Challenging stereotypes of a warlike/extremist/intolerant Islam: the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

The last post (“Please help me, I’m confused”) provoked some interesting and perceptive discussion via my email address in particular, so much so that I think it’s necessary to do a follow-up. The follow-up is a focus on the Ahmadiyya Muslims, partly because they are Muslims who defy all the more lurid stereotypes of Islam that are currently so common globally, and partly because some Sunni, Shia and Sufi Muslims asked if such a post could be uploaded to inform non-Muslims about the community. So here goes. Do note at the end of the post that the community has a presence in North-East England which all of us should do far more to celebrate and engage with.

Islamic calligraphy

Islamic calligraphy

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a dynamic, fast growing international revival movement within Islam. Founded in 1889, it is said to have members in a hundred countries with a global membership running into the millions. Its current headquarters are in the United Kingdom (UK).

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic organisation to believe that the long-awaited messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian (it is this belief in particular which marks out the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as highly distinctive within Islam and helps explain why the community has suffered so much persecution by mainstream Muslims, Sunni Muslims in particular). Ahmad claimed to be “the metaphorical second coming of Jesus of Nazareth and the divine guide”, whose advent was foretold, according to Ahmadiyya tradition, by Muhammad himself. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that God/Allah sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace. Ahmad’s example has brought about, in the eyes of the community at least, an unprecedented era of Islamic revival. Ahmad sought to divest Islam of fanatical beliefs and practices by vigorously championing what he called “Islam’s true and essential teachings”. He also recognised the value of the teachings of “the great religious founders and saints” (as the following are known in Ahmadiyya circles) such as Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu and Guru Nanak, and explained how such teachings conform with the teachings of Islam in its purest/truest sense (a willingness to concede that some non-Muslim religious, etc. leaders/teachers/figures might have something worthwhile to say to humankind is another reason why the community has suffered persecution from mainstream Muslims).

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the leading Islamic organisation to unconditionally reject terrorism in any form. Over a century ago, Ahmad declared that an aggressive “jihad of the sword” has no place in Islam. Instead, he taught his followers to wage a bloodless, intellectual “jihad of the pen” to defend Islam. To this end, Ahmad wrote many books and thousands of letters, delivered hundreds of lectures and engaged in scores of public debates. His detailed but somewhat unconventional explanations of Islamic belief and practice (influenced in part by Shia Islam, but more particularly by Sufism) unsettled mainstream Muslim thinkers, and has led to the persecution of Ahmaddiya Muslims in many predominantly Muslim nation states ever since. As part of its effort to revive a caring and compassionate Islam, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to spread Ahmad’s teachings of moderation and restraint in the face of bitter opposition from groups within the Muslim world.

Islamic calligraphy

Islamic calligraphy

Similarly, the Ahmaddiya Muslim Community is one of only a few Islamic organisations to endorse a separation of mosque and state. Over a century ago, Ahmad taught his followers to protect the sanctity of both religion and government by becoming righteous souls as well as loyal citizens. He cautioned against irrational interpretations of qur’anic pronouncements and misapplications of Islamic law. He voiced concern about protecting the rights of all God’s/Allah’s creatures. Today, the community continues to endorse universal human rights and the protection of religious and other minorities. It champions the empowerment and education of women. Its members are among the most law-abiding, educated and engaged Muslims in the world.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the foremost Islamic organisation with a single central spiritual leader. Over a century ago, Ahmad reminded his followers of God’s/Allah’s promise to safeguard the message of Islam through “khalifat” (the spiritual institution of successorship to prophethood). The community believes that only spiritual successorship can uphold the true values of Islam and unite humanity. Five spiritual leaders have succeeded Ahmad since his death in 1908. The fifth and current spiritual head, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, resides in the UK. Under the leadership of its spiritual successors, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has built thousands of mosques, hundreds of schools and over thirty hospitals. It has translated the Qur’an into over seventy languages. It propagates what it calls “the true teachings of Islam” and a message of peace and tolerance through a twenty-four hour satellite television channel (MTA), the internet (alislam.org) and print (Islam International Publications). It has been at the forefront of worldwide disaster relief through an independent charitable organisation called Humanity First.

We are lucky in North-East England to have the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community formally constituted within our midst. Nasir Mosque is the first purpose-built mosque in Hartlepool. Located on Brougham Terrace, the mosque was built by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and inaugurated in 2005 by Mirza Masroor Ahmad himself. The mosque participates in several local community events and provides regular services for the wider community.

During the ceremony marking the official opening of the mosque, town dignitaries such as the Hartlepool MP, Iain Wright, and Hartlepool Borough Council’s chief executive, Paul Walker, were in attendance. As a gesture of solidarity with the non-Ahmadiyya community, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, the main organisation behind the project, donated about £20,000 to local charities and causes, including Hartlepool and District Hospice, Butterwick Children’s Hospice and Brougham Primary School.

Nasir Mosque, Hartlepool

Nasir Mosque, Hartlepool, United Kingdom

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