On March 6th, a humanist press outlet in Germany published an Article by the author Naureen Ghaury in which she gave an insight into the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. (an english translation of it was posted in this subreddit yesterday). Iftekhar Ahmed, an imam from the community, accused her in a Tweet that she was spreading untrue statements about the Jamaat. I asked him to explain his claim. His answer and my reply are posted below (The original conversation was in German, Translation by me. Link to the original Twitter thread here. 

Imam Iftekhar Ahmed:
“””The Ahmadiyya is not a cult. In addition, it is not strictly just concerned with itself. At most to the extent that every subject naturally is.Furthermore, following the instructions of the caliph is the responsibility of only those who wish to belong to the community which, because they consider the caliph chosen and directed by God, to whom they swore absolute loyalty to him. Excommunication is not a real sanction, but actually a means of purification. It does not genuinely apply to those who do not belong to the people mentioned above who want to belong to the community. By virtue of their will, they have already catapulted themselves out of that congregation, whether expressed or not. The excommunication is at point just a formality. The excommunication is for those who want to belong to the named community, but have committed breach of allegiance. It offers them the opportunity to either purify themselves or to understand that they did not want to belong to this community anyway.

Gossiping or snitching on other members is neither required by the community nor subliminally enforced by it, rather, if it happens, it should be seen as an individual act. According to the Islamic moral teaching of the so-called “sitr”, the writings of the community founder and his successors are demanding to hide the shortcomings of others instead of telling them. In addition, conformity pressure does not arise at the instigation of the community, but exists in every group, regardless of its type.

The community tries expressly to minimize this already existing conformity pressure. As I have stated in another tweet, the head of the community himself denounced the forcing of a headscarf. The current head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat announced the following clearly some time ago:

“Men should remember that they have not been given powers to police others and should restrain themselves. It is not for them to cover the heads of women from outside*. Men are commanded to restrain their eyes; they should fulfil their own obligations****. There is not even any commandment to forcibly cover the heads of Muslim women let alone non-Muslim women.*** It is men like these who have hard-line ideas, there may be the odd one among us also, who bring Islam in disrepute. Huzoor said no one should think that they are the caretakers of reforming the world!. “(His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad ABA, Friday address(September 5, 2014) “

In addition, there are women in the community who do not wear a headscarf. No one has been excommunicated for not wearing the headscarf. There is no correlation between wearing or not wearing the headscarf and excommunication.

I would first like to thank you Murabbi sahib for your detailed answer. Unfortunately, Twitter is the worst possible medium to discuss topics like these in their complexity and nuance. Let me try it anyway.

When it comes to the label “cult”, it certainly depends on the how it’s defined. On a scale from the Catholic Church to Heaven’s Gate, I would locate the Ahmadiyya community somewhere around the Jehovah’s witnesses or the LDS Church. I would not use the label sect. Conservative with ‘cult-like structures’ in certain areas seems like a more accurate description to me.

The difference in our opinions does not seem to stem from the fact that the article made untruthful statements, but it’s us looking at the same facts but evaluate them differently.

If the belonging to the community presupposes ‘ABSOLUTE LOYALTY’ to the Khalifa and (the threat of) excommunication is considered legitimate leverage to put pressure on members to ‘gain this insight’, than that kind of black and white thinking is exactly one of mechanisms that I would consider ‘cult like’ behaviour. Why shouldn’t it be possible to disagree with the Khalifa on some points?

This inability to allow any criticism of the head without it being interpreted as a ‘betrayal’, the fact that a persons only choices are between repentant apology or complete secession is precisely what the criticism in the article is about. The caliphate has a different status for you personally. I understand that, you are free to believe and present that. But your tweets here clearly show, that this requirement of absolute obedience exists within the Jamaat.

Of course it’s true that the community does not approve of members gossiping about each other. But you are certainly aware of the fact that there are Tarbiyyat (‘discipline’) departments within the community, that spring into action if members do not fully conform to the edicts of the Jamaat. This is also queried in the monthly reports from the local communities. I myself have written such reports and sent them to the central organization.

I am certain, that most of the officials are not trying to expose individuals. As you have indicated, these reminders, explanations and sanctions are about steering the person’s behaviour back to the ‘right track’ again. I fully acknowledge that most officials do it with good intentions. From my own experience I can say that the conversations and measures are carried out with love, confidentiality, humility, with the goal of helping the person.

This nevertheless still creates structures that reinforce the conformity pressure that is present in all groups. If you combine that with the expectation of absolute loyalty, social stigmatization and exclusion arise. The threats and pressures that are felt by the members going through it do not follow your idealized script. People don’t have the luxury of dissecting the pain and determine which part of it is caused by culture, by religion or personal reasons. What remains true, is the fact that these pressures are also exerted with the help of the structures of the Jamaat.””

Of course people aren’t immediately excommunicated if they fail to cover their head. But your claim here about those things being not connected is incorrect. There are clear statements.

But the caliph where he condemns any relaxation of the veiling & gender segregation and threatens excommunication.

If you look at the context of instructions from the Friday sermon by the caliph you have shared, it becomes clear that Hazoor here has reprimanded men who have put a scarf on the hair of EXTERNAL journalists or demanded that they wear one. The caliph here, rightly says, that it is not the job of men to force the headscarf onto OTHER women. But he also says in the same speech that in this matter men should instead focus on your families. He further clarifies that the adherence of female members to the clothing requirements of community is primarily the responsibility is other women and the women organizations.

So much as I enjoy Hazoor reprimanding men in the text you shared, it does not invalidate the critique of the social pressure that is exerted by families and the community. Nor does it address the allegations and hostility that women feel exposed to, if they decide against it.

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