An Interview with Dr Antonio R Gualteiri

AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. ANTONIO R. GUALTEIRI (The following is a transcription of an interview with Dr. Antonio R. Gualteiri, Professor of Religion, Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada- and author of ‘Conscience and Coercion’ in which he has related the persecution and harassment of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. The program was conducted by Peter Meggs and broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on March 20, 1988.) Peter Meggs (PM): Dr. Gualteirir the Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims. Why does Islam condemn them as heretics?- Antonio R. Gualteiri (ARG): I think this is-the problem between self-definition and definition from outside. The Ahmadis themselves, as you said, do regard themselves as Muslims. More than that, they regard themselves as true Muslims. They feel that the reformist renewal Movement that started towards the end of the nineteenth century was the rebirth of true Islam. . . PM: Tell me something about that Movement that got them going. ARG: Well, it centres on a particular charismatic figure. His name is Mirza Ghulam. Ahmad who was from .a prominent family in Qadian. This is in the Punjab, now a part of India. He had spiritual experiences. He was a scholarly sort —he read the Qur’an and other religious texts diligently. His interpretation was that God spoke to him ‘and let him know that he was the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, a.figure in Islamic thought about the last days. He is th,e rightly guided one who, will come at the end of the age’ to restore the religion of Islam and justice.- . The Messiah—which might strike Christians as odd—is also a Muslim figure.T)fthodox Islam has also assimilated the notion that (according to some of the mythology or stories) at some point in God’s future, toward the end of time, the Messiah will come again to do God’s work —.to destroy unbelieving Christians and, basically,- to renew Islam before the final judgement. Mirza’ Ghulam Ahmad thought that he was the fulfilment of those Islamic prophecies, that he was in his own person/both Mahdi, the rightly guided, one, and the Promised Messiah. PMfc. -‘Traditional Islam did not g’o along with that?. No, it did not. They might not have had so much trouble with • . REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 25 / that, for there has been a great deal of dissent within Islam-— contrary to some of our notions of its monolithic quality. What I think really tipped the b alance against Ghulam Ahmad was his. self-designation as a prophet. That fan in the face of Islamic orthodoxy that asserts that prophetic revelation ceased with the advent of Muhammad. There was a long succession of prophets, such as Jesus and Abraham, through whom God’ spoke to the world in the past. In the last days, that is, in the seventh century of the Christian era, God sent His final prophet and that was Muhammad. By calling himself a prophet, Ghulam Ahmad ran the risk of a serious misunderstanding. : . PM: Isn’t there a similar problem between Islam and the Baha’i on that kind of issue? ARG: That is right. There are’latter-day charismatic spiritual leaders who emerge who usually view themselves as renewing Islam, and who make claims for the authority of their message. This suggests that they are denying or violating that fundamental Muslim tenet of the finality, of .prophecy in Muhammad. I should quickly break in here to say that this is the way orthodox Muslims see this Movement. They see it as a Movement that originates in a prophetic claim that is heretical. The Ahmadis themselves are more subtle about their understanding of what occurred in the prophecies or revlations given to their founder. – s Ahmad himself claimed that he was a prophet without a book and without a law. If one understands Islam, one understands that revelation in Islam is quintessentially scriptural. It is in a book. You have the Evangel .of Jesus or the Torah of Moses. The essence of that scripture revelation is law. God is not interested in giving a lot of information about His metaphysical nature; He is interested in conveying a law which informs people how to live their lives compatible with the divine will. So when Ghulam Ahmad says: lam a prophet without a law and without a book-—he is definitely subordinating himself to the definitive divine authority of Muhammad. But the orthodox did not see it that way. PM: We are talking, about the nineteenth century, aren’t we? ARG: The date they use for .the emergence of the Movement as a community is 1889. . . . PM: Although there are ten million Ahmadis worldside, in Pakistan they are outlawed, are they not? • ARG: What has happened in Pakistan is very interesting and it is that which drove me to Pakistan to do this research, i -am interested in the 26′ REVIEW OF RELIGIONS problem, of self-definition; that is, how people regard themselves and how others look upon them. In 1974, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was still in power, the National Assembly of Pakistan made an amendment to the constitution that defined the Ahmadis as non-Muslims. It is very peculiar that outsiders were not content, simply to say: You are not a good or true Muslim. Muslims, after all, have been saying that to .one another for a long time, just as Christians have. They now said: You are not allowed to understand yourself as a Muslim. Of course, Ahmadis