Half Muslims and non-Muslims

Half Muslims and non-Muslims
by Farzana Versey

Born in the Ismaili faith, I have been quite accustomed to the ‘aadha Mussalman’ (half Muslim) tag. Members of the community are none the worse for it. However, I cannot understand the attitude towards Ahmadis in Pakistan. Ismailis have a living Imam, yet they are not considered a minority.

Why is this so? Is it because the Aga Khan Foundations help many people in developing countries? So does the Red Cross. Is it because the Ismailis are more interested in trade than the Taliban? This could be said of most people in any society.

If anything, the believers of the Aga Khan can be deemed more esoteric and are considerably distinct in the many countries they have chosen to make their homes in, mainly because allegiance to the nation is emphasised as part of the religious doctrine. Talk of mixing religion and politics!

Politics uses religion as much as religion is being politicised. What happened in Lahore were extremist attacks. Don’t blame the Taliban. They do not discriminate. They get no special points for killing Ahmadis; discrimination against them is built in the Constitution. How many people have made the government answerable for this? How difficult is it to change laws?

Ahmadis have been declared heretics. If they wish to perform the Haj they have to provide a written declaration stating that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of their sect, is a “cunning person and an imposter”. How will this make Islam better? It is true that the leader declared himself to be the promised messiah and this would be seen as blasphemy in a monotheistic belief system that will not accept such a major departure even if no one disputes the oneness of god.

Ismailis often have to traverse two completely contradictory viewpoints – that of being the ‘nicer Muslim’ and of being ‘half Muslim’. The first honorific is given by people from other faiths who have a stereotyped image and are surprised to find the unveiled, clean-shaven ones; the other comes from true-blue Muslims who find it difficult to not only accept that Ismailis believe in a continual line of Imams but that they have their own secular rules.

When there was some semantic jugglery regarding how the media cannot refer to the Ahmadi place of worship as a mosque, it struck me that the Ismailis call their place of worship a jamaat khana. They have a separate set of duas and namaaz is not offered on a regular basis. Men cannot have more than one wife at a time or they will be ex-communicated. There have been people who have left the fold to join the ‘pure’ Muslims and written books about the ‘half ones’, and they ought to be thankful for the education they received as Ismailis which taught them about the possibility of dissent.

It is ironical, then, for them to brand some offshoots of Islam as cults. What about dargahs where you pay obeisance to dead saints? Muslims do not consider it heresy to place flowers on tombstones, light incense sticks and let the caretaker run a peacock feather over their heads as blessing; no one baulks at the fact that donation boxes rake in money to keep these places rich. Is this Islam?

The Ahmadis were promised a return to the pristine form of Islam. Who can have a problem with that? Not the religious fundamentalists if they think about the ‘essence’. Acts of violence should be condemned for their own sake. Let people remember that the Taliban is not making rules. Pull up those who are. Minorities are supposed to be protected. If nothing else, such tragedies should at least lead to introspection and proactive action from concerned citizens instead of ruing it as one more bad haywire day.

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(c) Farzana Versey
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This column that was pulled out by Express Tribune was later published by Countercurrents


  1. Ahmedi issue is a lot different than just Muslim or half Muslim issue. Ahmedi issue is centered in Punjab and especially around Lahore and was actually brought to Lahore by Punjabi who moved to west Punjab from east Punjab in 1947.
    This was also a battle between the pro British Punjabi bureaucracy that was mostly Ahmedi and the Pro British Punjabi zamindar mostly concentrated in west Punjab.
    The Zamindars were using the mullah against the bureaucrats but the East Punjabi muslims were really anti ahmedi on religious grounds. Modaudi moved to Pathankot, now in East Punjab, to capitalize on the religious sentiments against ahmedis in that area.Other mullah in Lahore such as the Khaksar Tehrik ones also joined the fray.
    The West Punjabi zamindars moved away from this battle after they captured the West Punjab after the partition but the mullah they supported had no other means of supporting themselves.
    So it became a halwa manda issue and the mullah would keep it alive because that is how the mullah ensures a good life for his family.
    The Ahmedis had great political clout but they decided to back down in the 70s and are now paying the price of leaving the field uncontested for their opponents.
    Only Pakistani who care about this ahmedi business are punjabi mostly in North-eastern Punjab
    The mullah will not give up this issue and as long as the media in Pakistan is scared of mullah, this issue will not go away anywhere.

