Most British people only heard of the Muslim Ahmadi sect on April 7th, this year, after a savage murder in Scotland. That day Tanveer Ahmed, 32, appeared in a Glasgow court to admit killing Asad Shah, a local shop-keeper. The public were bemused to hear that Shah was not only stabbed to death by a fellow Muslim because he’d posted ‘Happy Easter’ on his Facebook page, which Ahmed said was disrespectful to Islam, he’d been murdered because he belonged to the Ahmadi. There are about 25,000 of them in the UK. Until Shah’s death, four hundred in Glasgow.
In his defence, Ahmed pointed out that if he hadn’t done it, other devout Muslim brothers would have because many Muslims, such as the Deobandis, see Ahmadis as heretics. They cannot enter Saudi Arabia or visit Mecca. In Pakistan under Ordinance XX, passed by Ali Bhutto, upheld by Zia in 1984, and by governments since, any Ahmadi calling himself a Muslim or openly practising his faith faces prison or worse. A criminal law amendment act of 1986 promises death for males and life imprisonment for females ‘who defile the name of the Prophet Mohammed.’ Ahmadis are accused of being apostates because of their belief that another Messiah appeared after the Prophet Mahommed.
This exotic sectarian hatred has not remained on the sub-continent. In 2009 a demonstration was held by Muslims in Walsall to prevent Ahmadis acquiring a mosque there. In May 2010, following attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, Pakistan, members of the Ahmadi Muslim Community living in the UK were threatened and intimidated. Muslim groups in South London distributed leaflets asking readers to kill Ahmadis and boycott their businesses. Ahmadi mosques in Crawley and Newham were vandalised. In October that year, Ofcom criticised the UK-based Ummah (world Islam) TV Channel, for broadcasting three programmes before and after the Lahore massacre in which religious leaders called for Ahmadis to be killed.
‘Hate leaflets’ have circulated in British universities for years. In 2012 they were reported at University College London. The university authority denied that they knew about it. Two years later they were found at the universities of Kingston and Westminster, where the so called Islamic State executioner Mohammed Emwazi studied. Social media traffic applauded the death of Asad Shah this month, and leaflets were distributed to members of the public in south London, calling for the killing of Ahmadis. They were signed by the Pakistani Khatme Nubuwwat organisation (the name means, ‘The Assembly to Protect the End of Prophethood’) which gives its address as the Stockwell Green mosque, south London:
‘Khatme Nubuwwat Centre, World Islamic Forum, Islamic World League
35 Stockwell Green, Stockwell, London, Greater London, SW9 9HZ.’
Those leaflets in poor English, were seen by the International Business Times, an online news magazine, and BBC researchers working on the second episode of a Radio 4 documentary about the Deobandi, by Owen Bennett-Jones. The KN group denies spreading hate speech, but the leaflet found by the IB Times and the BBC says:
‘Qadianis [a pejorative name for Ahmadis], Difference With Other Non-Muslims.’ ‘Why this group is considered wicked [sic] than others?’ For Muslims ‘to have any kind of relation with Qadianis is prohibited.’
The literature gives various categories of ‘Kufr,’ (us infidels) and brands Ahmadi as ‘dualist infidels’ or ‘one who is bent upon presenting his ‘Kufr’ as Islam’ and is, ‘worse than an apostate.’ It recommends the same punishment that is doled out for apostates; a three-day chance of return to Islam, or capital punishment. Amnesty International recently called the Ahmadi the most persecuted people in Pakistan. Some of the literature passing around our towns and cities calls them a cancer. Deobandis here and abroad have called for them to be shunned wherever they live.
The persecution of the Ahmadi in Britain came to light as Bennett-Jones investigated links between the 600,000 UK-based Deobandis and international terrorism, and the lack of any British concern about their activities. At the Stockwell Green mosque, Bennett-Jones met Toaha Qureshi, MBE, an ‘interfaith ambassador,’ and a trustee of the mosque. There are pictures of him on line meeting Prince Charles at a royal garden party, where it says, they discussed, ‘the simplicity of life in Pakistan.’
Qureshi denied any link between his mosque and Khatme Nubuwwat. Bennett-Jones pointed out that the last Khatme Nubuwwat ‘annual conference’ was held at Stockwell Green mosque. Qureshi then denied that they were a hate group at all, which became a bit embarrassing when the BBC reporter produced one of the leaflets calling for the Ahmadi to be killed.
Qureshi implied that one of the Ahmadi must have planted it. Taken to task by Bennett-Jones he suggested lamely that, ‘Ahmadi are living side by side with the Muslim.’ Meaning of course that they are not Muslims.
They certainly looked like Muslims to me when I came into close contact with them nearly thirty years ago, in a world which seemed much safer than it does now.
