Published on: 2011-09-30
Written By: Irena Akbar
Ahmediyya community is a sect of Muslims,which is declared 'non-Muslim' in Pakistan.
I got a tip-off on my phone last Friday from a source who sent me an SMS about a protest that was about to happen in an hour at the Constitutional Club in Delhi.
The message said the protest was against Qadianis and would be led by All India Muslim Personal Law Board member Kamal Farooqui. But what was the protest really about,I messaged him back (since many protests in our democracy are often without any particular cause). He replied with just the mobile number of Mr Farooqui.
So,I dialled Mr Farooqui,introduced myself and asked him about the protest. In a hurried manner,he told me to come to the venue immediately as the Qadianis are not real Muslims and are organising some exhibition related to Islam.
Even as the real Muslims bit had already,in my mind,partly stripped the protest of its genuineness,I still went ahead to the Constitution Club. To be fair in my reportage,I first decided to check out the exhibition and see for myself if there was a case for blasphemy. As soon as I reached the venue,I saw a fairly large number of cops manning the gate,but not stopping anyone from walking in.
I couldn’t find any signs of protest though no crowds,no sloganeering,no placards. I walked past the gate,and saw a sign announcing an exhibition of the Quran,being organised by the Ahmediyya community (Qadianis are also known as Ahmediyyas; it is a sect of Muslims which is declared non-Muslim in Pakistan and is allegedly persecuted in Islamic countries such as Iran for their blasphemous interpretation of the Quran; in secular India,they freely practise their faith).
All I know about Qadianis/Ahmediyyas is through Wikipedia. There are just about 2.5 lakh Qadianis in India and I had never met anyone of the community till I walked into the exhibition hosted by them. The entrance to the hall,where the exhibition took place,had large posters that said the Quran,and Islam,denounce terrorism,and advocate peace,unity and humankind. Inside,there were 53 copies of the Quran all in different languages,from Spanish and Deutsch to Malayalam and Gujarati displayed neatly. Inside the hall,too,there were posters that talked again of peace,humanity and women’s rights,as preached by the Quran. Exactly what I wanted to see.
Forget blasphemous,there was noting even remotely offensive about the exhibition.
I spoke to the organisers,and they were pretty soft-spoken,as they explained to me about their community its population,its reach,and the ongoing Quran translation project without a hint of pride in their demeanour. When I asked them whether they knew about the protest,they told me they heard about it but chose not to mouth any objection to it.
These people think we are not real Muslims because of a few differences in our interpretation, is all that Aziz Ahmed,an Ahmeddiya representative,said.
Outside,Farooqui,and some of his cronies,were waiting,quite obviously,for the media to arrive. Farooqui was frantically on his phone,even as he started giving me juicy,rhetorical soundbytes. Nobody is denying their right to exhibit,but why are they calling themselves Muslims,when they are not? They can do anything,but please,they should not call themselves Muslims!
Suddenly,an SUV arrived at the building,and Yahya Bukhari,a relative of Shahi Imam Bukhari,stepped out,thundering,Quran is not a book to be exhibited. We will bring lakhs of people here tomorrow,if they don’t stop this exhibition! Bukhari even yelled at a cop,Why are you stopping the protestors? When someone touches religion,it’s like a coffin being out over you! His rhetoric was matched with his animated body language raised fingers,eyes popping out,nostrils flaring etc.
By this time,there were enough shutterbugs and correspondents to capture the melodrama. Farooqui,Bukhauri,and some 20 other protesters held up placards denouncing the Qadianis,and posed for the cameras.
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The next day,I didn’t bother to visit the site to see if Farooqui and Bukhari lived up to their threats. They did,as I read in the papers. Shahi Imam Bukhari came to the spot,made his presence felt as he fed a hungry media with the nutrition of his fatty sound bytes,got detained,along with 56 other protesters,and yes,the exhibition got prematurely shut.
I am not Ahmediyya,I know little of their different beliefs,I may even differ with them in their beliefs,but I defend their right to exhibit,their right to say they are Muslims or whatever else they wish to call themselves,and their right to not be treated in such a shoddy way as I had seen. I had only heard or read about discrimination against them,many a times,dismissing them as exaggerated. On Friday,I was witness to it.