    I hope everything is alright. It is late and I am tired. Will post more on this issue later.

  2. Farzana Sahiba

    Firstly, perhaps because of historic reasons. All the sects that have a history of several centuries, are considered Muslim. Even some of the most heretic small cults in Lebanon, Syria and parts of middle-east.

    Yes the role of late Aga Khan during freedom movement and the recent works of AKF are remarkable but that's not the reason.

    Having a living Imam is no issue. With Ahmedis, the problem is about aqeeda-e-risaalat. They probably don't believe in finality of Prophet and that is enough reason for most Muslims to consider them the 'other'.

    Sorry I don't agree with this ]aadha-Muslim thing. Though I am a Sunni Muslim, I would be offended if Ismaili, Bohra or any other community is judged by othe sects or anybody terms them half-Muslim.

    Though divides between Shia-Sunni and even Deobandi-Barelvi have reached such nadir that the fundamentanlists on both sides term the other mushrik, by and large everybody accepts all the sects as part of Islamic culture.

    Muslims aren't as touchy about God as much as about the Prophet. Ba khuda diwana bashad/ Ba Muhammad hoshiyar...is the old saying.

    Of course, Ahmedi Muslims are suffering terribly and Pakistani establishment has gone too far in its harassment of the tiny community. Hope they see sense and let the Ahmedis live peacefully.

    Khuda Hafiz

  3. Circle:

    As long as religion is the mainstay of political discourse it will be difficult to fight it.

    In India we have fatwas every week and now even Hindus call such edicts fatwas. Heck, even a sports minister was said to have issued a fatwa.


    Thanks for the info.

    I wonder when you say the mullah will not give up this issue, do you believe that politicians cannot have a say at all?

    There is no uniformity among mullahs - Shia-Sunni fights are common. And if the Ahmadi issue it concentrated only among those in N.E. Punjab, then it ought to not be difficult to change the laws.

    PS: Am well...


    I think the real problem is with revivalism. Certain segments with vested interests force the divisions. It is a game of power and since you cannot control all, you have segments that can be brainwashed.

    My reason for bringing in the Ismaili was to question the premise of minorityism within Islam. Clearly, it is not palatable and there is a major issue with Ahmadis.

  4. I agree with FV. When the attack took place, the impression was conveyed that this was a sectarian attack by the Taliban. It is not. It is just one more mindless act of violence, but it steps around the central issue.

    Pakistanis seem to step around the issue of the Ahmadis as if they are walking on egg shells. Certainly, no one has the courage to come out and state unequivocally that the laws against the Ahmadis are unjust, and that they must be revoked. Thus, the only way to salve the conscience is to periodically trot out the "oh! Those poor Ahmadis!" statement and shed a few tears on their behalf, condemn the Taliban for sectarian violence, and move on to the next news item.

    The Ahmadis are already condemned by the constitution. Blaming the Taliban is a red herring. It is good to be reminded of the real issues and the deeper injustice.

  5. Ratnam:

    Thank you for figuring out my motive, instead of some 'agenda' that people imagine. The idea seems to be to mistake the trees for the woods.

    It is only now sinking in that what I considered unequivocal condemnation was actually skirting the 'sensitive' use of nomenclature and dished out feel-good stuff.

    The Taliban as red herring has been used so often by both the government as well as the activist lobby.

  6. The dichotomy amongst the ummah never ceases to amaze me.....


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