Oppressions of Ahmadiyya Muslims in Bangladesh

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 28, 2004

Bigotry and zealotry are raising tentacles of fear and oppression in various parts of our globe and Bangladesh is no exception of this. A few months ago, rather than being bold in upholding the nation’s law in protecting freedom of religion and expression, Bangladesh Government, reportedly steered by the radical Islamic groups had imposed crushing injunctions on Ahmadiyya Muslims. Their publishing books were banned, clearly bypassing “Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Bangladesh is a state party states: " Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…”[2]

The recent agitations against the Ahmadiyya community has reportedly been spearheaded by Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ), a partner in Khaleda Zia's coalition government. Though in the past, it was Jamaat-e-Islami who took leading role in anti-Ahmadiyya activities, this time around, at least on the surface, they are not agitating this issue, mostly they are silent. It is mainly Hifazate Khatme Nabuwat Andolon (HKNA) who were leading the activities, including their call for anti-Government movement if Ahmadiyya were not excommunicated soon. [4] A brief look back to history would find a similar pattern between IOJ's recent anti-Ahmadiyya activities and Jamaat's past actions regarding this issue.

A Brief Look Back to History

Agitations against the Ahmadiyya have been going on for many years. Political parties with Islamic tone, in the era of West and East Pakistan, utilized the explosive Ahmadiyya issue, like Jamaat-e-Islami did, when they couldn't make much inroad into the newly formed Pakistani government because government employees were forbidden from engaging in any political groups. This lead to Jamaat-e-Islami's readjustment of its political goal, and it declared itself as the caretakers of Islam in Pakistan. They demanded the outlawing of the Ahmadiya faction of Islam.

A similar pattern can be seen arising in IOJ's agitation against Ahmadiyya, they apparently are following the old example of Jamaat, to get inroad in Bangladeshi politics by exploiting communal tensions. In other words, it is the cheap political ambition of IOJ leaders that seem to be driving their communal actions.

Who are these Ahmadiya believers?

"The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam is a religious organization, international in its scope, with branches in over 174 countries in Africa, North America, South America, Asia, Australasia, and Europe. At present, its total membership exceeds 170 million worldwide. Ahmadiyya Movement was established in 1889 by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) in a small and remote village, Qadian, in the Punjab, India. He claimed to be the expected reformer of the latter days, the Awaited One of the world community of religions (The Mahdi and Messiah). " [3] Mirza Ghulam claimed that he too had experience a divine revelation as Prophet Muhammad had.

For the orthodox Muslim leaders and preachers, this claim by Mirza Ghulam was seen as blasphemous since the Koran explicitly stated that Muhammad was the last Prophet. Except Mirza Ghulam's new revelation claim, "the Ahmadiya believed in exactly the same things as any other Muslim, with regional variations". [1]

Orthodox Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami members were agitating the common Muslims with their burning speeches in the Mosques and newspaper articles that "in a Muslim state the Ahmadiyya be declared a religious minority outside Islam, accorded the same rights as Christians or Hindus, but banned from appearing or recruiting as Muslims". [1] Even the Oxford-educated chief minister of the Punjab, Mumtaz Daultana was part of this anti-Ahmadiyya agitation, mostly for political ambition. However, the agitation began to take the nasty turn, when Pakistan's Ahmadiyya foreign minister Zafarullah Khan publicly acknowledged his Ahmadiyya affiliation by addressing an Ahmadi conference in Karachi. [1]

Initially Maolana Maududi, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami did not wish to get into this nasty debate relating Ahmadiyya questions, however, as anti-Ahmadiyya agitation got its momentum, he did not wish to be outmaneuvered on this issue. He published a 'virulent text' entitled as "The Ahmadiyya Problem". Before his inflammatory book was banned in Pakistan, it was sold 57,000 copies. The message in his book "excited orthodox passions, making Maududi a central figure in what followed". [1]

Here are a few excerpts from Maududi's book:

"Nowadays, experience has proven the great wisdom and beautiful benefits of this good favor from Allah. The belief that Mohammad was the last prophet united all monotheists in following only one prophet, and thus endowed them with what strengthened and ensured their unity and interactions. The renewal of a doctrine by many prophets separate the nation into many communities. If we expel Qadiyanis, none will dare to rise among us and pretend a new message to destroy our unity and solidarity. But if we overlook Qadiyanism, we will help and encourage many pretenders to rise and feign, and thus we participate in harming Muslim solidarity. And if we neglect this danger, our example will be followed by our sons, and thus the destruction will not stop and our society will face a new kind of danger everyday; dangers which split the Muslim nation. This is our true argument on which we base our demands of making Qadiyanis a minority which has the rights of any non-Muslims minority. In fact, the argument that reaches home is with us and no other reasonable argument can be brought against our demand."[1]

