants, but that there have been no successful claimants.”

One of the historians who found the attitude of Muslims to Ahmedis as unreasonable was Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, in a letter addressed to Nehru in 1935, answered to the latter’s question on the Muslim treatment of Ahmedis. Iqbal’s response to Nehru was neatly summarised in Naveeda Khan’s Muslim Becoming: Aspiration and Skepticism in Pakistan. The full text of Iqbal’s response can be had at


We would like to cite one of the major arguments of Iqbal, where he deals with the issue of tolerance:

“Only a true lover of God can appreciate the value of devotion even though it is directed to gods in which he himself does not believe. The folly of our preachers of toleration consists in describing the attitude of the man who is jealous of the boundaries of his own faith as one of intolerance. They wrongly consider this attitude as a sign of moral inferiority. They do not understand that the value of his attitude is essentially biological. Where the members of a group feel, either instinctively or on the basis of rational argument, that the corporate life of the social organism to which they belong is in danger, their defensive attitude must be appraised in reference mainly to a biological criterion. Every thought or deed in this connection must be judged by the life-value that it may possess.

The question in this case is not whether the attitude of an individual or community towards the man who is declared to be a heretic is morally good or bad. The question is whether it is life-giving or life-destroying. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru seems to think that a society founded on religious principles necessitates the institution of Inquisition. This is indeed true of the history of Christianity; but the history of Islam, contrary to the Pandit’s logic, shows that during the last thirteen hundred years of the life of Islam, the institution of Inquisition has been absolutely unknown in Muslim countries. The Qur’an expressly prohibits such an institution: “Do not seek out the shortcomings of others and carry not tales against your brethren.” Indeed the Pandit will find from the history of Islam that the Jews and Christians, fleeing from religious persecution in their own lands, always found shelter in the lands of Islam.”

So Iqbal, while adumbrating the Muslim attitude to Ahmedis as if they are non-Muslim sects, stresses on the importance of such a response not being downgraded as inquisition or religious persecution, which is a forlorn concept in Islam.

  1. It is wrong to say that the Shii concept of Imamate is similar to the Ahmedi belief in Mirza’s Prophetic attribute. The major difference lies in the fact that major schools in Shii thought don’t correlate Prophethood and Imamate. Though, according to Shiis and certain section of Sunnis, Imam or Mehdi do have outstanding moral, ethical, and scholarly qualities and attributes that can lead people to guidance; Imam or Mehdi is not a derivative prophet. One significant difference is that while Imam is hidden and the waiting for him constitutes the ethical and revolutionary potential of Shiism for questioning all false and fabricated authorities, in Ahmedi belief Mehdi has appeared and claimed to be a derivative prophet. According to Faisal Devji, ‘Bahais represented a similar threat to Shii Iran as Ahmedis did to Sunni India.’ This bears out the fact that Shia Muslims can’t tolerate the concept of Imamate stooping to false Prophethood. Messianic claims of medieval Mysticism, where a person who is supposedly a guide to the right path claims the authority and stature of Prophet, is a concept alien to Islam, according to most scholars. According to Iqbal, it robs followers of their healthy instincts and give them only obscure thinking in return.
  2. It can’t be gainsaid that the attitude of difference and aversion to heresy that Muslims harbour against Ahmedis have, in the praxis of ‘Islamic state’ especially in the context of Pakistan, stooped to being a kind of inquisition. Naveeda Khan’s two books: the one cited above and Beyond Crisis: Reevaluating Pakistan gives us insight to the legal and political steps taken against Ahmedis. ‘Ahmedis have been debarred by law from publically identifying themselves as Muslims, prohibited from calling azan (call to prayer), naming their place of worship as masjid and curtailed from constructing mosques in a recognizably Muslim manner.’ The legal debates in Pakistan which culminated in such a response started way back in 1950s. A Commission chaired by Justice Munir was entrusted the task of determining the proper relationship between Muslims and Ahmedis and to define who is a Muslim. He submitted his report in 1954. Though the report termed Ahmedis as kuffars, it recommended that Ahmadis be considered as dhimmis and have protection from the state.However, ‘the report settles upon presenting them, if not as Muslims, then as those who had never harmed the cause of Islam. The report specially mentioned Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, one of the leading Founding Fathers of modern Pakistan, politician, statesman, diplomat, international jurist, and a prominent scholar of the Ahmediyyah Muslim Community, for the selfless service rendered by him to the Muslim community.’ ‘It is sheer ingratitude,’ the report adds, ‘for anyone to refer to Chaudari Zafarulla Khan in the manner in which he has been referred to by certain parties (ulemas) before the Court of Inquiry.” “However, the constitutional amendment of 1974 provided a definition of the Muslim in a way that moved Ahmedis from the status of Muslim to that of minority for the purpose of the constitutional law-a measure amplified by the ordinance of 1984, by which Ahmedis’ usage of signs of Muslimhood was criminalised.’ (Naveeda Khan: 93). ‘During the debates for constitutional amendment of 1974, the copyright and trademark regulation categories of commercial law were evoked to compare the strategy of (Ahmedis passing of as Muslims) with the passing by trader of his inferior goods as superior well known goods of a reputed firm (Naveeda Khan: 112).’ Alluding to the socio-religious impact of the legislation, Faisal Devji writes: ‘Judgements against them have drawn upon the law of patents and copyright, arguing that an “original” Islam had to be protected from false imitations or the distinction might itself be lost.’

The problem, we think, with the line of reasoning in drawing the copyright regulation into the scenario is that it restricts Islam into a property to be protected with strict trademark regulations. But it’s true that for some of us, we have proprietary right over Islam and will resort to inquisitorial methods to defend it from encroachment. But, to quote Iqbal again, “the history of Islam proves that the Jews and Christians, fleeing from religious persecution in their own lands, always found shelter in the lands of Islam.”

We believe that the approach of Justice Munir, who, while understanding the boundary of Islam well and the concept of finality of Prophet Muhammad being integral to the faith, respects the legacy of Chawdhary Zafarulla Khan, is relevant in our treatment of the contributions of Moulana Muhammad Ali’s Quran translation, Hip Hop Nationhood and Dr Abdul Salam, the Pakistani Nobel Laureate and eminent scientist. Marmaduk Pickthall, one of the eminent translators of the Quran, has acknowledged the scholarship of Moulana Muhammad Ali and his debt to him.

The problem lies in our approach to faith as a property to be protected by proprietary right, which is not far from developing an inquisitorial attitude to all who, we consider, don’t belong to our faith. Let us conclude it with a citation from Fazlur Rahman’s book regarding the finality of the Prophet, a portion of which we cited earlier in the essay:

‘Muħammad’s (PBUH) being the last Messenger of God and the Qur’ān’s being the last Revelation obviously place a heavy responsibility upon those who claim to be Muslims. Such a claim is not so much a privilege but an obligation; yet it has been taken by Muslims to be a privilege.’

Posted in: Q&A