Nicholas H. A. Evans has recently published a book about Qadian and Ahmadis in 2020, this is based on ethnographic research that he conducted in 2011-2012 in and around Qadian (field work). “Far from the Caliph’s Gaze: Being Ahmadi Muslim in the Holy City of Qadian” by Nicholas H. A. Evans. Evan’s is a research professor at London School of Economics and Political Science, he works in the Department of Anthropology.
He writes that Ahmadi’s invited the RSS (a hindu nationalist group, known for killing Muslims) to the Jalsa every years at Qadian, since they shared enemies, i.e., the Muslims of India and the world.
He was kicked out of Qadian about half way through his work and forced to go and meet the caliph in London, he was treated terrible and he was frustrated.
He called Ahmadi’s as “excessively-certain” about their Caliph and their religion.
He was told that there were barely 80–200,000 Ahmadi’s, (which is a huge exaggeration). He didn’t address the fact that the Khalifa had announced 80 million converts to Ahmadiyya from India alone.
He was told that Ahmadi’s love the persecution, and many have converted only because of it.
Ahmadi Women in Qadian are forced to wear full burqa, just like Rabwah.
He makes many mistakes, and obviously, it takes 15 years of reading to learn Ahmadiyya. For example, he claims that the issues of Khilafat happened at the death of the first Khalifa, however, this is not true, the issues started in 1909. He also claims that when Ahmadi’s became non-Muslim, the government of Pakistan criminalized the belief against Khatme-Nubuwwat, however, this is not true, being an Ahmadi in Pakistan is not a crime, apostacy is not a crime either.
- He was not allowed to speak to any of the Ahmadi-women at Qadian.
His previous articles that are related to research for this book: “Beyond cultural intimacy: The tensions that make truth for India’s Ahmadi Muslims” and “Witnessing a potent truth: rethinking responsibility in the anthropology of theisms”.
He discovered the nature of Ahmadiyya Movement (a personality cult) and it’s relationship with belief, truth and theatrics around all this. It seems that after introduction he will be exposing contradictions, hypocrisy, lack of empathy, opportunism, propaganda techniques etc. with examples. It will be a must read book and will prove to be the best explanation so far of the Ahmadiyya Movement using a scientific approach.
Noteworthy passage from the introduction of this book can be read below and everything that will come next will revolve around this:
“A standard approach to studying insular religious sects has thus been to investigate the mechanisms through which these sects manage to erase doubts in the minds of their followers. Scholars of religion have consequently asked how certainty gets produced and what bearing it has on the relative flourishing or failure of new religious movements. Fundamentally, the question becomes: What kinds of coercion and control are necessary for people to act in this way? Therefore, where doubt is not present, its absence is assumed to require explanation and quite possibly condemnation. We assume that doubt must be a central problem for the religious, and when the religious do not appear to be afflicted by it, its absence becomes a major problem for our analysis. The Ahmadiyya Jama‘at is one example of a religious organization that would, in standard sociological theory, be seen to contain numerous “plausibility structures” to maintain certainty and ward off doubt. Their conviction would be seen as ‘unreal’ unless enforced through social mechanisms that effectively curtail people’s natural inclinations toward skepticism.
…I have sought to show that, even though my interlocutors do not problematize their ability to either know or believe in truth (i.e., they entertained neither first- nor second-order doubts), their relationship to truth is far from untroubled. This is because they find themselves in the position of asking what they might owe to truth and whether they can fulfill their obligations to that truth.”
At the very core of the book is the question of how, given that Ahmadis define their Muslimness in large part through a personal relationship with khilafat, Ahmadis in Qadian differ from Ahmadis elsewhere in maintaining this relationship, despite the physical and administrative distance over the past 75 years between khilafat and Qadian.
