Hamza Ali Abbassi has whipped up a storm with his recent Ramadan TV shows by daring to ask the (taboo) question:

‘Does a state have the right to judge an individual or community’s status as a Muslim?’

Whether one agrees or not with his act of broaching this controversial question, few would argue that it takes a lot of guts to do that in a country still fresh with the memory of the ideologically driven murder of Salmaan Taseer who also skirted these waters. Many have come out and voiced their support for Hamza. And as expected, yet regrettably, many have gone as far as to say they now see him as an Ahmadi-apostate punishable by death.

It is thus incumbent upon those of us who agree with him to honour this opportunity by opening dialogue and overcoming grave misconceptions. As a former orthodox who is now an Ahmadi, I am reaching out to my orthodox brothers and sisters (many of whom are in my own family) with what I have come to understand as the gravest misconceptions among orthodoxy about Ahmadis that leads to vitriol and hate.

1)      Ahmadis do not believe in finality of the prophethood

This is the single greatest subject that drums up animosity among the orthodoxy, that Ahmadis have deviated by believing in a prophet after Muhammad (SAW). The reality is that Ahmadis believe the founder of their ideology to be the return of ‘Jesus son of Mary’ as foretold in Islamic scriptures. Ahmadis, like many orthodox Muslim scholars of today and past, believe that Jesus died a natural death. We take the reference to ‘Jesus’ for the Messiah to come as symbolic. For example, just like terrorism we see today, we believe there is a parallel to the messianic events during the times of Jesus (AS) when certain Jewish sects exacted violence to cleanse the holy land of whoever they deemed to be infidels, including fellow Jews.

Given the use of symbols and examples in the Holy Quran (18:54), this should be seen as an interpretation of the prophecy of coming of Jesus, whether one accepts it or not. Most Islamic scholars will affirm that belief in the return of Jesus is essential to the Islamic faith. Those orthodox Muslims who convert into the Ahmadiyya movement are compelled by this belief—sometimes at the cost of severe persecution, even death.

Ahmadis fully endorse the finality of prophethood of Muhammad (SAW) to mean he is the most excellent and final law-bearing Seal of Prophets. Orthodox Islamic theology itself endorses the return of Jesus after Muhammad but that he will dispense his prophethood in the future under the Islamic Sharia—in principle, Ahmadis and Orthodox Muslims are in agreement here.

2)      Ahmadis were agents of Britain and abrogated jihad

There are those who have sold the narrative that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was planted by the British colonialists in the 19th century to subvert Islamic interests by abrogating jihad. I encourage everyone who has not done so to read British Government and Jihad and judge for themselves. It outlines the historical context of the military engagements undertaken by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his companions under the threat of extinction by their enemies. He exhorted that invoking this religious injunction is not justified as the British not only do not persecute Muslims on account of religion, but in fact they alleviated Muslims from religious-persecution of the Sikh rulers.

Further, many orthodox Muslim scholars of the time voiced their opinion that a religious notion of a jihad-rebellion is not valid against the British occupation. One of the highly revered Muslim leaders of the time was Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. While responding to allegations of anti-British Jihadi-ideals and violence among India’s Muslims, Sir Syed wrote in his book Review of the Indian Muslim

“Jihad can be valid provided that the Muslims leading the Jihad be not the subjects of those Infidels, living under them in peace, without oppression, provided there exists no treaty between them” 

He even goes as far as to say:

"Muslims are bound to obey an Infidel ruler as long as he does not interfere with their religion"

3)      Consensus of the scholars sanctions apostasy for Ahmadis

This psychology, whether in Islam or any other religion, cannot be underscored—people put a lot of stock into what scholars tell them. Orthodox Muslims say there is a consensus among Islamic scholarship that Ahmadis are not Muslims. It is historical and religious knowledge that Jesus Christ (AS), a true prophet, was opposed and persecuted by the Jewish clergy who gained a consensus against him. Hence there is a powerful precedent that consensus of scholars can be wrong, as it was clearly wrong in the case of Jesus. Ultimately, to decide who is a Muslim or not is the reserve of Allah, not scholars.

I invite our Muslim brothers and sisters to engage us in a peaceful, well-meaning and constructive dialogue. I honour their right to disagree with us and see us in whatever light they choose to. I look forward to hearing their arguments against my convictions. But it is time for us to do the right thing. Too much hate has oozed out of the pit of ignorance and too much blood has been spilled as a consequence. As Hamza Ali Abbassi exhorted during his show, religion used to be a good thing when we used to head out to the mosque to seek spirituality and redeem ourselves before God. Today, it has become a festoon of sectarianism, hate-speech and violence—a place to avoid. Let us redeem ourselves now.