Sarah Khan, London
A close friend of mine once recounted to me an action she saw made by a wise person. This spiritual leader took a thread of black and a thread of white. He wound them together so they criss-crossed, becoming intertwined. This, he explained gently, was the path of life. The black represented the hardship and difficult times, the white represented ease and peace, both were intrinsically linked together and could not be separated.
It seemed, to my idealistic self in my late teens, to be a pretty allegory and a simple illustration of a key religious principle. But as I have matured and lived through the realities of life; marriage, childbirth, death of a parent, the loss of income, illness, etc. I have come to realise that this illustration held a great depth of truth. With every difficulty we experience, we also have a measure of comfort and joy. When you are young and headstrong it is easy to be overwhelmed by emotion, to view life in the moment and to fail to see the bigger picture. Time and experience tempers your reactions and you realise that difficulties will pass and pain will lessen. Time does not heal all wounds but it often makes the suffering less acute. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we look back and see that from difficult situations, something positive arises which would not have happened without going through hardship.
This isn’t just a notion that has struck me alone, it is a key principle of God as described in the Holy Qur’an. Very simply, but in a profoundly beautiful manner, God makes the statement ‘Surely there is ease after hardship. Aye; surely there is ease after hardship.’. This short verse offers comfort to the weary soul who wonders at the trials they face and seeks to know if there is an end to their pain. It is a shining light which glows in the heart of the faithful during their darkest hours and it bolsters the strength of faith for those who suffer. It is verses such as these which develop a love of God in the heart of every true Muslim and encourage them to develop a personal relationship with their Creator. The test of time has proven these verses to be true for many people around the globe.
It was this simple illustration mentioned above and the recollection of those verse which came to mind a short while ago on the death of Asad Shah, a shop keeper in Glasgow and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, to which I belong. Very quickly it became apparent that this crime was committed by another Muslim and was a direct result of Mr Shah’s belief as an Ahmadi Muslim. Initially, there was nothing surprising about that fact. Sadly, murders such as this are common place in Pakistan and other countries where the brutality and violence towards Ahmadis is tolerated and often goes unpunished. However, I knew within a few hours that this particular death would symbolise something greater than the loss of one life.
Within a few hours the death was being reported by media outlets across the UK and this spread across the US and further afield. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, attended a vigil held to mark the murder and it became very quickly clear that the media were roundly condemning the slaying of a person universally reported to have been kind and friendly towards all members of his local community. The killer of Mr Shah released a statement saying that the victim had ‘disrespected the messenger of Islam’ and that ‘no-one has the right’ to do that as if this gave him the right to be judge, jury and executioner in this case.
The media interest led the Muslim Council of Britain, a collective of various Islamic groups that acts together to speak about Islamic issues, to condemn the murder. However, the statement they released was full of contradiction. While on one hand they say that ‘we affirm the rights of Ahmadis to their freedom of belief’ they directly contradict this by claiming they should not ‘be forced’ to acknowledge Ahmadis as Muslims. So clearly the MCB is not respecting the Ahmadis right to be called Muslim and the words they share are merely hollow echoes blowing in the wind.
It may seem to some outsiders to be mere semantics, internal factions debating with one another. But to live the life of an Ahmadi is to know the fear and pain such statements cause. We are raised as Muslims, we read the same Quran as all Muslims, we love and venerate the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as all Muslims do, we offer the same words of Prayer as all Muslims and we wear headscarves as other Muslim women do. We face Mecca when we Pray. In our hearts we are Muslim and we love Islam. When acts of violence or extremism occur by Muslims who have no connection to our Community and who would probably attack us given half a chance, we rush to defend our faith by all peaceful means. We know fully well that we are Muslims and we do not need any Council, in Britain or elsewhere, to place their seal of approval upon our claim. It matters not one jot to us if they refuse to call us Muslim, it will not alter our behaviour or our actions. The Ahmadiyya Community has thousands of mosques across the globe, we run free schools and hospitals, we distribute Qurans and run satellite tv and radio stations educating people about the beauty of our peaceful faith.
The statement of the MCB does not harm us at all, in fact quite the opposite. The duplicity and narrow mindedness conveyed in the few carefully chosen words released last week, reflects only upon those who wrote it, not on those about whom it was written. Nothing the MCB stated places the Ahmadis in a negative light but it clearly indicates that, in refusing to recognise the right of Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim, they have shown themselves to be on the side of the extremists. They have failed to explain how they have the right to make such a decision about the faith of others.
The first group to declare Ahmadis as not Muslim was the government of Pakistan in 1974. This was a political decision made by politicians who seemingly had no remit to make such a call. Surely faith should be a matter of conscience and not governmental decree? Since 1974, Pakistan has engaged in the wholesale marginalisation of Ahmadis and has taken all steps possible to criminalise the creed of Ahmadiyyat; Ahmadis cannot ‘pose’ as Muslims, cannot call their mosques a mosque, cannot be buried in Muslim graveyards, cannot use Islamic terms to greet others. No stone has been left unturned in the attempt to crush the spirit of Ahmadis in Pakistan. But what has the result of the persecution been?
For the Ahmadiyya Community, it has seen its message spread far and wide. No demonstrations or protests were held against court rulings, Ahmadis accepted every new attack in law or in body, with dignity and firmness of faith. The number of Ahmadis in the world has grown year on year by conversion and not natural increase. Where once no-one had heard the name of our Community, now government leaders and ministers of state acknowledge the good works and good example of our members. No single member of the Ahmadiyya Community has any link to Islamic extremism or violence, no-one has fled to Syria or elsewhere.
And as for Pakistan? Sadly, with deep regret, each passing year sees the situation in Pakistan worsen. Security is growing weaker with shootings, terrorist strikes, drone attacks and more blighting the country. Political turmoil and corruption is rife. Minorities suffer intense persecution and live in fear of their lives. If any person is brave enough to defend their rights and speak out for justice they are killed and no-one will agree to prosecute their killers who are hailed as heroes. Justice and humanity are diminishing values in a country which has a rich history of culture, art and hospitality, the loving and warm hearts of the people are being overshadowed by the spectre of extremism and sectarianism.
So when the MCB released its statement this week they aligned themselves with the government of Pakistan, they chose to rule on personal matters of faith and chose to stand with those who believe they have a right to say who is and who is not a Muslim. In doing so they will not affect the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we will continue as we were before.
The head of the Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, known as the Khalifah, quoted the founder of Ahmadiyyat on this issue at an earlier event of persecution. ‘The Promised Messiah (peace be upon him) stated that hardships never concern him because he has complete faith in the Beneficence of God Almighty, Who can change despair into hope, Whose favours are always within reach for those who make the effort. The intention of giving up a vice when one is faced with hardships becomes a source of true repentance for him. In such a case, the luminance of hope clears away the darkness of despair, and such a person advances towards spiritual progress’.
So the death of Asad Shah is a sad event, that a young man so kind should be killed for his beliefs. But from this death, the MCB has made their bigotry known and it is clear for all to see. In the loss of his life he may lead many to investigate why our peace loving Community is so brutally and violently rejected by others who claim to be Muslim. It will cause the Ahmadi Muslims across the world to reaffirm their faith and reassess their actions. Just as the black and white thread were intertwined, after the hardship of this tragic loss and the hurtful statements of the MCB, steadfastness of faith will see, with the Will of God, the white thread of ease resurge.
 Holy Quran: 94:6-7