Thank God for reporters like Stewart Bell of the National Post. Now that I am outside the realm of state secrets I have come to rely on people like him to do the investigative legwork that keeps me informed on what is going on in the world of terrorism, both in Canada and abroad. Just as I was very busy when I worked for CSIS, Stewart’s stories are a constant presence in my news feeds and I think that he may actually be more engaged on this file than I ever was.
One of his articles caught my eye for what it says about terrorist mindset and ideology. A few weeks back allegations were made that a Toronto man may have been involved in a “siege” at a mosque in Pakistan where the mob threatened to take “extreme measures” against people it claimed were illegally occupying the building. The mosque belonged to the local Ahmadiyya community.
I would guess that most people have no idea who the Ahmadis are. They are a 19th century alternative sect of Islam that arose in what was then the Punjab region of British India. A man named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be the Mujaddid (renewer) who would fulfill Islamic prophecies of global triumph. In essence he was a Messiah-like figure, or Mahdi. In other words, a prophet.
Islam teaches that the Prophet Muhammad was the last such man, the “seal” of prophecy who was the final one in a line of prophets (Adam, Abraham, Noah…all the way to Jesus). No one is allowed to succeed him and any person who claims to be such a prophet is an apostate. The Ahmadis are rejected by many in mainstream Islam while extremists want to kill them for their apostasy. Islamist terrorists refer to the Ahmadis with a derogatory term – the Qadiani (derived from a town in India where Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was born) – and call for their death. Here are a few examples of their online vitriol:
- In June 2014 members of a jihadi online forum accused Pakistan of supporting the Qadiani and wondered why it was not being punished for its actions
- In a December 2011 video members of the Tehrik-e-Talban Pakistan criticized the Pakistani army for calling a dead Ahmadi soldier a “martyr” despite the government’s pronouncement that the Ahmadis were un-Islamic
- In a claim of responsibility for an attack on an Ahmadi mosque in Bangladesh in December 2015, IS wrote that the “martyr” had exploded his suicide vest in a crowd of “polytheists”.
Other attacks on Ahmadi places of worship have taken place in Indonesia. Ahmadis complain, with reason, that local authorities either do not take the threat against them seriously, or secretly support the extremist action against them. There was even the killing of an Ahmadi shopkeeper in Glasgow by a cab driver who could not countenance the man’s beliefs.
We all know that sectarian differences are all too common in religion. Christianity is rife with them and the faithful fought each other for centuries as each side sought to prove that it had a monopoly on the truth. Israeli Jews are beset with differences in Judaism that border in some cases on religious extremism. Everyone seems to see his group as cornering the market on orthodoxy and cannot tolerate difference.
I am not a Muslim and therefore am hugely unqualified to understand just what the mainstream majority feels about the Ahmadi claim that a modern prophet arrived in the 19th century. And yet, come on people, it is 2016. We have come a long way from the wars of religion in the Middle Ages (inter- and intra-faith) and should know better, although I fear we are entering a new era of religious conflict. There is a solution and it is not complicated. We need to accept that each of us has his or her own interpretation of the divine, and that includes the conviction that there is no divine being. Why is anyone threatened by a different idea? How does it impact on how you hold to your deeply felt views? Why can’t we agree to disagree and worship whatever god we feel to be true in our own way?
There is enough religious terrorism and extremism already in the world and no need to add to this scourge. My guess is that the average Ahmadi is an ordinary Joe, trying to make a living, provide for his family and engage in his faith. How is that any different than the rest of us?
We need to condemn anti-Ahmadi messaging, whether violent or not. That would be the religious thing to do.