do, in the depths of their souls with a fervour that I have scarcely seen repeated elsewhere, understand themselves as Muslims. PM: What does that mean to the Ahmadis when that was said by Bhutto back in 1974? Does that bring persecution to them? ARC: It certainly did. – PM: What kind of’persecution? ARG: There, have been popular disturbances throughout the last century. There was a disturbance with intensity in 1953 that generated the well-known- Munir report on the subject, and then further disturbances in the 1970s that moved the National Assembly to decree the Ahmadis non-Muslims. That process of marginalization, harassment and persecution, I think, culminates with the military ordinances, of General Zia-ul-Haq. PM: The president now? ; ARG: Yes, although there has been, the rescinding of martial law, at least in theory. Under General Zia, the anti-Ahmadi legislation has intensified so that if an Ahmadi calls himself or herself a Muslim or calls his or her place of worship a mosque or gives the azan, the call to prayer which is standard ‘for Muslim ritual worship, and in any other way outrages the feelings of Muslims, that person is liable to three years in prison and a fine. I visited a prison in Baluchistan and talked to four Ahmadis who were in prison for a year for the offence of wearing the kalimah badge. Kalimah Tayyabah is a formula that states the standard Muslim profession of faith: There is no God but God and Muhammad is His prophet. If an Ahmadi wears that, he or she is accused under Statute . 298(c) of the Pakistan penal code of posing as a Muslim, It is as if, for example, you made certain Christian affirmations and, on the basis of my REVIEW OF RELIGIONS . 27 prejudgements. I said that you cannot really be a Christian but are simply pretending to be one. When Ahmadis do what any devout Muslim would want to do, namely, pray, to profess the unity of God and the prophethood of Muhammad, to go on a pilgrimage, they are accused of pretending to be Muslims —• a crime which is covered in the penal code. „ • PM: Does that apply to all the five pillars of Islam? If they practise any of them, are they accused of heresy? ARG: They are not only accused of heresy. That is all right —• religious people are accustomed to calling one another heretics. They are also accused of being criminals, of violating the law of the land. For instance, in one case, a person had a charge brought against him by some mullah (an orthodox religious leader) because he had said the Darood-Ibrahim (a kind of prayer that prays that God’s blessings that were given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will also be given to the prophet). This person was accused of pretending to be a Muslim and was charged. The people who heard this prayer were also charged with posing to be Muslims. Some of them are out on bail; some, as I have already pointed out, are in prison. PM: What form does this persecution take in Pakistan? ARG: Besides imprisonment of people, discrimination in-jobs (they are not promoted), their children cannot get into university, even kindergarten. In addition to the assassinations which, as I said, were inspired by certain fundamentalist pirs and mullahs, you also see their sacred buildings defaced or, in some cases, destroyed. In Mardan the mosque was utterly destroyed. In other towns •— in Quetta, in Hyderabad, in Gujranwala — the mosques have been sealed by the authorities. In order to maintain law and order — to “prevent a mass uprising so the argument runs — they simply put padlocks on some of these Ahmadi mosques and post soldiers there so that the Ahmadis are obliged to worship in homes. The sealing of the mosques does not seem to impede their worship. They simply move off to homes. Sometimes they are harassed there, being told that they are transforming homes into public places of worship, so they will move to other homes. Their cemeteries have had tombstones altered by the Ahmadis themselves in conformity to the law. They are told they are not allowed to put certain Muslim inscriptions on their tombstones. If you visit the cemeteries, you will see where these have all had to be removed. They have had to remove the word masjid (mosque) from their places of worship because, according to the law, their Ahmadi places of worship cannot be mosques. If they insist 28 , REVIEW OF RELIGIONS ‘ . ‘ . . on using that term, they are accused of pretending-to be that which they are not •— Muslims. You can see it in the restriction on their places of worship, as well as on their persons. . . PM: What kind of threat does this coercion, pose to traditional Islam? – ARG: That is where we are in the world today. For the people of fundamentalist persuasion,, it is not a threat to Islam. It is the way of securing and protecting the purity of Islam. From a different perspective (which would be my own), I think it is a blight on Islam. My understanding of Islam is that, although no religion is perfect in this respect, it has a better record than Christians or Jews on the question of toleration of other faiths.T. think what is happening in Pakistan is at best an embarrassment to good Pakistani Muslims of sound sense with an understanding of their tradition and, at worst, it is kind of a demonic, inhuman attack on a community. I mentioned imprisonment. That is the least severe of the punishments. There have been murders in shops. A prominent opthamologist was killed in Hyderabad. I would say that in Sind alone probably twenty people have