The Ahmadis of Islam
DIALOGUE: A JOURNAL OF MORMON THOUGHT, Volume 19, Number 2
Original PDF: The Ahmadis of Islam
The Ahmadis of Islam: A Mormon Encounter and Perspective
Garth N. Jones
GARTH N. JONES, a professor of public policy and administration at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, delivered an earlier version of this paper at the Mormon History Association, Provo, Utah, May 1984. He has resided for long periods in Pakistan and Indonesia, either as a U.S. foreign service officer or as a consultant with the U.S. Agency for International Development, United Nations, or World Bank. He has taught at several universities abroad including the University of Gadjah Mada (Indonesia), University of the Punjab (Pakistan), and National Chengchi University (Taiwan). Special thanks go to the following persons who offered constructive comments: Lee L. Bean, University of Utah; Donna Lee Bowen, Brigham Young University; Shafik Hashmi, Quad-i-Azam University, Pakistan; Khalil A. Nasir, Long Island University; Maqsud Ul Hasan Nuri, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Krishna Tummala, Montana State University.
As THE CHURCH MOVES INTO SOCIETIES AND CULTURES never a significant part of its historical past, it will encounter new configurations of religion that it must understand to achieve its prophetic promise. Countries that have little or no tradition of Christianity are particularly challenging since missionaries and prospective investigators seldom have a large fund of shared experience upon which to draw in constructive dialogue.
In the case of Islam, the new Mormon encounters have generated particularly confusing perplexities. Muslim communities have long histories of resistance to Christian intrusions. Unlike other great world religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, Islam was a bearer of civilization to far-flung regions of the world and its zealots almost brought Europe within its fold. Today’s Muslims have not forgotten this glorious epoch (Cox 1981, 73-80). Currently, fervent re-Islamization is sweeping the Islamic world. Nearly 800 million followers — one out of six people — of this great faith are to be found in more than seventy nations, including the Soviet Union and China. Islam is the second largest religion in Europe with 1.5 million adherents in the British Isles alone. Its present rate of growth exceeds that of Christianity. In the last two decades, for example, the number of African Muslims has doubled; over half of Africa, at this rate of growth, will soon be Muslim (Jansen 1979, 16-19).
This emerging situation presents serious consequences for Christian proselyters in Muslim countries. There is often no separation of church and state (or a separation that exists only on paper) and hence no protection for religious groups that are seen as heretical and dissident. Furthermore, while proselyting is illegal in most Muslim countries, it can also be illegal for an individual to change his or her religion or marry outside Islam (Jones 1982, 80—81; Katz and Katz 1975, 679-81). “Apostasy [is] a form of treason” (Abbott 1968, 154; M. Z. Khan n.d.c; Chaudhry 1983).
In this context, the history and status of a major dissident movement in Islam, Ahmadiyyat, presents some interesting parallels with Mormonism which, despite almost a century’s serious attention to accommodation within the American mainstream, is still frequently characterized as a non-Christian sect or even cult (“Anti-Mormons” 1983; Barlow 1979; Kirban 1971). It is interesting that nineteenth-century Christians, seeking terms to convey their repulsion for the Mormons, so frequently compared them to “Mohammadans” (Kinney 1912; Green and Goldrup 1971; Green 1983).