In December 1990, I wrote a piece for The Spectator magazine about what I called, the ‘Irish Jihad.’ I’d discovered two Ahmadi doctors living on a wind-blown council estate in Galway. They were charming as they told me how they intended to convert the whole of Ireland to Islam. One man had a wife with him who was kept behind a curtain down the centre of the living room, so that the other man could not see her. I was allowed to see her. We smiled a lot but could not communicate and I felt for her loneliness. As for her husband’s ideas I found them laughable, especially when he told me that eating pork makes you homosexual. I described them as living in a, ‘kind of overgrown boys’ Wendy House,’ or perhaps ‘Wendy mosque’ would have been better, impervious to the complexities of the big world outside.
A month later I received a disturbing message on my answer machine, from the Ahmadi in Wandsworth: ‘Miss Kelly, your Spectator article about the Irish jihad has insulted Islam and offended ten million members of the Ahmadi sect,’ it said rather alarmingly. ‘We would like to talk to you as soon as possible.’
After a week of messages, and finally the offer of lunch, I decided to go and face them in south London. Their premises had a high fence and locked gates. Bearded men wearing caps like cowpats let me in, peering at me as if they’d never seen a woman like me before. Inside I sat under a sign in Arabic, with the translation: ‘O Allah, we put thee against them and seek thy shelter against their mischief.’
Hadayit Ullah Bangvi, then general secretary at the mosque, was very polite, obviously feeling I just needed education. He took me on a tour of the walls, lined with portraits of astoundingly ugly old men with white beards and turbans. He discussed each one in detail giving special attention to the face of Ghulam Ahmad who founded the Ahmadi sect in 1876 when he declared himself the new Messiah. He also declared he was going to ‘demolish the Christian Church, break the cross and slaughter the swine’.
The lunch was delicious: my accusers had made sure it was not too spicy for me. It was served by a man, either because I was in the role of honorary man, or they knew what I would make of a woman waiting on us. I was placed on my own at the end of a long, shiny table, my judges lined up on either side. As I tucked in regardless, Mr Bangvi said: ‘Your article defames our movement, but it is pointless because in the end we will win. Christianity was once banned, then it became the top religion in all the world. We will soon be in that position. We definitely intend to take over the world. Despite ridicule from people like you, I’m certain that Ireland will be converted, and the Irish jihad a success.’
I felt I had invented the term ‘Irish jihad,’ as it wasn’t a common construction at the time. It was gratifying to hear them using it themselves. Then Mr Bangvi told me they were going to sue The Spectator over my allegation that they receive money from Libya. Apparently all the mosques in Dublin did so, but in Galway, where the mosques belonged to Ahmadi, they were self-supporting. In fact, they said they were now at war with Gaddafi and almost all other Muslim leaders.
Libya was just a diversion; what the men really wanted to know was my motive for poking fun at them. I tried to explain that describing the impact of one extreme religion on another, Irish Catholicism, had great comic potential, but around the table the dark faces darkened. Looking back now there is not really much fun to be had where Islam is concerned.
My visits happened a year after the Rushdie affair had begun to change the relations between Islam and Europe. Hamid Ur Rahman, a former Pakistani diplomat, insisted on going through my ‘contemptuous article’ line by line. Bangvi suggested to him that there was a free press in the UK, but he could not agree that ridicule was an expression of freedom; an argument that has gone bloodily ever since.
‘Why can’t Rushdie come out and fight instead of cringing away and leaving it to people like you?’ he asked as I ate my cumin rice pudding. They began decrying The Satanic Verses and its wicked author. The man on my left joining in was one Bashir Ahamad Rafique, a journalist sentenced to three years in prison in Pakistan and exiled for writing an article about his faith. Despite being victims of persecution themselves, the men around the table had no inkling that tolerance might be a good idea. They could not understand my jokes, while I could not and still do not understand their logic.
Since then, Islamic sectarianism, organised through the mosques all over the UK, has become well established. According to Bennett-Jones research, the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) a violent sectarian group, is frequently represented in Deobandi literature. Though banned in Pakistan for extremism and proscribed by the Home Office, it’s now thriving in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
In March, a BBC investigation found that Sabir Ali, head of religious events at Glasgow Central Mosque, was president of SSP. Links to the group have also been made to Hafiz Abdul Hamid from the Polwarth Mosque in Edinburgh, which has hosted visitors from the SSP and memorial services for dead Jihadis.
Mufti Mohammed Pandor, from Dewsbury, a ‘liberal’ Deobandi, faith adviser to the Universities of Bradford and Huddersfield, blames our own metropolitan elite for this situation.
‘Our government allowed these undesirables to come in,’ he told Bennett-Jones this week. ‘They should have put on a gagging order.’
He underestimates the lack of will behind the inaction, not realising how far Britain has lost its sense of actuality and rejected its own identity. There was a power vacuum; London has famously become ‘Londonistan.’ It’s not surprising to many that energetic, angry young Muslims saw their chance to organise and took it.
No one knows what the next generation of Muslims taking control in the country’s 1,500 mosques will be like. There’s an internal struggle starting within them, unseen by British eyes. Whether they eventually decide to live according to the Islam of the seventh, fourteenth or 21st century there is no sign of any reaching out to European values. Real engagement or integration with the Kufr (us) is generations away. Owen Bennett-Jones’s series was just the tiny beginning of a faint chance of a rational debate.