Murder of a Glasgow Ahmadi Muslim raises fears over sectarian incitement in UK
The murder of Asad Shah, a 32-year old Glasgow shopkeeper, in late March shocked Scotland and the local community who had long known him as a friendly face.
But whereas previous anti-Muslim attacks in the UK have often been the work of far-right activists, the main suspect in Shah’s killing is in fact another Muslim - raising fears that the attack may have been sectarian, motivated by Shah’s Ahmadiyya faith.
Shortly after the attack, a Facebook group called Tahafuz Khatme Nubuwwat posted a link to the article saying “congratulations to all Muslims”:
The posting provoked a fierce backlash on social media, with users denouncing the group for incitement. Though the Facebook page has since been taken down, a petition was launched calling on the UK Home Office to investigate Khatme Nubuwwat, a group of organisations based in the UK who campaign against the Ahmadiyya.
Ahmadi Muslims, according to the ideologically hostile Khatme Nubuwwat Academy website, “fraudulently claim to be one of the Muslim sects but in fact they are unrighteous cult, kafir and non-muslim.” The controversy concerns the Ahmadiyya's alleged worship of a prophet who came after the Prophet Muhammad, although many Ahmadiyyas dispute this.
Sadaf Ahmed, the journalist and activist who started the petition, said that Shah’s murder was the “last straw” after many years of following activities of the Khatme Nubuwwat movement, which originated in Pakistan in the 1950s.
“I don’t think people in the UK understand how insidiously these groups grow in power and actually, what happens is, the more they get away with, the more they push,” she told Middle East Eye.
“A lot of Ahmadis have come to the UK to escape persecution - the people who have persecuted them have followed them here and then have basically up until now been able to say what they like and nothing’s happened.”
In 2010, Khatme Nubuwwat (which refers to Ahmadis by the derogatory name "Qadianis") was allegedly responsible for distributing leaflets around south London warning Muslims not to shop at a butchers shop run by an Ahmadi man as the meat was not, as a result, halal. Many customers then boycotted the shop.
At the time, the late human rights activist Lord Avebury warned the campaign could develop into “a holocaust".
“This is how it all begins,” he told Channel 4 News. “Shops boycotted, posters going up in windows, people sacked from their jobs."
Khatme Nubuwwat has long maintained, however, that despite their activism against the Ahmadi Muslims, they are only reflecting a mainstream Islamic consensus - that despite appearances and practice, Ahmadiyya are not Muslims.
‘Love for all, hatred for none’
The Ahmadiyya trace their origins back to Punjab in 1889 in what was then British India, now Pakistan.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a Punjabi resident born to a wealthy Mughal family, claimed that he was the promised saviour, also known as the Mahdi and the fulfillment of previous Islamic prophecies.
“The task for which God has appointed me is that I should remove the malaise that afflicts the relationship between God and his creatures and restore the relationship of love and sincerity between them,” he wrote.
There are currently thought to be as many as 20 million Ahmadi Muslims - the largest number in Pakistan - in the Ahmadi Caliphate, which is currently headed by Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
The motto long adopted by the Ahmadiyya is “Love for all, hatred for none.”
The main point of theological contention between Ahmadiyya and other Muslims has revolved around Ahmad’s claim to be an Islamic prophet. Though the prophet Muhammed is still the central figure in the Ahmadi faith, orthodox Muslim tradition views Muhammad as the last prophet in Islam - therefore viewing any future claims to prophethood as heretical.
The critical year for Ahmadis in Pakistan came in 1974. Following pressure from Islamists in the country, the ostensibly secular, left-wing government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto allowed the parliament to pass legislation officially declaring the Ahmadis to be “non-Muslim” and forbidding them from publicly declaring themselves as such.
Later, under the Saudi and US-backed military government of General Zia ul-Haq, laws were passed to prohibit Ahmadis from practicing their religion altogether in the country and to prevent them using Islamic texts in their ceremonies.
Today, the belief that Ahmadiyya are non-Muslim is widespread globally. Unlike other contentious Islamic sects, Ahmadis are officially banned from Saudi Arabia and cannot attend the Hajj pilgrimage. The murder of Ahmadiyya is widespread in India, Bangladesh and, in particular, Pakistan, where hundreds have been killed in recent years by Sunni militants.
In the UK, the Ahmadi community has broadly been able to avoid the violence it faces in much of the Indian subcontinent or the Middle East, but there have still been numerous incidents of agitation and verbal provocation against the group and leading Islamic figures have denied they are Muslims.
TV channels like the Pakistani-funded Ummah Channel have hosted speakers describing Ahamdis as “Wajib-ul Qatal" (liable for death). The channel was in 2010 censured by media regulator Ofcom for broadcasting three programmes featuring anti-Ahmadi speakers shortly after the Lahore massacre in which the Pakistani Taliban killed 94 Ahmadis in mosque bomb attacks.
“At the time, because of these channels some kids were even saying in schools they didn’t want to play with Ahmadis, they wanted to boycott Ahmadis and you get kids coming up to them and saying ‘you’re not real Muslims,’” said Mahmoud Rafiq, a spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK.
