In the name of God?
By: Nadeem Saeed
November 14 was a special day at Sheikh Mohammadi, a village on the southern outskirts of Peshawar. It is on this day that the faithful witnessed the mass conversion of the areas Ahmadi community to Islam. The conversions were announced after the Friday prayers by a local cleric, Maulana Nazir Ahmad and the congregation responded with chants of Allah-o-Akbar. In subsequent speeches, Maulana Nazir and other clerics congratulated the converts for having declared faith in the finality of Prophethood and thereby redeemed their souls.
However, the converts did not make any speeches on the occasion, nor did they agree to be identified before the local press present at Sheikh Mohammadi to cover the event. Hundreds of people had gathered in the mosque. We tried to speak to some of the converts but they were indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd, and no one led us to them, says a local news photographer who covered the ceremony.
The maulana told the reporters that a total of 107 Ahmadis belonging to 17 families had been converted. The news was splashed in local newspapers the next morning and an Islamic weekly penned a soul-warming editorial on the subject, heaping praise on the persuasive powers of the local clergy that had proved its worth in the service of Islam.
But there is another side to the story. Inquiries made by Herald reveal that since the rise of the MMA, the Ahmadi community has been plagued by a growing sense of isolation and has become the target of an increasingly aggressive clergy. Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis have co-existed in this area since pre-Partition and most of them are related to each other through inter-marriages, explains one local elder who requested anonymity. But in recent years the religious divide has become deeper, and Friday sermons of the areas mosques often focus on the doom that awaits those who negate the finality of Prophethood, he adds.
In addition, the general plight of the Ahmadi community has produced much resentment and frustration among its younger generation, especially in areas where Ahmadi groups live in relative isolation. Ahmadis form the only community in Pakistan that is denied the constitutional right to profess, practice and propagate its faith, says a Peshawar-based journalist. He mentions an incident which occurred last June where the police arrested four leaders of the community to prevent them from holding a Seerat-un-Nabi gathering in their jammatkhana.
The Ahmadis are already prohibited to call the azan or use loudspeakers for sermons. Besides, their freedom of expression is held hostage by the potential hostility of the Muslims clerics. Some time ago, Peshawar Press Club (PPC) refused to let a team of Ahmadi leaders hold a press conference to clarify the communitys position regarding the arrest of some of its members. The reason given was that the PPC did not warned inflamed mobs to burn down its building.
Since all our practices are the same as those of mainstream Muslims, some youngsters ask why they should allow themselves to be treated as dirt when they perform all the Muslim rituals, nothing more, nothing less, says one Ahmadi elder. This is what happened to some of the Sheikh Mohammadi youngsters who severed all links with the Ahmadi community m any years ago, and even supported typical Sunni beards. None of the converted individuals named in the newspapers featured on our list of Khuddams or Ansars or even regular donors. They were not Ahmadis, he says.
Why then did they decide to announce their conversion at a special ceremony? Explains one Muslim elder of Sheikh Mohammadi: The converts had been actually Muslims for a long time, but the local clerics used to express doubts about it. Some six months ago, they began a social boycott of the Ahmadi families which involved avoiding Ahmadi weddings and funerals. A week before there formal conversion, a relative of one of the converts passed away. The convert in question, who claimed he was already a Muslim, approached a local mullah to lead he funeral prayer. The mullah refused, saying he did not believe that the Ahmadi in question had become a Muslim. This set the stage for the November 14 ceremony.
As this provided the local clerics with a perfect opportunity to bask in media attention, the local press corps was sent alerts about the event on the night before. However, their presence at the occasion embarrassed the converts who chose to remain inaccessible and anonymous. The leaders of the converts are disappointed in the way things turned out and are blaming each other for the scandal, confides one village resident.
The clerics also used the opportunity to exaggerate the numbers. Since most of the Ahmadi families have moved to Peshawar, only about three families remain in Sheikh Mohammadi, their number may not even be one-tenth of what the newspapers claim, says one Ahmadi insider. Besides, some of the converts named by the clerics did not attend the ceremony. I had not converted, and I wasnt at the mosque on November 14, says one Sheikh Mohammadi youth who was named by the local newspapers.
--- M. Ilyas Khan