A controversy broke out recently in Indonesia over a minority sect that originates in India, Ahmadiyah. It claims that its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is a prophet. As the majority of Muslim believe in the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood, this claim came as a big shock to them. It amount to dismantling the very foundation of Islam.
Members of the above mentioned sect still believe in Muhammad as the last prophet tasked by God to convey the last divine message to the humankind. However, in addition to this, they believe that the founder of the sect came as a “messiah”, in addition to being a prophet, whose task is to strengthen the prophecy of Muhammad and spread his message. He didn’t claim to bring new “covenant” or message from God.
They are also of the opinion that what ends with the death of Muhammad is not prophecy in general. Muhammad sealed off what they called “the prophecy that conveys a divine law”, nubuwwat al-tashri’. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the sect, is not a prophet in that sense; he is a prophet in the sense of rejuvenating the divine law propagated by Muhammad before. In other words, he is prophet/renewer, mujaddid.
The difference between orthodox Islam and Ahmadiyah on this particular issue is very thin. It is merely a matter of interpretation.
As a matter of fact, Ahmadiyah members adhere to the same doctrines and embrace the same rituals as other Muslim do. They pray five times a day facing to Ka’aba exactly in the same way as other Muslim do. They visit Mecca to fulfill the fifth pillar of Islam, hajj or pilgrimage. They fast in Ramadan as others do. They pay religious alms, zakat, in the same manner as other Muslim do.
They believe in Quran as their Holy Scripture. It’s a sheer lie to say that they have in their possession a Scripture other than Quran, as their opponents repeatedly allege.
The sole difference resides in the way they interpret the concept of prophecy. Different interpretation is not unknown in Islamic tradition. Yet, the majority of Muslim believe that Ahmadiyah has crossed the tolerable line of valid interpretation. They believe that Ahmadiyah’s doctrine of prophecy amounts to deviation from the true “path” of Islam. Hence their “silly” request that Ahmadiyah’s members declare themselves as non-Muslim and set up a new religion.
Muslim also believe that members of this sect has done a serious blasphemy to Islam as they deviate from the true doctrine of prophecy. In June 2005, a fatwa or religious edict has been issued by the Council of Indonesian Ulama (MUI) deeming this sect as “going astray” (sesat). Unfortunately, the fatwa has set in motion series of attacks and persecutions against the sect. Numbers of Ahmadiyah’s mosques have been demolished. Thousands of its member end up losing houses that shelter them.
The accusation that Ahmadiyah commits blasphemy against Islam strikes me as a sheer “non-sense”. To have a different interpretation about certain doctrines in Islam cannot be seen as blasphemy. The orthodox mullahs or ulama who see themselves as the guardian of “truth” always think that their interpretation embodies the truth of Islam itself. They deliberately efface the line demarcating between “religion” and “the discourse on religion”, between din and al-khithab al-dini, as Egpytian thinker Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd once aptly put. To challenge their interpretation is to be seen as unwarranted “dissent” against the truth of Islam. That is not enough. They tell people that to challenge their authority is tantamount to commit a blasphemy against Islam.
It is sad to see that many Muslims buy this kind of thought and argument. They are enraged to see ulama being challenged. They took to the street in protest against what they see as a mounting threat to Islam.
The identification of “Islam” with the existing interpretation that is predominant among Muslim is dangerous. It obviously results in silencing different point of views in Islam. It will smooth up ways for the conservatives to place themselves as the sole voice of Islam. To me, this is a stealth move to hijack Islam.
Muslim should speak up to challenge such move. To have a different interpretation is not and cannot be a blasphemy. It is the right of every Muslim to have their own views on Islam aired and it is also their right to be treated with great respect to voice a different view and interpretation.
The mullahs always tell Muslim that by allowing such open leeway to interpret Islam, Muslim society will end up enmeshed in chaos, fitna.
I say to you, my friends: Muslims are already in chaos now, no matter whether or not they are aware of this. The chaos comes about not because of the excess of freedom Muslim enjoy to interpret Islam in such manner that speaks to the very challenges they face nowadays. The chaos is a result of the deficit of freedom instead.