been killed, and in Pakistan may be thirty, or forty. Assassinations such as these are inspired by super-orthodox fundamentalist mullahs, or religious leaders, who think they are protecting Islam against these heretical pollutions. The police, to the best of my knowledge, do nothing about bringing assassins-to court. The cases are not prosecuted. x . . • PM: You mentioned Christianity a mombnt ago. I think I read somewhere that the Ahmadis have beliefs that are related to Christianity and Hinduism.? ARG: Very interesting. Since we are close to Good Friday, it is germane to say that they have this intriguing doctrine of Christ’s death. Christians, of course, affirm that Jesus died on the cross. It is absolutely essential for Christians to .affirm that this is the way God redeems humankind. As you know, Jesus is in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. Jesus, according to orthodox Islam, did not die on the cross, but either a double or someone else died in his stead. Jesus was supernaturally raised up to God, like the Christian doctrine of the ascension.. ” ” • • PM: Is that because they could not believe that God Himself would die in that fashion? ARG: Well, not quite that because for Muslims, of course, Jesus would never be God. Perhaps the largest and most critical objection Muslims REVIEW OF RELIGIONS. ‘ 29 have to Christians is that they have taken a human person and ascribed to this person divine qualities. For Muslims that is the most heinous sin against God. rather, they feel that God would not abandon the prophet. It would be counter to God’s protection of His holy prophets to allow Jesus, the prophet, to die on the cross. God triumphs •— He raises Jesus up to heaven and’those who are faithful to him are ultimately” vindicated. PM: You were going to tell me about the Ahmadis’ belief in the crucifixion.? ARG: Yes. The Ahmadis hold, like orthodox Muslims, that Jesus did not die on the cross but, unlike the orthodox Muslims, they deny his supernatural ascension to heaven from which he will return as Messiah at the end of the age. The Ahmadis say that Jesus retired Eastward to seek out and preach to the lost tribes of Israel, and died in Kashmir. They have his tomb in Kashmir. At that point, they are denying Christian claims that he died on the cross and are denying orthodox Muslim claims that he. was supernaturally raised up to God. That is another point of dissension. I mentioned the most important point — the finality of prophethood in Muhammad •—• Muhammad being the seal or last of the prophets. PM: How are they related to Hinduism? ARG: Negatively and positively-One of the reasons that I think explains the emergence of Ghulam Ahmad in the late nineteenth ‘century was a reaction to Christian missionaries and also to a renascent Hinduism. . Ghulam Ahmad was trying to reassert what he thought were superior claims of Islam against Hindu preaching. They are also related in a positively way in that Ghulam Ahmad claimed not only to be the Ahmadi, the rightly guided one that was expected to restore religion and justice at the end of time, and not only the Promised Messiah that Christians, Jews and orthodox Muslims anticipate, but claimed also to be an avatar, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the prominent Hindu dieties. PM: He made very wide claims then.? ARG: Yes, he did. There is no doubt that, in trying to understanding the •Ahmadis, one cannot mask the centrality of the charasmatic leader-—-not only the founder but even today. In London, England I visited the Khalifa, the spiritual leader of the community who is how in exile in London because his life would be in peril in Pakistan. I was moved and astonished to see the devotion that the devotees gave to the Khalifa. It is a community which is vibrant, highly trained (it has a hundred percent literacy rate), and has a very active missionary outreach in West Africa, Indonesia, and 30 • • REVIEW OF RELIGIONS all over the world. PM: I do not think of Muslims as being people who go out to convert others, but the Ahmadis do.? ARG: Yes. I think Islam itself, of whatever persuasion, is a missionary movement. PM: The Ahmadis, having ten million around the world, seem to be very, very successful as missionaries? ARG: You are absolutely right. They are missionary minded, even beyond the expansion of ordinary Sunni, or orthodox Islam. All Muslims want to propogate what they consider to be the true and final revelation of God. But the Ahmadis do so with a particular intensity. In Rabwah,’ Pakistan, I visited their missionary college where even in these times when it is difficult for foreign Ahmadis to get visas into Pakistan, there are still students from Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Indonesia, United States, and Britain who train to be missionaries and who make this a lifetime vocation. Outside London they have an enormous missionary printing enterprise where they translate the Qur’an and writings of the founder and other theological works of the Movement into hundereds of languages. It is a translation work which reminds me of Christian translation work, such as is done particularly by the conservative Christian groups. They are highly organized and highly disciplined., They are very generous in the giving of theirxmoney to the Movement. It is a Movement which seems not to have lost that first flush of enthusiasm that revitalization Movements in religion usually have. PM: Has it not been almost a century since they started? ARG: Right. When I ask them the reason for their enthusiasm, they say it is because they have the living presence of the Khalifa. They feel that this enthusiasm, this level of dedication, would not persist were it not that they have a divinely guided leader who handles almost all the ongoing affairs of the Community. One of our architects at Carleton university is designing a new Ahmadi mosque in Toronto. He flew over to London to lay the plans before the Khalifa. I simply .do not know how a simple human being has those resources of energy to attend to all the minutest details of a worldwide Community, but so it is. PM: What is happening to that worldwide Community? Are other Muslim countries condemning the Ahmadis as heretics as well? ARG: I think the condemnation is pretty well worldwide in my • REVIEW OF RELIGIONS . 