In 1953, carefully orchestrated riot broke out in Punjab on this burning issue of Ahmadiya. Pakistani central government imposed martial law and curfew in Lahore. [1] "Soldiers opened fire on bearded mobs." The riots were put down by the Pakistani soldiers within two days. Maududi and his Jamaat-e-Islami party member Kausar Niazi were arrested. They were charged with treason. 'Both were found guilty and sentenced to death, later commuted to some years in prison. Maududi's offence was his book. Kausar Niazi had indulged in violent and obscene rhetoric at a public rally, and stoked the crowd to such a fury that a mob surrounded and lynched an on-duty policeman. For his role in encouraging the riots to further his factional interests in the Muslim League, Chief Minister Mumtaz Daultana was forced to resign, his political career effectively at an end.' [1]

Pakistani government appointed Justice Muhammad Munir and Justice M.R. Kayani to investigate the 'causes of the anti-Ahmadi disturbance'. [1] Tariq Ali in his book "The Clash of Fundamentalisms -- Crusades, Jihads and Modernity" opines that Justice Munir and Kayani produced the only modernist text in Pakistan's history and he insists that instead of lying buried in the archives, it should be part of the university curriculum, or at least made available to the library.

In this investigative report, Justice Munir and Kayani referred to the ulama's call for Pakistan to be run as an official 'Islami State', and to their demands against Ahmadis. Here is a portion of the report:

"The question, therefore, whether a person is or is not a Muslim will be of fundamental importance, and it was for this reason that we asked most of the leading ulama to give their definition of a Muslim, the point being that if the ulama of the various sects believed the Ahmadis to be kafirs [unbelievers], they must have been quite clear in their minds not only about the grounds of such belief but also about the definition of a Muslim because the claim that a certain person or community is not within the pale of Islam implies on the part of the claimant an exact conception of what a Muslim is. The result of this part of the inquiry, however, has been anything but satisfactory, and if considerable confusion exists in the minds of our ulama on such a simple matter, one can easily imagine what the differences on more complicated matters will be.....Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulama, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulama, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim but kafirs according to the definition of everyone else....And it does not require much imagination to judge of the consequences of this doctrine when it is remembered that no two ulama have agreed before us as to the definition of a Muslim....If the constituents of each of the definitions given by the ulama are given effect to, and subjected to the rule of 'combination and permutation' and the form of charge in the Inquisition's sentence on Galileo is adopted mutatis mutandis as a model, the grounds on which a person may be indicted for apostasy will be too numerous to count."

The ulama in those days used to belief (and many claims that they still do) that in an Islamic state, a Muslim who becomes a kafir is subject to the death penalty. Justice Munir and Kayani's report refers to this strongly held view of these Islamic clerics:

Tariq Ali opines that Justice Munir and Kayani's report was a bold defense of modernity and secularism. The report argued that religious intervention was unwarranted, "its recourse to violence had created a political crisis and it could only impede the development of the new state. There it should be excluded from Pakistan's politics and institutions. A separation between religion and the state was crucial if the country was to move forward." What did Jamat-e-Islami had to say on this report? "Maududi's leading lieutenant, Mian Tufail, retorted: 'Our religion is our politics, our politics is our religion'". [1]

Tariq Ali's book is informative, but he does show bias in some instances, against Jamaat-e-Islami, against America as well. It is hard to get to the bottom of the facts in our time of information bonanza, especially the historical ones, since there are so many literature, for or against, it must need serious readings before coming up to any conclusions. Having said that I also feel that we must be vocal against any forms of discriminations and injustices. If we hesitate in our condemnation on blatant violation of human rights for the sole basis that we may lack enough understanding on religious or secular terms for the time, burden of our timely inaction would be bear by the oppressed.

Ignoring their atrocious deeds in Bangladesh's independence war in 1971 for the sake of presenting a balanced view for the moment, many believe that Jamaat-e-Islami must have taken quantifiable positive steps in Bangladesh and Pakistan, without that they could not get so much popular support there. For the vast majority of disenfranchised Bangladeshis, who do not have access to modern education, healthcare and left unattended at the bottom of economic ladder, perhaps Jamaat and other Islamic parties do provide hope with their message of religion and that segments of doctrinal views that conform with social cohesion. And many say that Jamaat-e-Islami "has politically matured significantly to engage in Ahmadiyya issue" this time around. There are other more radical Islamic groups have sprung up in the last few decades. But being one of the dominant religious parties in Bangladesh, and considering their historical role in aniti-Ahmadiyya movements, there can be serious doubts on Jamaat's neutrality in this recent agitation.

Communal based politics has inherent flaws due to their adherence to inflexible dogmatic beliefs that attempt to reshape political landscape with mostly limited and non-progressive steps, may that come from Indian BJP, Bangladeshi or Pakistani Jamaat or IOJ, or even harsh form of Stalinists, or North America's Pat Robertson's and Falwell's followers or Israeli "peaceful" Sharon type agendas, they all have similar disturbing pattern.

I find the Ahmadiyya problem to be a human rights issue, their freedom of choosing religion and performing rituals, their basis to be called Muslim should be respected. Individual people can have different opinion on a particular issue, but the Government must protect the fundamental rights of people. This is also related to Rushdie, Taslima and Humayun Azad issues in broader term. Anytime someone opposes the mainstream of Islam, writes books against religion or "religious" bigots, there are violent attacks or fatwa for their immediate killings.

