By Omer Farooq
For the first time in secular India, Ahmadiyas have been denied permission to hold a meeting despite a High Court order allowing them to do so. The Andhra Pradesh Government gave in to Muslim protests, led by MIM, and threats of violence
The recent cancellation of a State-level meeting of the Ahmadiya Jamat in Hyderabad following protests from all the sects of the Muslim community marks a new chapter in over a century-long struggle between the two sides.
Though Ahmadiyas, with distinctly different religious belief from Muslims, have been around ever since its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed in 1889 that he was the 'new prophet' and Muslims have always treated the claim as blasphemous and opposed it, this is first time that a public meeting of Ahmadiyas had to be cancelled in India due to the resistance from orthodox Muslims.
The Andhra Pradesh Government cited breakdown in the electricity supply system for withdrawing permission to the congregation at Lalitha Kala Thornam open theatre, owned by the State Cultural Affairs Department. But it is obvious that the massive and joint campaign by Muslim organisations in Hyderabad forced the Government's hands. Ahmadiyas, also known as Qadianis after the birthplace of their movement at Qadian in Punjab, had to silently accept the Government's order.
A night before the Ahmadiyas' day-long congregation was scheduled, around a lakh of Muslims attended an "anti-Qadianiat" protest meeting at Darussalam grounds, the headquarters of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. The protesters threatened that if the Ahmadiyas were allowed to go ahead with their meeting "in the name of Islam and Muslims", they would lay siege to the venue.
According to the Ahmadiya Jamat, it had sought permission for the now cancelled meeting in Hyderabad two months ago. Initially the State Government had refused to grant permission in view of the opposition and protest from Muslims. Consequently they went to the High Court and the court granted them permission only two days before the meeting was scheduled. On the advocate-general's objection that it could cause a law and order problem, the court observed that it was the duty of the Government to maintain law and order and provide protection to the meeting.
However, hours before the scheduled march to the venue, the Government issued a notice cancelling not only the Ahmadiya meeting but also all other functions in different auditoriums and buildings within the sprawling Public Gardens. The Muslim organisations have filed a caveat in the High Court, saying the Ahmadiyas should not be allowed to hold any public event in the name of Muslims and Islam.
The Ahmadiyas were planning to celebrate the 100th anniversary of "khilafat" of their community, marking the passage of the leadership from Mirza Ghulam Ahmad after his death to his successor in 1908. Earlier this year the celebrations had started in Qadian, the world religious headquarters of the community and since then meetings have been held in Kalikut, Bangalore and Sholapur.
The Ahmadiya Jamat has planned similar meetings all over the country by the end of the year. The meeting scheduled in Hyderabad was to be addressed by Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the present and fifth 'Khalifa' of the community, from his base in London.
The anti-Ahmadiya protest meeting of Muslims was significant from another point of view. It brought different schools of thought and sects together, although they are often at loggerheads over each other's beliefs.
Among the organisations represented were Jamat-e-Islami, Anjuman-e-Qadaria, Anjuman-e-Mehdvia, Sunni Jamat, Shia and Mehdvi groups along with MIM, Tameer-e-Millat and Tableeghi Jamat. One has never seen such an array of Muslim religious leaders coming together on the same platform in the past.
Theologians claim that Ahmadiyas do not accept the two basic tenets of Islam: Belief in the one-ness of god and acceptance of Mohammed as the last prophet of god. "If anybody deviates from these two basic tenets of Islam he cannot be called a Muslim and he cannot claim to be a Muslim," says Hameeduddin Aauqil Hussami, a renowned theologian in Andhra Pradesh. "That is why Qadianis cannot be treated as Muslims nor should they call themselves Muslims. It is a historical fact that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had claimed to be a prophet and it directly collides with the very basis of Islam."
Mr Asaduddin Owaisi, Member of Parliament elected to the Lok Sabha from Hyderabad and senior leader of the MIM, says that in a democracy everybody is free to conduct a meeting and practice his or her religious beliefs. "We will not have any objection if Qadianis do it in the name of their own religion instead of misusing the name of Islam and Muslims. Like every institution has its intellectual property right, every religion has its own identity. If somebody practices religious beliefs which are contradictory to Islam and yet insists on being called a Muslim, nobody can accept it," he says.
But Ahmadiya community leaders reject the criticism as "allegations". Inam Ghouri, Nazir-e-Aala or the head of Ahmadia Jamat in India, insists, "It is all one-sided propaganda and our position is not being understood correctly. We believe that Hazrat Mohammed was the last prophet, Islam is the last religion and Quran is the last book of Allah. We only say that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was an Imam, a Mehdi (the guided one) sent by Allah to reform those Muslims who have gone astray from the right path. Even Hazrat Mohammed had predicted that a Mehdi would come to bring Muslims to the right path. Others also believe in it, but they are still waiting for him (Mehdi). We say he has already come."
Muslim leaders have also targeted the Qadianis on other counts. They allege that the Ahmadiya movement was essentially a creation of the British during the freedom movement to sabotage it by creating religious differences among Muslims. After partition, a large number of Ahmadiyas migrated to Pakistan, but from there too they were hounded out.
An organised campaign was launched in Pakistan under the leadership of Syed Abul Aala Moududi, a prominent scholar and founder of Jamat-e-Islami, to have the Qadianis declared non-Muslims. Recently, several Qadiani students were expelled from a medical college in Pakistani Punjab on similar grounds.
Strangely, two senior Communist leaders -- CPI(M) MP P Madhu and CPI national secretary P Sudhakar Reddy -- who had been invited by the Ahmadiya jamat to address the Hyderabad meeting dissociated themselves from the event and issued statements to the Urdu Press, saying they had "not been aware of the true identity of the Qadianis". Mr Sudhakar Reddy added, "I accepted the invitation thinking it was a programme of Muslim minority." The Communists stepped back because they are competing with the MIM for the Muslim votes of Hyderabad.
As for the Ahmadiyas, the events in Hyderabad have come as a big shock. "We are already facing persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia. We were proud that in secular India we were free from any oppression. But if the same thing happens to us here, where will we go?" asked Inam Ghouri.