The murder in Glasgow of Asad Shah 
The murder in Glasgow of an Ahmadiyya shopkeeper, Asad Shah, is a watershed event, if as it appears, it was motivated by anti-Ahmadi sentiment. In certain respects it is as significant for British Muslims as the indiscriminate murder of Londoners by the 7/7 bombers. The reason is that while anti-Ahmadiyya violence and murder is a recurring occurrence in Pakistan, and while Ahmadiyya/Muslim relationships in the UK have always been deeply, mutually hostile, there has never been any direct assault by any UK Muslim on any Ahmadiyya community member before, even less a brutal murder. Times are changing, and very much for the worse.

The propensity for UK Muslims to resort to and justify extreme violence has never been greater, and it is this factor alone that has changed to cause Asad Shah's murder. It might turn out that the murderer is someone who was inculcated with the vicious anti-Ahamadi beliefs of many 'activists' in Pakistan rather than here in the UK, but if that is the case, it still sets the change, and would, if true, beg serious questions of the murderer's UK-based associates unable to pull him back from his act. If the murderer has grown up here, in relative 'tolerance' in which the Ahmadiyya issue is generally treated with disdain, then the Glasgow murder must force the UK Muslim community to shake itself out of its apathetic, drugged stupor and fix its endemic sectarianism.

This is not about whether or not Ahmadiyya are Muslims - they have some very specific, unusual beliefs that are easily addressed - this is about the total failure of the UK Muslim community to have any kind of mutually respectful, intellectually informed, and collaboratively debated, discussion in any medium, of difference and diversity among ourselves. Because we cannot openly, honestly and respectfully discuss the actually miniscule differences that divide Bareilvis from Deobandis, or taqleedis from salafis, political Islam 'state-ists' from pietist 'quietists', or even Sunni from Shi'a, we habitually resort to polemics, hyperbolic claims about the despised-other's beliefs and practices. No other religion or belief system is so dysfunctionally failing in its ability to have sensible debates and discussions about its core beliefs. Even Richard Dawkins or Irshad Manji are willing and capable of having reasoned debate on an open platform.

Due to its delinquent inability to host informed, open, mutually tolerant and respectful, multi-sided debate, the UK Muslim community has completely failed to come to terms with the Ahamdiyya, and in hindsight perhaps an event like Asad Shah's murder was increasingly inevitable. But it is not trite to say that it should never have happened. The Ahmadiyya are a tiny community, about 25,000 people, heavily concentrated in Morden, south west London, which hosts its world headquarters. Its places of worship are the only ones of any religion where I have been prevented from entering, even after requesting an invitation. Its community is weirdly self-referential to the extent that it has the traits of a self-enforcing cult. It is not at all difficult to face down its curious claims, with both demographic facts and religious (Chrstian and Muslim) authority. Yet not only does it have a public profile massively exceeding its tiny presence, other than its own (actually profoundly troubling) exclusivity and intolerance of outsiders, it has numerous exemplars of quality community relations and engagement, not least Asad Shah. It is so far removed from the Muslim world that in the UK it has not a single case of anyone even remotely touched by extremist violence, except as a victim. And it even has one of its members, Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon, with the portfolio of Minister for Counter Extremism at the Home Office.

I have never indulged in a rant without attempting to formulate a solution. In this instance my solution is not a jot different to the problem of countering internal Muslim sectarianism:-

Step 1 Define Differences

I propose that a few key, local, knowledgeable, religiously respected people from the differing sects get together and pen some simple definitions of … not what their sect claims to be, because everyone claims to be the right sect …, but what distinguishes their own sect from the others. These definitions are shared with the other parties present and edited into a form of words that also reflects the other parties’ understanding of what the sect represents. We are trying to reach a common understanding of difference, not rightness, not justification. Then participants share these definitions with others to draw more factions in to the same process, until there is a common understanding of what each group represents that makes it different to the next group. This process was formulated for internal Muslim sectarianism, but, with humility borne of urgent necessity, should be extended to achieve mutually accepted definitions of the differences between Ahmadiyya and Muslims.

Step 2 Etiquettes of Tolerance

The next step is to agree a process by which each sect, in its own place of worship, refrains from referring to the other sects in any more malign terms than those of the definitions. In the background this requires coaching in tolerance and coaching in relevant Islamic history, beliefs and etiquettes. Participating masjids must actively promote the standard of behaviour among their regular attendees, their officers, their imams and madressah teachers and volunteer helpers.

Step 3 Publish and Promote the Definitions

The third step is (in its intra-Muslim formulation) to begin to open up access to masjid resources to non-management-backed factions and at the same time formalise the definitions. A set of behaviour protocols and the definitions is produced and displayed in each of the participating masjids. Visitors from other masjids, e.g. Tablighi Jama’ats, guest speakers etc. are required to take heed of the protocols and are encouraged to adopt the scheme. Hitherto dissenting individuals and factions that use the particular masjid are co-opted into accepting the definitions – this obviously requires tact, and it will also require direct encouragement from nearby bodies that the dissenters are happy with.

There is much, much more to this process to undermine endemic sectarian intolerance among Muslim sects, and I formulated it specifically to turn over the soil in which extremist dissent festers and grows into criminality.

Up to now I have been reluctant to extend the model to include the Muslim/Ahmadiyya quarrels, because until now these have never manifested as criminality in the UK and are otherwise confined to a small part of Pakistan, and such is the disconnect among Muslims that any engagement of any kind with Ahmadiyya is regarded as a betrayal of Islam. But Asad Shah's murder changes that. The repercussions for all of the Muslim community, including those outside of the South Asian ethnicities who have probably never even heard of Ghluam Mirza Ahmed and his followers, are extremely serious. The Muslim community needs, for its own health and safety, a civilised relationship with the Ahmadiyya community regardless of their belief about us that we are hated munafiqeen who reject their messianic claims of Ghulam Mirza Ahmed, and our belief about them that their 140 year old messiah is an interloper. The Ahmadiyya story and belief is almost identical to the Baha'i story and belief, but in the UK we manage to avoid murdering Bahai'is and some even sit around the table with them at Inter Faith gatherings.


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