What makes a ‘good’ Muslim community?

by Rohail Ahmad 

On 29th March 2016, Douglas Murray wrote an article entitled “The questions nobody wants to ask about Asad Shah’s murder”. In this article, he praised the Ahmadiyya community as being a peace-loving and laudable community, perhaps the epitome of what a Muslim community should be like. It is true that the Ahmadiyya community is peace-loving and does some very good charity work. It is also true, of course, that the murder of Asad Shah was brutal and horrible, and that the suspected killer, a fellow Muslim, must be punished.

_63751122_blokeswithpoppiesHowever, the deeper motivations and assumptions of this article must be questioned. Murray’s main argument seems to be that any community that does not question this country in any way, especially its foreign policy, is to be lauded. Murray’s unspoken agenda is that one’s country, in this case Britain, should never be questioned, never challenged. In his article he indicates that this is why he respects the Ahmadi Muslim community over any other community, and this is why high-profile figures visit the Ahmadi annual jalsa (gathering) every year. Critics of Ahmadiyya accuse it of collusion with the state; this unproven accusation even goes back to the founding of the community in the nineteenth century in India, when it was allegedly able to establish itself by cooperating with the British authorities. The main point of this article, however, is the critical importance of holding the state to account.

I think it is imperative to constantly question the state, and as a non-active Ahmadi myself, I can certainly say that for the Ahmadiyya community this is not a priority. Why so?

The Ahmadiyya community is relatively tiny. For this reason, it is almost impossible to find suitable marriage partners. This means that many people end up in miserable marriages, having married the  wrong person, or remain unmarried. Girls reach the age of 30, 35, 40, hoping and hoping, but eventually accepting they will not find a partner.

If someone wants to marry outside of the community, the outsider is expected to convert. If not, and the marriage goes ahead, the Ahmadi member is usually ostracised by the family and by the community. There is no violence, no “honour killings”, no formal proclamation – just quiet ostracism. This is a terrible fate to inflict on someone for simply wanting to fulfil the most basic human needs for marriage, children, and family.

It’s worse for girls, as always. (Cc the patriarchy) Boys can have their fun, with a blind eye being turned, until they are ready to settle down. Any girl wishing to do the same would meet a different fate. Girls are not allowed to date or have any kind of a Western social life; they must wait until they are married, no matter how long that takes. Boys also have the option to go “back home” to find a suitable partner. Of course, girls can do the same, but it is usually much harder for Pakistani boys to come and settle here, both financially and socially speaking.

The Ahmadiyya community is perhaps no worse, in this regard, than many other communities that frown upon members marrying outside of the tribe, whether they be Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, or Catholic. Many of its members are some of the nicest people one could hope to meet and many of them are highly educated and successful; they include a Nobel Prize winner and a Foreign Minister of Pakistan (now both deceased). But on the other hand, some adherents are as mean and petty and dogmatic as members of some other communities that Murray might not be such a fan of. Furthermore, selectively and hypocritically picking out certain communities as paragons of virtue possibly adds to the danger of fomenting the sort of inter-community violence that has already occurred in the tragic case of Asad Shah.

ahmadi-muslims-gather-hampshire-ukAs a neocon (and very much so, as demonstrated by his book Neoconservatism: Why We Need It), Murray would no doubt support liberal values such as free speech and freedom for women. Free speech against the leadership is not allowed in the Ahmadiyya community, and its women have few freedoms. And Murray, as an atheist and a gay man, would certainly not be welcome in the community; he would not be attacked, he might even be given tea and biscuits, but he would certainly not be accepted. In fact, he would learn that the Ahmadi slogan that he quotes so admiringly, “love for all, hatred for none”, sounds good in the abstract but does not extend to those who do not fit in or who question the community in any way.

Murray is right about one thing. He is right to bemoan the lack of knowledge of religion in this country, which extends to the foolishness of a prime minister who insists on drumming on about Britain being a Christian nation, thus alienating all non-Christians; and about Christian values, when those values patently do not belong only to Christianity and which this government certainly does not practice. Sadly, Murray has betrayed his own ignorance of certain religious communities whom he has held up as an example for us all – remaining silent, selling poppies, ostensibly tolerant – but which are far from internally tolerant and supportive as communities should be.

