Across much of the Muslim world, the Ahmadiyya have long been persecuted for their theological beliefs.
From Saudi Arabia, Algeria and The Gambia to Malaysia, Bangladesh and Indonesia, Ahmadis are not recognized as proper Muslims because they believe that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam, an Indian Muslim scholar who founded their religious movement in 1889, is a prophet and reformer of Islam. Such a belief, the sect’s detractors contend, contradicts the dogma that the Prophet Muhammad is the only divine messenger.
Ahmadis have been “harassed, ostracized, and even murdered for their perceived heresy,” according to a 2017 article titled “Ahmadi Persecution, A Global Issue,” published by the Tony Blair Institute For Global Change. The mistreatment is particularly acute in Pakistan, where hundreds of Ahmadis have been killed on religious grounds, dozens of their mosques destroyed or desecrated, and members of the faith not only forbidden from preaching and proselytizing, they are subject to three years in prison for “posing” as Muslims by merely uttering common Islamic greetings.
In Indonesia, which has the world’s largest population of Muslims, Ahmadis have been discriminated against since the early 20th century, when the country was a Dutch colony. They are forbidden from proselytizing and are required to “convert to Islam” to procure government-issued identity cards that are necessary to access many social services. One of the worst chapters in Indonesia’s century-long persecution of the Ahmadiyya community lasted from 2007 to 2011. An Indonesian think tank recorded 342 incidents of assault against Ahmadis during those four years, culminating in what is believed to be the murder of three Ahmadis by an Islamist mob in West Java.
In the November-December 2020 issue of The Journal of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), Maria d’Arienzo, a professor in the Department of Law at the University of Naples and an expert on interfaith dialogue, outlines the intolerance the Ahmadiyya community has suffered during the pandemic.
“Natural disasters and epidemics have often been interpreted as divine punishment for the wrong behavior of humans,” she writes in her article, explaining that such events “often result in persecutory attitudes and intolerance.”
In Pakistan during the second quarter of 2020, “there has been a sharpening of the persecution of the Ahmadis, as they have been unfairly held responsible for the spread of the virus, or even declared a greater threat than the virus itself,” according to d’Arienzo.
“However, even in this difficult situation, the typical Ahmadi activism in the face of adversity took concrete form as a strong drive of solidarity and spirituality,” she adds. “Its root can be found in the inner effort to maintain an attitude of meekness with respect to violence and aggression.”
Rather than respond angrily or violently to persecution, Ahmadis have complied with the principles of their Islamic faith by eschewing violence and treating aggressors with compassion.
The solidarity initiatives Ahmadiyya charitable organizations have undertaken amid the pandemic include the donation of a disinfectant tunnel to a family medicine center in Kosovo; food donations in Kenya and distribution of economic aid, food packages and disinfectants to hundreds of families in the Nigerian capital, Lagos. In Europe and across the Americas, Ahmadiyya medical personnel and volunteers have set up help and pandemic consultation hotlines.
Almost exactly a year ago, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association of Canada launched an ambitious humanitarian program in the aftermath of a wave of deaths of 57 homeless people during Toronto’s bitter winter. The program involved as many as 900 Ahmadi volunteers driving around Toronto at night in a bus for three months to provide the city’s homeless hot meals, hygiene kits, warm winter clothing, plus an opportunity to rest or seek temporary shelter.
The organizational structure of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat, or community, is partly responsible for the success of its altruistic activism. Although the Ahmadiyya diaspora has spread to every continent, the community’s various national-level organizations are united through a common and direct connection to the supreme leader, Caliph Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
In his first Friday sermon at the dawn of 2020, the Caliph warned that “storm clouds continue to gather ahead” and that it was “not appropriate to feel safe anywhere, not even in Europe,” writes d’Arienzo. Expecting the worst, including war, the global Ahmadiyya diaspora stocked up on food rations and other emergency supplies.
“Without waiting for the pandemic alarms launched by the World Health Organization, or the social confinement decreed by individual governments, Ahmadi communities in different countries coordinated their organizations and implemented timely restrictions and guidelines for their mosques,” writes d’Arienzo. The community’s diaspora in Italy, the first Western nation to declare a health emergency, alerted its overseas counterparts, who immediately adopted pandemic prevention measures.
“The philosophy of the search for unity, common good and brotherhood characteristic of the Ahmadis has allowed [the community] to implement … ways of conducting worship protecting the health and safety for all,” writes d’Arienzo. “The aim was both the protection of general welfare and a full compliance with the Quranic prescriptions of the responsibility of the faithful.”
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