The Ahmadiyya, officially the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has been one of the most controversial Muslim sects since it was founded in Punjab, British India, in the late 19th century. Adherents say that they are Muslim Ahmadis while others consider them to be non-Muslims. Still others consider them to be followers of a religion all its own. Ahmadis have been persecuted and prevented from practising their religion in most countries where they have a presence, from India in the east to Morocco in the west.
The Ahmadiyya was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). He claimed to have received a divine message that he was the promised Messiah and the awaited Mahdi, whom the majority of Muslims believe will appear at the end times to bring about the final triumph of Islam. The sect emerged when Ghulam Ahmad accepted the pledge of allegiance given to him by his companions on 23 March 1889.
Ahmadis identify themselves as the promised second rise of Islam; the second emergence of the Muslim community connected to the first generation of Muslims as predicted by the Koran; the surviving group of Muslims as predicted by the Prophet Muhammad; and leaders of the second Orthodox caliphate. They do not portray themselves as a religious movement or an intellectual doctrine that emerged in response to other political sects, nor do they consider themselves a political group under a religious disguise that aspires to advance its own interests.
However, they believe they are the last group of believers that arose by order of God after Muslims deviated from the right path and Islam became a soulless body, and that their purpose is to alleviate the suffering and pain of humanity and achieve security and peace in the world by believing in God and the Prophet Muhammad.
Opponents of the sect view it as deviating from Islam and consider Ghulam Ahmad to have falsely claimed prophecy by saying that he is the Messiah. They also claim that he established his sect to serve the British occupation and avoid fighting the British under the pretext that they are ‘guardians who should be obeyed’. This criticism is based on a letter attributed to Ghulam Ahmad sent to the British ruler of India in 1898 saying, ‘Since I was young, I have been striving with my tongue and pen to focus the direction of Muslims on the British government and to wipe out the idea of jihad, which is embraced by some of the ignorant Muslims. I believe that the more followers I have, the less significant jihad will become.’ Opponents also say that Ahmadis made up the justification that the British saved Muslims from persecution by the Sikhs, who prevented them from performing their rituals.
After Ahmadis were branded as infidels by many Muslim clerics, Pakistan issued a resolution in 1970 prohibiting the designation of members of the group as Muslims and ordered that they be labelled as a non-Muslim minority instead. The Islamic Fiqh Council in Mecca also issued a fatwa in 1974 declaring the sect and its followers to be infidels and generally non-Muslims. The fatwa called the sect ‘a subversive movement that works against Islam and the Muslim world, falsely and deceptively claims to be an Islamic sect, acts under the guise of Islam to serve worldly interests aimed at destroying the foundations of Islam, and stands on the side of colonialism and Zionism’.
The sect split into two groups after the death of its first founder Khalifa Hakim Noureddine in 1913: the Lahore Ahmadiyya, led by Muhammad Ali al-Lahori, and the Qadiani Ahmadiyya led by Ghulam Ahmad’s son, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmoud. The former differs from the latter in rejecting Ghulam Ahmad’s prophecy, although the former does not deny Ghulam Ahmad’s divine inspiration and regards him as the promised Messiah.
Unlike the majority of Muslims, Ahmadis believe that the divine revelation continues to descend on some humans, that this revelation descended upon Ghulam Ahmad and that the Messiah, the son of Mary, died centuries ago, like the other prophets and messengers.
Ahmadis also believe in the reincarnation of souls, and Ghulam Ahmad said that the Prophet Abraham was reborn after his death in the body of the Prophet Muhammad 2050 years later; the Prophet Muhammad was in turn embodied in Ghulam Ahmad, and that whomever wants to join the sect must pledge allegiance to the founder and his successor (or caliph), the most recent of which is the fifth and current caliph Mizra Masroor Ahmad.
Adherents must also commit to ten conditions and say, “I fully believe that our master and the Prophet Muhammad, peace and prayers be upon him, is the last prophet, and I believe that our master Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, peace be upon him, is the Imam Mahdi and the promised Messiah foretold by our master the Prophet Muhammad, peace and prayers be upon him. I pledge that I will strive to abide by the ten conditions of allegiance set by our master the Messiah and Imam Mahdi, peace and prayers be upon him, I will favour religion to the mundane world, and I will always remain loyal to the Ahmadiyya caliphate and show obedience to you ( Mizra Masroor Ahmad).”
Spread of Ahmadiyya
Ahmadis can be found across the Middle East and North Africa, but the majority of them do not publicly announce their faith for fear of persecution. Estimates show that there are approximately 7,000 followers in Egypt, between 1,000 and 5,000 in Algeria, nearly 500 in Morocco and smaller numbers in other Arab countries. There are estimated to be a total of 10 million Ahmadis around the world.
Ahmadis have suffered persecution in almost all Arab countries. According to a report by Minority Rights Group International on religious minorities in Egypt, Ahmadis are not officially recognized, do not have the right to build houses of worship and are forced to pray in private homes. In 2010, the sect was subjected to a severe crackdown and nine Ahmadis were arrested on charges of contempt of religion and undermining national stability for possessing books of Ahmadiyya teachings. In 2017, a teacher was arrested in Fayoum Governorate on charges of promoting the sect’s teachings. Moreover, one person was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 200 Egyptian pounds (approximately $15) for possessing an Ahmadiyya book.
Neither does Saudi Arabia recognize Ahmadis as Muslims, which means that they are not allowed to perform either the hajj or umrah pilgrimage. Some members of the sect do not declare their faith and have papers to claim their affiliation with Islam only in countries that recognize them as Muslims, such as India, where the Kerala Supreme Court ruled in 1970 that they were Muslims, in addition to many European countries with Ahmadiyya communities.
In Algeria, Mohamed Valle, the local sect leader, and 11 other Ahmadis were arrested in February 2017 on charges of spreading Ahmadiyya beliefs after documents, leaflets and CDs promoting conversion to the faith were found in their possession. In 2018, a total of 26 adherents were detained and later sentenced to between three and six months in prison.