Source: National Post
Author: Jonathan Kay
Ameer Jamat Canada, Lal Khan Malik Sahib with Prime Minister Steven Harper and Dr. Andrew Bennett the Ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom.
Last week, when Canadians learned that the federal government was set to announce the creation of a new “Office of Religious Freedom,” CBC reported the news with this headline: “Harper to unveil religious freedom office in Toronto mosque.”
If you want to appreciate how blessed we are to live in a tolerant nation such as Canada, just consider this fact: Had the CBC headline quoted above been used in a news story in Pakistan, the company’s editors, as well as the copy editor who came up with the headline and the reporter who wrote the story, could all be thrown in jail on blasphemy charges.
Why? Because of their use of the word “mosque.”
The Vaughan, Ont, venue where Mr. Harper made his announcement this week isn’t just any mosque. It’s a mosque used by Ahmadiyya reformists. Here in the West, Ahmadis are treated as just another type of Muslim — in the same way that most ordinary Canadians make little distinction between, say, Conservative and Reform Jews. But elsewhere, Ahmadis are the targets of vicious prejudice and sometimes murder. In Pakistan, in particular, it is actually against the law to refer to Ahmadiyya prayer halls as “mosques.”
The Ahmadiyya movement was founded in late 19th-century British India by a charismatic prophet named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed that God had mandated him to guide Islam into its final, triumphal stage. Like mainstream Sunni Muslims, Ahmadis identify Mohammed as Islam’s defining prophet, and read the Koran. But their belief in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s identity as a savior, in defiance of Mohammed’s status as the “seal of the prophets,” has cast them outside Islamic orthodoxy.
In terms of the Christian world, Ahmadis might be loosely compared to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses — groups that also followed 19th-century prophet figures on paths that led them away from a mainstream Abrahamic faith. In Jewish terms, they might be compared to the Lubavitchers who created a Messiah cult around Hasidic rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
In the Muslim context, Ahmadis are somewhat comparable to followers of the Bahai faith, another Muslim offshoot founded by a 19th century prophet (the Iranian Shiite Bahá’u’lláh) who regarded himself as Mohammed’s successor. But with one crucial difference: Bahais explicitly identify themselves as followers of a separate (and very peaceful) faith that is distinct from Islam. Ahmadis, on the other hand, consider themselves to be Muslims, full stop. And this fact drives many orthodox Pakistani Sunnis absolutely nuts — despite the fact that Pakistan originally was conceived as a home to all branches of Islam.
Indeed, the state’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a Shiite, not a (majority) Sunni. Were he alive today, Jinnah no doubt would be horrified to witness the murderous attacks against Shiites, Ahmadis and other minorities in the country he created.
In the 1950s, within several years of Jinnah’s death, Punjabi Muslim hardliners already were waging pogroms against Ahmadis. In 1974, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto went so far as to amend the nation’s constitution to exclude Ahmadis (and anyone else who rejected the “unqualified finality” of Mohammed’s status as prophet) from the ranks of Islam. In the 1980s, the country’s blasphemy laws were amended in such a way as to criminalize any Ahmadi who seeks to spread his faith, calls himself a “Muslim,” or even (as noted above) refers to his house of worship as a “mosque.”
As Sadakat Kadri reports in his excellent new book, Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law, the campaign against Ahmadis has reached almost comical levels of absurdity. “When I visited the Ahmadi town of Rabwah, community leaders showed me a warrant of December 15, 1989, that accused ‘the entire population’ of unlawfully appropriating the greeting salaam alaikum (peace be upon you),” he reports. “All Pakistanis who apply for a passport or register to vote are now required to affirm in writing that they do not accept the prophethood of the sect’s founder.”