The author, Nicholas Evans, spent 15 months living in Qadian and meeting with Ahmadis, including murabbis. He also specifically obtained permission from Mirza Masroor Ahmad to write the book. I read the book largely for insight into how the jamaat operates, as well as for an academic account of Ahmadi life in Qadian and the unique qualities of Ahmadiyyat, for better or for worse.
This book differs other books on the topic in that it doesn’t take Ahmadi claims at face value without commenting on how unique or unstable these claims are, as well as how the jamaat consciously created its administrative structure and distinct internal culture during the second caliphate. Evans is quite fond of the Ahmadis he meets and comes to know, who I’m sure were very kind and hospitable, but he is also not writing PR-type material for Ahmadis as ‘the good Muslims’ or ‘the moderate Muslims’, as is so often the case with Westerners who write about Ahmadiyyat.
There are so many themes to discuss in this book and each of them could (and perhaps should) be its own post. I would just like to focus on a few themes that jumped out to me: the jamaat bureaucracy, the aesthetics of Ahmadiyyat, and the inside/outside distinction in what defines Ahmadiyyat.
When Evans first arrived in Qadian, he attended the Qadian jalsa and was interviewed as a guest from the UK. However, since he had traveled to Qadian on his own, the UK jamaat was not aware of his visit and had not sanctioned it, which caused a panic. Later on, when he is about to begin a year-long field study where he will live in Qadian, even though the Indian jamaat is fairly familiar with him and his research, he is required to travel back to the UK to personally meet with Mirza Masroor Ahmad to obtain approval.
Evans describes in detail what must be charitably considered as the cumbersome bureaucracy of the jamaat, where literally every single appointment for every single jamaat around the world must personally be approved by the caliph, as though he has personal knowledge of the person who has been nominated for a role by election. Evans describes this, for Ahmadis, as continuing a personal relationship with the divine, but if we are to adopt the ordinary community model for Ahmadiyyat that its apologists so often use when defending its arbitrary rules, what ordinary organization, whether it’s a lawn bowling club or a multinational corporation, has its chief executive personally approve thousands of appointments every single year?
Finally, Evans touches gently on the absurd number of conversions claimed by the jamaat in the late 90s, providing evidence against the claim that this was overenthusiastic reporting at the local or national level, but as a way of fulfilling a powerful prophecy issued by Mirza Tahir Ahmad:
Badr had printed a sermon from March 26, 1999, in which Tahir Ahmad had expressed absolute certainty that within a year, ten million people would join the Jama‘at. Likewise, an article from January 1999 noted that the caliph had reported the extraordinary progress of the Jama‘at in India such that within the first four months of the year, there had been 253,283 converts, over twice the figure for the first four months of the previous year. Given that even today, there are unlikely to be more than 200,000 Ahmadis in India and that Indian conversion figures for 2008–09 and 2009–10 were 2,417 and 2,761 respectively, the 1999 figure is presumably fanciful.
Evans also examines the aesthetics of the jamaat, which I had never thought about until I read Nuzhat Haneef’s treatment of how the caliphs dress. The achkhan and turban is not how they normally dressed prior to becoming caliph and also not rooted in Islam, leaving Haneef to conclude that the clothes almost always worn by the caliphs must represent what such clothes typically represent, i.e. status in feudal Punjabi society, or chaudhrahat.
Evans talks briefly about how ordinary Ahmadis look and dress, and he also has a chapter called Televising Islam, but what I found most remarkable was his treatment of the international bait every summer. I have seen this and participated in it, but I had never stopped to consider that this was a highly choreographed event designed to have maximum impact on television, not unlike a well-produced TV show. The camera angles, the images, the prominent positioning of Ahmadis visibly not of Pakistani heritage, the long lines of people and the use of microphones to intentionally record the language of the international bait repeated in multiple languages are all designed to create a spiritual experience.
This is not a spontaneous spiritual experience, but a consciously-designed, curated and delivered experience and owes as much to the caliph and his theology as it does to the skilled TV people in the jamaat. It’s also hard to read this and not feel like this is a bidat that has been grafted onto orthodox Islam as a modern institution, not without merits, but without an anchor in the original Islam.
