Targeted by both society and the state, Ahmadis in Malaysia plead for a fair voice, fearing the worst if they're denied this.
SELAYANG: In the middle of Kampung Nakhoda, there is an unassuming three-storey building. Nothing about its humble stature makes it stand out from nearby houses, except for a council-erected signboard that clearly reads: “Qadiani Bukan Islam” (Qadianis are not Muslims).
Youths mingle inside the building’s compound, warily observing passers-by beyond the front gate. At FMT’s approach, they smiled and opened the gate, only to quickly close it, and the front doors leading to the building’s living room.
Inside, the youths set up video cameras and other recording equipment. They are friendly, but slightly skittish with the visiting journalist. They relax a little when their religious leader, Maulana Ainul Yaqeen Sahib, enters.
It is easy to see why. Ainul belongs to the Ahmadiyya movement, an Islamic sect coldly received by Malaysia’s Sunni Islamic authorities.
Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) officers in the past, he said, have raided the building – named Baitussalam – which serves as the local Ahmadiyya community’s gathering place and mosque.
“They (JAIS) pushed themselves through a hole in the front gate when we didn’t let them come in. They didn’t have a warrant,” he told FMT, relating the 2009 incident.
The JAIS officers barged their way into the building, and started inspecting its prayer room and taking photographs.
Ainul also said that a few of these officers would later pose as curious university students. One of them, he claimed, “borrowed” a copy of the Quran, and never gave back.
Given the cold shoulder
According to Ainul, Ahmadis are no different from other Muslims in terms of practice and the faith. “We follow the Quran, the five pillars of Islam and the tradition of the Holy Prophet. Even our Kalimah (Islamic creed) is the same,” he said.
But what sets them apart from other Muslims, is the belief that their sect’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was Islam’s Promised Messiah and the redeemer, the Imam Mahdi.
(The Ahmadiyya movement began in Qadian, India, during the late 19th century, and was later called Qadianis.)
It is a belief that has not only incurred the wrath of hardline Islamic authorities, but also their supporters.
In May 2010, Pakistani terrorists attacked two Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore with grenades and automatic rifles, killing 86 and injuring more than 120.
Earlier in February this year, an Indonesian mob attacked an Ahmadiyya community in Cikeusik, Java. Videos released on the Internet showed the mob chanting “Allahuakbar” (God is great) as they beat and killed three Ahmadis, raining blows on them with sticks and stones even as they lay dead on the ground.
While outright violence against Malaysia’s 2,000-odd Ahmadis is unknown, the sect’s believers nevertheless are given the cold shoulder by both the authorities and locals.
According to the Ahmadis, opposition against the movement started shortly after the movement was introduced to Malaya by an Indian missionary in the 1930s.
In December 2008, Selangor executive council chairman (for religious affairs) Hasan Mohamed Ali said that the state government was looking into forcibly grabbing the Baitussalam land.
Six months later, in April 2009, the Selangor Islamic Relgious Council (MAIS) issued a directive forbidding the Ahmadis from using the Kampung Nakhoda mosque for Friday prayers.
Those who disobeyed this order, MAIS said, could be subject to a fine and imprisonment.
A 2008 text released by the Federal Territories Mufti’s Office, under the Prime Minister’s Department, claimed that Mirza Ghulam was a British agent sent to divide the Muslims in 19th century India.
Entitled “Beware! Qadianis are out of Islam”, it also alleged that the Ahmadiyya movement received Zionist support, and printed its propaganda material within Israel.
Deceased Malaysian Ahmadis were not allowed to be buried in Muslim cemeteries, Ainul said, adding that their bodies had to be taken to a special gravesite in Cheras.
A few religious Muslim leaders, he claimed, were raising suggestions to change the Ahmadis’ religion under the MyKad to “Qadiani” instead of “Muslim”.
Children not spared
Citing a nearby mosque in the area, he said: “The uztaz (religious leader) made a speech…saying, ‘In Indonesia, these people (Ahmadis) can be killed.’ So indirectly, they’re asking the community to attack us.”
Although physical violence against Ahmadis is unheard of here, locals nevertheless act in their own way.
“They used to throw faeces at my father’s house… During (this year’s) Ramadan, some people threw fireworks in here… children would pass by shouting, ‘Qadiani kafir!’ (Qadianis are infidels!),” Ainul said.
In one instance, FMT noticed a passing motorcyclist who shouted “Astaghfirullah!” (I seek forgiveness from Allah) at the compound, hinting that the Ahmadis had strayed from Islam.
Not even the Ahmadis’ children are spared.
Mohd Farid Kamam, 26, said that his schoolmates saw him leaving Baitussalam one Friday afternoon when he was in Form Three.
“I was lining up on Monday assembly, and I heard my friends saying ‘sesat’ (astray), but I didn’t know (they were referring to me).”
“When I entered the classroom, seven of my classmates surrounded me and said that I had strayed from Islam… they asked me to recite the Kalimah Shahada to determine that I was Muslim,” he said.
Adding that he had done so, his classmates left him alone after that. But the school’s religious teachers would not, with some even refusing to acknowledge him.
“My friends and I were giving ‘salam’ to a passing uztaz. He would return the salam to my friends, but knowing that I was an Ahmadi, he would not return it to me,” Mohd Farid said.
Bowing to idols
“I entered the exam hall, and everyone had a chair except me, so I had to bring in a chair (from outside the hall). As I was carrying it, one of my schoolmates smiled at me and said in front of hundreds of people, ‘What are you here for? You’re not a Muslim, you don’t have to do this exam’,” Mohd Farid said, grinding his teeth.
Malaysian Ahmadis also have to bear the brunt of various accusations about their beliefs. Some of these included “wudu” (the act of washing before prayer) with water from corpses, praying in the nude, dancing the “joget” during prayer and bowing to idols.
Jariullah Ahmad, another believer, told FMT that some locals claimed that the Ahmadis encouraged the eating of pork.
“When my grandmother was taking care of a (hawker) stall, people used to say that she would put pork bones into her food,” he said.
He claimed that state religious leaders were purposely aligning Malaysians against the Ahmadis.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Pakatan Rakyat or a Barisan Nasional government, because they’re both advised by the mullahs here,” Jariullah said.
As such, the Ahmadis have asked for the both the government and the mass media to allow for an open discussion over their beliefs.
Those requests have apparently fallen on deaf ears, Ainul said.
“What we want is an open discussion with JAIS and the religious authorities. We want a platform where we can speak out, and the public can watch. They can ask us questions… we will answer them and let the people judge for themselves,” he said.
Even so, Ainul did not appear confident that this would take place. He feared that his people might suffer the same fate as the Indonesian Ahmadis.
“If they don’t take the right action, we’re afraid that people will turn into a mob… it’s happened to Indonesia, now it’s at the stage where they throw stones at us.”
“We feel that worse things will happen here,” he said.