Living with the Ahmadiyah
29 Sep 09 : 8.00AM
By Shanon Shah
“WE have to live with those who do not accept Islam,” Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Osman Bakar tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview. Osman, who is deputy chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia, says this applies to how Muslims treat Ahmadiyah as well.
“The theological aspect is clear, based on the 1975 fatwa that declares them to be outside the fold of Islam,” he says. “But what should Muslims do to those who accept the Ahmadiyah founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a prophet? Should they go about discriminating against these people?”
It is a timely question. The Ahmadiyah community in Selangor has been targeted over the past year by the Selangor Islamic authorities, led by Selangor’s religious exco Datuk Dr Hasan Ali. In fact, in April 2009, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council forbade Ahmadiyah in Selangor from worshipping in their own headquarters in Batu Caves on Fridays. In December 2008, the Selayang Municipal Council tried to make them remove the kalimah syahadat, or Islamic creed — “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God” — from their headquarters.
The question of why the Islamic authorities are training their sights on Ahmadiyah is interesting, given that the 1975 fatwa explicitly declares them not Muslim. “If they are to be treated as non-Muslims, then we should not treat them differently from other non-Muslims in Malaysia,” says Osman.
What seems to complicate matters is that Ahmadiyah not only preserve most of the prayer rituals that make them indistinguishable from Sunni Muslims in Malaysia. They are also mostly Malay Malaysians in this country. In other words, one cannot tell if a Malay Malaysian is an Ahmadiyah just by looking at him or her. Perhaps this is why the 1975 fatwa also asks for the state to strip Ahmadiyah of special Malay privileges.
And that’s not the end of it — even though Ahmadiyah are considered non-Muslim according to the 1975 fatwa, Ahmadiyah children have to attend Islamic Studies classes in primary and secondary school. Their identity cards list “Islam” as their religion.
This, then, is the quandary that Ahmadiyah in Malaysia face. Osman says, however, that the formulators of the 1975 fatwa would have taken these complexities into account.
“You see, there are two schools of thought in the Ahmadiyah movement. In the Indian subcontinent, they have distinguished between these two groups. The group that views the movement’s founder more as a saint, who urged spiritual renewal, is not considered to have fallen out of Islam,” says Osman.
This group is the Lahore Ahmadiyah Movement, but it is not the sect that exists in Malaysia. In Malaysia, Ahmadiyah believe that their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet, only not a law-giving prophet as Muhammad was. But according to Osman, “The word for prophet in Arabic, ‘nabi’, is very technical and cannot be taken lightly.”
Even so, Ahmadiyah in Malaysia are but a tiny minority. They number only 2,000 at the most — that’s a mere 0.007% of a population of 28.3 million. Assuming roughly that Muslims form 60% of the Malaysian population, Ahmadiyah would only form 0.012% of all Muslims. That is, if they are considered Muslims at all.
Seeing the humanity
Zaid Kamaruddin, president of Muslim non-governmental organisation Jamaah Islah Malaysia (JIM), tells The Nut Graph that it is important to just see the humanity in everyone.
“Somebody who was born into that sect only knows that as their religion, and we have to see this person as a human being. Only knowledge can alleviate matters,” he says in a telephone interview.
“Nobody should take the law into their own hands,” he says. “We don’t want violence towards them the way it happens in Indonesia.
“But as far as the fatwa goes, it is up to the Islamic council to decide. After all, those sitting on the religious councils are appointed by the sultans. It is not the purview of the state exco to implement the fatwa,” he says.
Osman agrees. “It is true, there are claims that Ahmadiyah in Malaysia try to propagate their religion even to Malay [Malaysians]. But the authorities have to act wisely, and not let people take matters into their own hands. We have seen what has happened to Ahmadiyah in countries like Pakistan and Indonesia.”
In Pakistan in 1974, the constitution under Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s administration was amended to effectively render Ahmadiyah as non-Muslims. After Zia-ul-Haq seized power from Bhutto in 1977, the persecution of Ahmadiyah intensified under his Islamisation project.
In Indonesia in 2005, the Indonesian Ulama Council issued a fatwa calling for the government to ban Ahmadiyah. This opened a floodgate of violence against Ahmadiyah by Muslim groups which persists to this day.
Thus, Ahmadiyah in Malaysia are afraid for their safety. However, they remain transparent and upfront about their beliefs and do not attempt to disguise or hide their headquarters. In fact, they say they have called for several public dialogues with the religious authorities, including the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department and religious exco Hassan. However, they say their requests have yet to be entertained. The Nut Graph’s attempts to reach Hasan also proved futile.
“The Ahmadiyah community here should have their own private engagement first with the authorities,” says Zaid. “Only if there are people taking the law into their own hands should the Ahmadiyah here press for a public dialogue.”
But with or without private or public dialogue, the fate of the Ahmadiyah at the hands of the state doesn’t look all that promising. From being declared non-Muslims to being persecuted as “deviant” Muslims, it is obvious that the state is unlikely to provide protection for the rights of this minority group of believers.