31 experience. PM: Persecution too? ARG: No. I am not acquainted with all of the facts. It would be necessary there to make a sound statement. My impression so far is that harassment which then becomes persecution is expanding around the world because fundamentalism is in, whether it be Christian, Judaic or Islamic fundamentalism. In Pakistan I think the Government has made political mileage by aligning itself .with the desires and designs of the fundamentalist mullahs. The easy way to appear to be super-Islamic •— that is, as I sayy politically advantageous today •—• is to pick on the Ahmadis. I think that maltreatment of Ahmadis exists in other countries as well, although it seems to exist with particular virulence in present-day Pakistan. ‘; PM: What do the fundamentalist mullahs in Iran think of the Ahmadis? • . ARG: The Shi’ites themselves are already accustomed to -being somewhat’On the outside with respect to Sunni Islam. I would expect that the relationships are not so acrimonious as they are with Sunni countries. In the case of Saudi Airabis, some have speculated that the intensity of Pakistan’s governmental opposition to the Ahmadis is generated not only by a collusion with the fundamentalist mullahs in order to allow the Government to appear dedicatedly Islamic and therefore attractive to the religious masses, but is also motivated by a desire to acquiesce in Saudi Arabis’s designs to be the. o’rthodox spokesman or custodian of Islamic purity. Islam in Pakistan ‘receives funding from Saudi Arabia. The giganitic new Shah Faisal mosque located in Islamabad has been built largely with Saudi money. • PM: What will happen in the future? They seem to be growing faster than Islam itself? ARG: I am not sure what the future holds. From the point of view of the Ahmadis themselves, they are very optimistic. They feel they are in true line of fidelity to the Qur’an, to Muhammad, with the additional inspiration of their founder and the present-day Khalifa. They are ‘supremely confident that the future belongs to them and their version of Islam. PM: Is it that kind of confidence that makes them so attractive? ARG: I asked this question persistently. I travelled all over Pakistan. I 32 • REVIEW OF RELIGIONS have never travelled so much as on this last trip to Pakistan. I would ask: How art you viewed by your neighbours? How do the people you work with, or have to do business with, regard you? Are they distancing themselves from you lest they be contaminated by charges of associating with criminal and heretical Ahmadis? ‘ ‘ •- . • The answer was: No, the relationships with immediate neighbours are very good. The neighbours come to Ahmadi weddings. The opposition’is mainly official and stirred up by particular pirs, holy men or mullahs, who incite mobs usually belonging to’ super-fundamentalist youth • organizations or an association for the protection of the finality of the prophet. -The relations with immediate neighbours are convivial; they are’respected. It is said that General Zia uses Ahmadi doctors because they are well trained and regarded as incorruptible. Because Ahmadi lawyers have a reputation for giving the best possible service, they have as their clients fundamentalist leaders. They are well regarded by the ordinary people in Pakistan. PM: Very, very interesting. I am very grateful to you for coming in and telling us about the Ahmadis. I have been speaking with Dr. Antonio • Gualtieri, Professor of Religion at Carleton University, Ottawa. Thank you again. . (from page 23) • . • . Finally, I wish to clarify one more point. Islam requires submission to the Will of God and in return offers peace. There are people, especially in the Middle East with its continuous war, who use the name of Islam to justify their acts of terrorism, bombing and killing of innocent people. The Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Community in Islam, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, has beautifully explained that Islam does not teach violence and does not permit exploitation whether it be social, political, economic or religious. The political philosophy of .Islam has no room for false or deceptive diplomacy. It believes in absolute morality and enjoins justice and fairness to friends or foes alike, in every sphere of human interest. Islam neither permits compulsion for the spread of its own message nor gives licence to other religions to do so. Indulgence in terrorism, even in the name of the’noblest objectives, is entirely incompatible with the teachings of Islam. Islam teaches that unless man learns to live at peace with himself and his fellow human beings he cannot live at peace with God. :