There is a book of fiction that I read last year, it is Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" where the writer has raised questions on the very essence of Christianity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene issue, Constantine's conspiracy, descendants of Jesus, etc., and not surprisingly that the conservative Christians took it as offence, but the American Government did not ban that book outright, it has been at the top of chart in most Best Seller's list. [7]

Here is an extract from an article on Dan Brown's book: "In 13 months, readers have bought more than six million copies of the book, a historical thriller that claims Christianity was founded on a cover-up -- that the church has conspired for centuries to hide evidence that Jesus was a mere mortal, married Mary Magdalene and had children whose descendants live in France." [6]

In America, Mormons and the Jehovah's Witness sects are ridiculed for their beliefs, but here the Government, still, protects the rights of these folks calling themselves as Christians.

Vocal Muslim Diasporas

In the West, the Muslim immigrant diasporas are vocal toward any forms of oppressions against Muslims. They are mostly united in opposition to injustice in Iraq, occupied Palestine, Kashmir or Chechnya. Should there be any differences and silent acceptance when coercion and brutality occurs in their native lands?

When the “super powers” or “others” commit oppressions against Muslim nations, protests are loud and swift, but then why is the apparent inability in condemning injustice committed by the fellow Muslims on other sects?

Thousands of Muslims are living in fear in America, Canada, UK and other Western nations. And their fear does have justification. Reports of arbitrary imprisonments and deportations, abuses at the workplace, subjected to slur and racial flair, are not uncommon these days. Muslims are in minority here. After the September 11 terrorist acts in the heartland of America, millions of Muslims are paying the price of crime committed by a tiny segment of their community who had adopted murderous philosophy that Muslims in general reject.

Historically, evidences are plentiful in various parts of our world on minority oppression, domination and subjugation by the forceful majority of a region. Before the Civil Rights era, African Americans were subjected to painful racial profiling, hideous discrimination, and unfair justice system and even put into death by lynching for the slightest transgression, without trial or in a staged one.

In India, Muslims are oppressed by the majority Hindus as was clearly demonstrated by the ugly galore in Gujarat riotous killings of thousands of innocent Muslim men, women and children, burnt alive, or stabbed, mutilated, raped, and desecrated. This was not the first time that it had happened. In Mumbai, Delhi and in other parts of India similar atrocious pasts are unforgettable.

Muslims do not have their hands clean either. They had oppressed fellow minority populace wherever the opportunity arose. In Bangladesh, there are reports of systemic oppressions on minority Hindus, roasting alive entire Hindu family, raping of 11 year old Hindu girl, looting, blatant discrimination, and the non-cooperative police force in solving these crimes are not distal phenomena. As were the killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915 by the Ottoman Turks that till to date many Muslims and even the Turkish Government remain in state of denial.

There are criminals in every nation, under the umbrella of every religion. The goons who excommunicated 100 Ahmadiyya Muslims, including women and children, in the district of Kushtia, the murderers who had beaten to death the Imam of a local Ahmadiyya mosque in the district of Jessore last year, the raiding of Ahmadiyya mosques, burning and banning of their books and this year Government of Bangladesh’s adoption of intolerant policy toward Ahmadiyya community that goes against all the standard international Human Rights laws, are shocking.

Even a small concession to the bigots can legitimize oppressions against minority. This shameful example could be utilized in appalling manner by other zealots in other nations in devising and implementing their legitimization of oppression against the Muslim minority.

I find all the Ahmadiyya and other related issues puzzling. Being raised and born in a Muslim family, I did find Islam to be a peaceful religion. But the goons and thugs of various Islamic parties, not so different from other secular political parties' goons, makes me feel sad. If Islam espouses to be puritanical than the secularists can dare to claim, then purity must come from our actions, in the foremost form of respecting others' views, their creeds and religions or non-religions. Jamaat-e-Islami, IOJ and others can surely play positive role, and Islam does provide ample of resources to lead peaceful and productive lives, but first there must be shift on rotten politics that's been going on in Bangladesh and other parts of our subcontinent.

It is paramount that Muslims join forces with the others in the international community in condemning wholeheartedly against any forms of discrimination and oppression on the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Bangladesh.


1. Tariq Ali, "The Clash of Fundamentalisms – Crusades, Jihads and Modernity", Verso, London, New York, 2002

2. Amnesty International “Bangladesh -- The Ahmadiyya Community -- Their Rights Must Be Protected”, April 23, 2004.

3. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, http://www.alislam.org/

4. Sharier Khan, "New Wave of Intolerance: Bangladesh Cracks Down on Muslim Sect", One World Net, January 9, 2004.

5. "Bangladesh: Ahmadiyya Books Banned", The Daily Star, January 9, 2004.

6. Laurie Goodstein, "Defenders of Christianity Rebut", The New York Times, April 27, 2004.

7. Dan Brown, "Da Vinci Code", 2003.


Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.