This is the single annual moment of combined ritual in which all Ahmadis around the world are expected to synchronously participate. Unlike its formal counterpart, it retains elements of the original Sufi ritual of initiation, which was performed to create a link between devotee and master.56
The International Bai‘at was first staged in 1993, and it has since developed a very particular aesthetic form that is repeated, year after year, during its MTA broadcast.57
In what follows, I describe it as a global ritual because it cannot be understood if viewed as simply a broadcast to which Ahmadis in Qadian responded. Rather, technical aspects of the live television broadcast needed to be performed correctly, and their improper implementation could lead to ritual failure. Camera angles, video editing, and even the placement of microphones and the sound mixing are parts of the ritual performance of this International Bai‘at, as much as the responses of people sitting in the mosque in Qadian.
3. Differences in Private/Public Discourse
Finally, Evans describes the inside/outside distinction in Ahmadi discourse, which is something all of us intuitively know as the difference between a sermon at an Ahmadi mosque on a Friday or a speech in Urdu at a local general body meeting and English-language material or presentation for interfaith events or at the jalsa salanas when dignitaries are present. It is undeniable that the original works of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad were aggressive and bombastic, but he was aggressively out to prove that Islam, particularly his own interpretation, was superior to every other interpretation of every other religion. His work was chiefly devoted to this end and these are the vicious, bruising polemics you hear at internal events. At external events, however, the story is different:
For Ahmadis living in Qadian and speaking Urdu, Ghulam Ahmad’s ferocious polemics are celebrated and emulated (see chapter 3). It is only as discourse is shifted to English—when the Jama‘at hopes to speak to India’s cosmopolitan urban centers or foreign audiences—that polemics cease to be celebrated and Ahmadis focus solely on the simple message that Islam is a religion of peace. I am not the first to note this discrepancy. The theologian Yohanan Friedmann, writes, “In its relationship with the non-Muslim world, however, the Aḥmadiyya is primarily engaged in defending Islam and depicting it as a liberal, humane, and progressive religion, wrongfully calumnied by non-Muslims.
One other subtle but noticeably noxious, disingenuous phenomenon is the Ahmadi coverage of Mirza Masroor Ahmad meeting with foreign leaders as one-way opportunities to learn from the caliph, not conversations between two equals:
The caliph is simultaneously aloof from and yet deeply involved in worldly politics. In Britain, where the caliph resides, but also during his tours of other countries, the Jama‘at work hard to arrange meetings and audiences between the caliph and secular authorities. These meetings are nonetheless never constructed as two-way exchanges. Rather, as in the case of the saint described by Werbner, the caliph alone is seen to give. He addresses politicians, and in doing so he gifts them his message of justice and peace. As I will show in chapter 5, Jama‘at reportage of these events—both in print and on their satellite television channel—is above all concerned to present these politicians as witnesses, not interlocutors. The emphasis is always on their reactions to the caliph’s message and his personage.
“When (Indian) partition first began to seem inevitable, the caliph lobbied for QADIAN to become an INDEPENDENT PRINCELY STATE, but this soon became obviously impractical”.
..They build an empire for themselves, name their residence “Kasray Khilafat” that literally means the “Palace of Khilafat.” Qadian, Rabwah, Tilford aka Islamabad UK.
“”The historian Ayesha Jalal, described how Mahmood Ahmad’s efforts to unify, ‘temporal and spiritual authority’, overstepped what was acceptable to many Muslims, for Mahmud Ahmad was increasingly, ‘running the local administration on the lines of an Ahmadi mafia’.””
Even Nicholas Evans writes that in the #AMJ, chanda is mandatory, even non-working Ahmadi women of Qadian are forced to pay. Non-payment will result in getting kicked out of Ahmadiyya. See Chapter-1
Links and Related Essay’s
Brief Life Sketch of Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan
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