“Luckily, working with the schools authorities they quickly nipped that in the bud.”
In 2009, local Muslim groups in the town of Walsall protested at the proposed construction of an Ahmadi mosque, with some commentators noting with irony the similarity of their complaints to those of anti-Muslim activists like the English Defence League.
According to Fiyaz Mughal, of the anti-Islamophobia organisation Tell Mama, there have recently been a noticeable increase in abuse against Ahmadi Muslims in the UK.
“We have picked up anti-Ahmaddiya hate over the last 18 months and an increasing amount of it,” he told Middle East Eye. “Granted much of it is online though it is vocal and aggressive and with praise for people who have attacked or murdered Ahmaddiya.”
He warned that there were people espousing anti-Ahmadiyya views in the UK who were not facing scrutiny.
"Intra-Muslim bigotry is unacceptable and for far too long, anti-Ahmadiyya and anti-Shia rhetoric has been openly espoused by individuals resident in the UK,” he said.
“Their language and their rhetoric have attempted to dehumanise these communities and this is not on. “
'Seal of the Prophets'
Khatme Nubuwwat (which translates at "Seal of the Prophets") organisations have repeatedly denied that they advocate violence against Ahmadis, but their literature is often very frank about the threat they believe they pose to the Islamic world.
Under the headline "DECISION IS UP TO YOU" Khatme Nubuwwat Academy warns in one of its leaflets of the danger posed by Ahmadi "deviators" and refers to their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as "nefarious, vicious and vile".
“BEWARE!! The ‘Qadianism’ danger remains in its continued attempts to gain more Muslims to its fold, and to distort their thinking and beliefs," reads the leaflet.
"This is a matter which we MUST oppose wisely, and inform and other (sic) Muslim Brothers.”
In another leaflet - all of which are underscored by calls for their copying and circulation - they warn that the followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad are "NOT Muslims but Kafirs (non-Muslims) and are equally…DANGEROUS!”
Though it is hard to gauge how far Khatme Nubuwwat’s ideas are supported among the wider population of UK Muslims, some mainstream Islamic organisations have developed links with the movement.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) currently lists both the International Khatme-e-Nubuwwat Mission and Aalami Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nubuwwat - two anti-Ahmadiyya organisations linked to the Khatme Nubuwwat movement - as affiliates under “Local/Specialist” on its website.
On its own website, Aalami Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nubuwwat warns Muslims to follow "their religious and universal obligations and take all necessary actions to suppress the evil designs of the Qadiani movement".
Though the MCB - which explicitly describes itself as "non-sectarian" on its website - has publicly condemned attacks on Ahmadis and on Asad Shah specifically in the past they have denied that Ahmadis are Muslims.
Responding to an inquiry by MEE, the MCB said "the MCB Constitution requires our affiliates to declare that Messenger Muhammad peace be upon him is the final prophet and whoever does not subscribe to that declaration cannot be eligible for affiliation with the MCB," but added that it "unequivocally condemns all forms of intimidation and violence against people of all faiths and none."
However, the organisation did not respond to a question about their links to the International Khatme-e-Nubuwwat Mission and Aalami Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nubuwwat.
In response to a request about the Khatme Nubuwwat petition, a Home Office spokesperson told MEE that they “do not routinely comment on whether an organisation is or is not under consideration for proscription.”
Akber Chaudery, a former Ahmadi and spokesperson for the Khatme Nubuwwat Academy, told MEE that his organisation - which he claimed had spoken at more than 100 mosques around the UK - was set up to counter the Ahmadi "PR machine" which was engaged in a campaign to "vilify Muslims so that their niche agenda is promoted and their followers remain in thrall of their leadership."
"Thus a demand for information is created, which is then satisfied by our organisation and others."
Seperately, Chaudery wrote of the murder of Asad Shah (who he claims was mentally ill) that the Ahmadi "community and its leaders failed him, the mental health system failed him and his family failed him" and said he would not "let religious businessmen turn his murder into profit for the Ahmadiyya family business that masquerades as a religion or a sect."
Chaudery wrote that Shah had been threatening to form a breakaway sect and suggested that "the Ahmadiyya leadership passed on a ‘dossier’ on him to some fanatical Muslim, who in this week’s frenzied state, drove 200 miles that same afternoon to commit the murder."
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK's Mahmoud Rafiq told MEE that he hoped that the police would resolve the Asad Shah case without the issue escalating into anything more serious and said the group would not be taking a stance on Sadaf’s petition calling for the banning of Khatme Nubuwwat.
“We’d prefer the government does something rather than us getting involved because then it can get sort of petty...if someone does it individually and it raises enough awareness of it, fine, but otherwise I think our view is this is something the government should deal with rather than us,” he said.
Rafiq also expressed concern about the rise of sectarian identity among UK Muslims and the new delineation emerging between sects.
“It is a worrying development,” he said. “Born and brought up in the UK, it’s just good enough you’re a Muslim. No one’s gone down to the level of saying ‘what sect do you belong to’?”
“Once you start going down that path, it becomes a slippery slope.”