An American Ahmadi Muslim Explains the Effects of Religious Discrimination


The Ahmadiyya Community: Ahmadis began as a branch of Islam in 1889, centered on the Punjabi teacher Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, whom they believe to be the final prophet and messiah of Islam. Recent Oscar winner Mahershala Ali is a member of the community.

Ahmadis consider themselves fully Muslim, and to most American eyes they would be indistinguishable from any other Muslim denomination. But this self-understanding is highly contested within Islam. They have been described as the “Quakers of Islam” because of their commitment to pacifism, social equality, and democratic self-governance.

They have also been frequent targets of violence and persecution, particularly in their homeland Pakistan. In 2010, extremists attacked Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, killing 98. Early in Pakistan’s history, a series of riots aimed at pushing Ahmadis out of government and declaring them non-Muslims had to be quelled by a 70-day stretch of martial law.

In 1974, more riots led to the adoption of laws, under then-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, defining Ahmadis out of Islam. In 1984, the military junta under Gen. Zia-ul-Haq went a step further, signing an executive order, known as Ordinance XX, prohibiting Ahmadis even from taking part in common Muslim practices such as the call to prayer, using the greeting “As-salamu alaykum,” or reciting the shahada, the Islamic creed: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” Since then, Zia’s order has been ratified by every successive government. When Mahershala Ali won his Oscar the other night, a Pakistani diplomat wrote – and quickly deleted – a congratulatory tweet.

Both Bhutto and Zia attempted to curry favor with conservative Muslim clerics opposed to Ahmadiyya in order to extend their reigns, but it didn’t work out well for either of them. Bhutto was executed in 1989, and Zia died in a 1988 plane crash rumored to have been an assassination. Yet the anti-Ahmadi laws remain, according to Khurram Ahmad, because “nobody wants to now tackle this beast.” Even to suggest reining in the law can be dangerous: two legislators were murdered for trying to put safeguards around the law.


Ahmad is the unassuming leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Society in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, a Pakistani immigrant who came to the U.S. for college and now runs a small software company. I met him at a local clergy gathering where he warned of the dangers of a Muslim registry.

In late 2015, I sat down with Ahmad to understand more of Ordinance XX and what it did to Pakistani society. It began, he explained, with the excuse that Saudi Arabia had asked the government to filter non-Muslims from coming to Mecca for the Hajj:

So they added a passage in every passport application, which is like eight lines, that has essentially vile statements against the prophet we believe in as the Messiah of the age. He’s a liar, he’s this, he’s that, and you have to sign that statement. In essence, an Ahmadi will not sign it. So if you don’t sign it, you’re ultimately considered to be a non-Muslim. That is how they come up with a gauge.

It starts to creep into everything. So now if I’m trying to open up a bank account, I’m doing a cell phone application, or anything, that statement is there, it has just gone into everything, every aspect of one’s life, it’s there. It’s ridiculous to have that, but nonetheless it’s real.

The problems are not just administrative: Ahmadis have a “glass ceiling” in the civil service, and discriminatory use of voter registration lists (Ahmadis are enrolled separately) keeps them from participation in… read more at source.

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