Yesterday evening I had the privilege of being invited to the annual Peace Symposium at the local Mosque. The Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, South West London is the largest Mosque in western Europe. Completed in 2003 at a total cost of approximately £15 million, entirely from donations of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the mosque covers an area of 5.2 acres (21,000 m2) and the full complex can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers. It’s massive.
One of the mum’s at school was helping organise the event and invited a few of us to come along. The main theme of the evening was ‘Nurture Today, Protect Tomorrow’ and focused on child rearing. She was interested for me to be able to give the Catholic perspective on this issue over dinner. She knows i’m pretty into this Catholic stuff 🙂 I took my Mum along with me as she was also very interested to come and hear what they had to say.
The Ahmadiyya community is a highly organised Islamic religious movement founded in British India near the end of the 19th century. It originated with the life and teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908). Ahmadiyya Muslims believe that Ahmad appeared as the Messiah, in the likeness of Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice, and peace. They believe that upon divine guidance he divested Islam of fanatical and innovative beliefs and practices by championing what is, in their view, Islam’s true and essential teachings as practised by Muhammad and the early Islamic community. Ahmadis view themselves as leading the revival and peaceful propagation of Islam.
Ahmadi beliefs are more aligned with the Sunni tradition, than they are with the Shi’a tradition. They are persecuted by other Islamic sects because of their specific beliefs. For example – contrary to mainstream Islamic belief, Ahmadi Muslims believe that Jesus was crucified and survived the four hours on the cross. He was later revived from a coma in the tomb. (Other Muslim sects believe it was an imposter who died on the cross, some don’t believe it took place at all.) Ahmadis believe that Jesus died in Kashmir of old age whilst seeking the Lost Tribes of Israel. Jesus’ remains are believed to be entombed in Kashmir under the name Yuz Asaf.
According to Ahmadi Muslim belief, Jihad can be divided into three categories:
Jihad al-Akbar (Greater Jihad) is that against the self and refers to striving against one’s low desires such as anger, lust and hatred.
Jihad al-Kabīr (Great Jihad) refers to the peaceful propagation of Islam, with special emphasis on spreading the true message of Islam by the pen.
Jihad al-Asghar (Smaller Jihad) is only for self-defence under situations of extreme religious persecution whilst not being able to follow one’s fundamental religious beliefs, and even then only under the direct instruction of the Caliph.
Ahmadi Muslims point out that as per Islamic prophecy, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad rendered Jihad in its military form as inapplicable in the present age as Islam, as a religion, is not being attacked militarily but through literature and other media, and therefore the response should be likewise. They believe that the answer of hate should be given by love. Concerning terrorism, the fourth and current Caliph of the Community writes:
“As far as Islam is concerned, it categorically rejects and condemns every form of terrorism. It does not provide any cover or justification for any act of violence, be it committed by an individual, a group or a government.”
I was sad to hear that although there has not been one report of an Ahmadi joining ISIS, they do feel that they have to be vigilant of their children coming under threat from terrorist grooming – just like every other Muslim parent. They condemned the Paris attacks at least 20 times over the course of the evening.
Another specific belief to the Ahmadi’s is that the history of religion is cyclic and is renewed every seven millennia. The present cycle from the time of the Biblical Adam is split into seven epochs or ages, parallel to the seven days of the week. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad appeared as the promised Messiah at the sixth epoch heralding the seventh and final age of mankind.
“A day in the estimation of God is like a thousand years of man’s reckoning.” – Qu’ran 22:47
This really interested me as it reminded me so much of St Augustine’s 6 (or 7 – depending who you ask) Ages of the World written around 400 AD. St Augustine’s theory originated from a passage in II Peter:
“But of this one thing be not ignorant, my beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” – II Peter 3:8
It was just fascinating to see the parallels (of which there were many) with Catholicism, but also with Judaism and Protestant Christianity. For example, these guys are big into simplicity. Pictures or statues are regarded as idolatry. Also, similar to the Protestant Christians, Islam has no central teaching. Each Calif is essentially his own Pope, and there are plenty of Califs. In this way you get the wildly diverse interpretations of the Qu’ran. The Ahmadi community recognises this as a major problem in Islam. They believe they have the true teachings of Islam. As do all 72 other Islamic sects.
The persecution of the Ahmadi community is something that I found very sad. They are peaceful people. Last month a large section of their Mosque, that I was now sitting in was arsoned resulting in millions of pounds worth of dammage. I remember seeing the massive plume of black smoke from my back garden and I knew immediately that it could only be the Mosque.
At the time my friend was really upset because they didn’t know weather the arsonists were white racists or another sect of Islam. She told me that some muslim neighbours of hers (from another sect) were jumping and cheering in their front garden when they heard of the arson attack.
Thank God, it seems that the arsonists were a pair of stupid kids who had played a prank that went wrong.
Anyway, on our arrival to the Mosque we had to pass through airport style security including a metal detector archway and a bag xray conveyor belt. Once inside we had a tour of the Mosque. The men pray upstairs, the women pray downstairs. We learned a little about how they have arranged, but not forced marriages. They desire integration within the community – to a degree. They will not marry outside of the community.
Then we came back to the enormous events hall where I estimated 200 women were sitting down to dinner – prepared by the men of the community. They respect and support each others clearly defined roles within the community as men and women.
Then we listened to some talks given by members of the community and also local councilors and our Local Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh. I cringed through her talk. Me and Siobhan have clashed big time in the past. She calls herself a Catholic who goes to Mass every week, but still managed to vote in favour of Gay Marriage a few years back. She was gushing about how she hopes to be able to be part of the support team to get the first female president of the USA elected next year. *Face palm*
The local councilors were just as bad. They described childrearing in secular leftie scientific terms and basically how they loved the Ahmadi’s so much because they believed in the separation of religion and state – which suits them just fine.
But I was very much impressed by the young lady who sang a few verses of the Qu’ran. Her voice was beautiful. It reminded me of how our priests sometimes sing the Mass – especially the Easter vigil Mass. But as far as I could make out they do not sing as a community. They don’t have hymns or anything like that. They don’t have the Psalms. (“I will raise you up on Eagle’s wings” has never looked so good as it does right now lol!)
Over dinner I was able to chat to the lady who had given us a tour of the Mosque. This is what I learned:
They wear headscarves but don’t cover their faces. They don’t believe in the Holy Trinity. The regard Jesus as a Prophet and cannot say his name unless they say “peace be upon Him” afterwards. They have Noah, Abraham, Moses, and many other similarities to the catholic faith. Prayer for them is predominantly reciting passages from the Qu’ran. They regard themselves as Gods slaves/servants. They do not have the Father/child relationship like we do. They hold Mary in very high regard.
Hell is not eternal for them, but a time of purification that ends in Heaven – we would call that purgatory. They do pretty much everything segregated into men’s or women’s groups. I actually am a big fan of this as it gives an immediate sense of community – especially as far as the men are concerned. They are all living the same life at different ages. It is a natural support network where you surrounded by other dads, brothers, sons ect. I think we could do with this in the Catholic church, or at least address the serious lack of support for men that we currently have.
Seriously – it was fascinating. The food was amazing! There were a few tense moments but I managed to avoid putting my foot in my mouth to any large degree! We obviously have some fundamental differences in our beliefs, but considering the Ahmadiyya community have been in the UK for 100 years and I have never really heard of them, I can see no reason why, with tolerance and respect from both sides, we cannot exist perfectly peacefully alongside each other. Unfortunately this does not apply to every Muslim sect.
Nobody brought up the migrant crisis.