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A Messianic Movement


Yohanan Friedman


By Simon Ross Valentine
Hurst & Co, London, 2008, pp. 263, price not stated.

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 6 June 2009

The Ahmadiyya is a modern Muslim messianic movement. It was founded in 1889 in the Indian province of the Panjab by Ghulam Ahmad (c. 1835–1908). Having been accused of rejecting the Muslim dogma asserting the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood, the movement aroused fierce opposition from the Sunni mainstream. During the period of British rule in India, the controversy was merely a doctrinal dispute between private individuals or voluntary organizations; but when most Ahmadis moved in 1947 to the professedly Islamic state of Pakistan, the issue was transformed into a major constitutional problem. The Sunni Muslim mainstream demanded the formal exclusion of the Ahmadis from the Muslim fold. This objective was attained in 1974: against fierce opposition of the Ahmadis, the Pakistani parliament adopted a constitutional amendment declaring them non-Muslims. This was an extraordinary event: a parliament elected through secular procedures arrogated to itself the authority of an assembly of theologians, ruled on subtle points in Muslim tradition and on the religious affiliation of individual citizens—and has done all this in total disregard of the deeply held convictions of the people affected by this ruling. In 1984, in the framework of Ziya ul-Haqq’s Islamization trend in Pakistan, Presidential ‘Ordinance no. XX of 1984’ transformed the religious observance of the Ahmadis into a criminal offence, punishable by three years of imprisonment. The ordinance has since become an instrument of choice for the harassment and judicial persecution of the Ahmadi community. Following its promulgation, the headquarters of the Qadiyani branch of the Ahmadi movement moved from Rabwa (in Pakistan) to London. At the time of writing (April 2009), the movement is headed by Mirza Masrur Ahmad, the fifth successor (khalifa) of the founder, who assumed office in 2003.   The Ahmadiyya is an extremely active—and controversial—religious movement in modern Islam. This fact, together with the trials and tribulations which the Ahmadis have suffered and are still suffering in Pakistan and elsewhere, gave rise to much academic and public interest. Numerous books and articles, discussing various aspects of Ahmadi history and thought, have been published since the beginning of the 20th century. Recently, a new approach to the study of the movement has emerged, namely books by ‘participant observers’. After Antonio Gualtieri’s The Ahmadis. Community: Gender and Politics in Muslim Society (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2004), Valentine’s book is the second in this genre. The author became acquainted with the Ahmadiyya while teaching at the University of ...


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