There are those who may use this article as further ammunition for Islamophobia or anti-Ahmadi sentiment, to prove that Islam is against free speech and against women. I would remind them that I am writing this article as a cultural Ahmadi Muslim, and that it is Murray’s hypocrisy and self-contradiction that is one of the two main thrusts of this article. Murray even implies in Neoconservatism: Why We Need It that the government is entitled to lie to the people under certain circumstances. Not only do I fundamentally disagree with that, I personally am vehemently against any form of discrimination, whether based on gender, race, religion, belief, or any form of orientation. As for Ahmadiyya, like any community, it is not perfect, but its non-violent stance is certainly to be praised. However, as well as criticising others, we are all entitled – indeed have a duty – to also constructively criticise our own communities and countries, as we strive together for a more just and fair society for all. Indeed, true progress only comes when there is criticism from within.

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Dr Rohail Ahmad has a PhD (2013) and an MA (Distinction, 2010) in Creative Writing from Brunel University. He is a college lecturer in English, and is also a visiting lecturer in “Writing Global Fiction” at Brunel University. His MA novella, The Dancing Girl of Lahore, jointly won the Curtis Brown Prize at Brunel, and was also longlisted for the Paris Literary Prize. One of his MA stories was shortlisted for an anthology of British Asian fiction (Too Asian, Not Asian Enough) by Tindal Street Press. His PhD novel, Pure Mafia, is the only contemporary novel about child labour. His third novel, The Jihadi Couple, is a leading-edge work about ISIS. Find his books on Amazon Twitter @HaveYou_Read_It

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Categories: Islam, Religion, Rohail Ahmad

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5 replies

  1. I think a lot of the points in this article are unfortunately either exaggerated or don’t actually represent the Ahmadiyya Community so much as they do Pakistani culture in general. I am referring to the points regarding women remaining unmarried, marriage outside of the community and marrying back home. It also sounds as if it’s okay for boys to date whereas that’s not the case. I say this as a practising Ahmadi Muslim woman in my 20s, married, working and I have a social life that could rival that of anyone in Britain and I’m not an exception to the rule.

    Regarding Murray, I would say that everything in our lives should be questioned because that’s how we learn and understand and it’s the only way to differentiate between right and wrong.

    Also I think it’s wrong for anyone to treat him in a way that is anything less than welcoming and hospitable just because he is gay or an atheist. Everyone has their own beliefs and preferences and they are entitled to them – as am I. If anyone does treat him any differently and they are Ahmadi, it’s not because that’s what they have been taught by Ahmadiyya nor because of some strange collective cultural hatred of anything different.

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    • SA, It sounds to me like you are admirably open-minded, and that you are lucky enough to have a like-minded family. But I beg to differ when you say that you are not the exception: I would say that most Ahmadi families are not like yours. On that, we will have to agree to disagree. And I personally know of people who have been expelled from the family and community for marrying outside, which is heart-rending.

      I agree that some of my points are generally relevant to Pakistani culture, but that does not make them any less valid. If Ahmadiyya is meant to be the model Muslim community, then they must lead on these issues also.

      On Murray, and on the general point that we should always question, we are in sync. That was the main point of the article so I am glad we agree on that!

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  2. This article is a total strawman.

    Nowhere did Murray make any suggestion Britain ‘should never be questioned’, nor did he claim anybody else was ‘perfect’.

    He merely said the Ahmadi were ‘peaceable’, and have been a persecuted minority within Islam and faced much bigotry.

    How about responding to the actual points made instead of inventing and attacking some sinister agenda?

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    • Madden, My article is a response to a combination of two things: his article and his book, “Neoconservatism”. Perhaps I could have made that clearer. If you read his book, you will see that my points are valid, and that he probably would not deny most of them. So in that sense, there is no “sinister” agenda – it is quite open. For example, he says in his book: “occasions arise in which a leader knows best, and in which the less well informed masses, if given the opportunity to decide […], might decide wrongly” and “The government’s fault was not in ‘lying’ to the people, but in telling the people too much” (in relation to the Iraq war).

      Also, I was making the personal point that the community needs to be more questioning of the government when appropriate, as the Church often is, rather than being slavishly and ingratiatingly quiet.

      Also, why single out the Ahmadiyya community for praise? Would you not agree that the vast majority of the 2.7 million Muslims in this country are peaceful and law-abiding, and only a tiny minority are not? His comments actually risk increasing antagonism towards Ahmadiyya from other Muslim communities.

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  3. Britishers elite in India then in nineteenth century to counter jihadist though in Islam Jihad first priority is with your own self as in Arabic Jihad bil Nafs but illiterate gives priority to fighting, killing which is wrong, in short wrong thinking can not be balanced by another wrong thinking so let us hope that ALMIGHTY ALLAH may help human-being to get themselves right before it is too late, amen!

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