Ahmadiyya is an Islamic movement that was founded in 1889 in British-ruled Punjab by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1908). The movement was immediately controversial because it opposed the authority of the religious scholars (’ulama) and because of Ahmad’s claim to “prophethood.” Ahmad’s claim is contentious because most Muslims believe that Muhammad is the final prophet sent by God (Qur’an 33:40 and Sahih Al-Bukhari 2:390).
Ahmad claimed to be a divinely appointed reformer of Islam and wanted to return the religion to its roots. He also claimed to be the mahdi who many Muslims expect to return at the end of the world and usher in victory for Islam. The orthodox Islamic view, however, is that Muhammad was the final prophet and that there have been no prophets after him (Q33:40). This means that from the orthodox view, Ahmad’s claims are erroneous and challenge the non-negotiable principles of Islam itself (1). Ahmad did not claim to bring new revelation over and above the Qur’an, but rather offered a new interpretation to bring his religion back to its foundations (2).
Ahmad’s claim to prophethood was only one of his teachings as he authored more than eighty books and speeches in which other contested proclamations can be found (3). Some of these claims include a self-reference to himself at being the reformer of the century, which drew on a tradition that a Muslim reformer would appear every one hundred years. He proposed notions of undermining military battle against non-believers by calling it the “Smallest Jihad” and emphasizing the “Greater Holy War” as being the fight of believers against their inner demons, and for his view that Jesus Christ had neither died on the cross nor was lifted bodily to heaven (as the ’ulama generally hold) but survived the crucifixion and continued his missions in the East, particularly in Afghanistan and Kashmir, where he died a normal death and was buried.
Shortly after Ahmad’s death, the Ahmadiyya split into two major factions: the Lahore Ahmadiyya and the Qadiani Ahmadiyyas. The Lahore branch accepted Ahmad as a renewer of Islam, but went no further than this and rejected his claim of being a minor prophet.
Life has been challenging for Ahmadiyya globally because they are often persecuted by Muslim religious and state authorities across the world (4). Even in territories where Islam is a minority religion and without significant state power, the Ahmadiyya face significant persecution and ostracization in Muslim communities. According to Ali Qadir of the University of Tampere, Finland, “the Ahmadiyya have been declared heretics in just about every country in the world”, and this is why strong opposition exists to their self-identifying as “Muslim” (5). In many areas, they have been stripped jurisprudentially from not only identifying as Muslim but also of their right to marriage and inheritance. Muslim authorities also claim the Ahmadis must be actively countered and ejected from all Islamic sacred spaces, including mosques and burial sites, and disallowed to participate in the obligatory rituals (6). These attitudes reflect in general perceptions of the Ahmadis. In Pakistan, only 7% of interviewees see Ahmadis as Muslim, as do just 12% of Indonesians, 16% of Malaysians, 25% of Thais, and 40% of Bangladeshis (7). There is concerning violence and discrimination against Ahmadis in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, and across North Africa (8). In Saudi Arabia, they are prohibited from entering Mecca and Medina (9).
The Ahmadiyya communities are often small numbering into a few hundred to a few thousand. There are roughly ten million today across various countries.
References and Recommended Readings
1. Haron, Muhammed. 2018. “Africa’s Muslim Authorities and Ahmadis: Curbed Freedoms, Circumvented Legalities.” The Review of Faith and International Affairs. 16(4):60-74. p. 64.
2. Ambalu, Shumalit. 2013. The Religions Book. London: DK Publishing. p. 284-285.
3. Qadir, Ali. 2016. “How Heresy Makes Orthodoxy: The Sedimentation of Sunnism in the Ahmadi Cases of South Africa.” Sociology of Islam 4:345-367. p. 350.
4. Qadir, Ali. 2016. Ibid. p. 345-367; Haron, Muhammed. 2018. Ibid. p. 60-74.
5. Qadir, Ali. 2016. Ibid. p. 346.
6. Haron, Muhammed. 2018. Ibid. p. 70.
7.. Pew Research Center. 2009. Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A report on the size and distribution of the world’s Muslim population. Available.
8. Qadir, Ali. 2016. Ibid. p. 351.
9. Qadir, Ali. 2016. Ibid. p. 351.