The members of the sect preach enlightenment, peace, and brotherhood between nations and love of others. The Ahmadiyyah way opposes religious coercion, and therefore does not support spreading Islam through Jihad, "Holy War". They prefer placatory persuasion. The sect is named for its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (1835-1908), who, at the age of 40, announced that Allah has entrusted him with the task of renewing the Muslim religion and bringing justice and integrity to the world.
The Principles of the Ahmadiyyah obligate its believers to be loyal to their country of residence. A believer of the sect can not defy the laws of his country, so he can live in peace in this world. Muhammad Sharif, head of the Ahmadiyyah in Israel, explains: "As a citizen I am bound to obey Allah, the Prophet and those who lead the country even if I do not approve of the leader". The Ahmadiyyah are forbidden from joining demonstrations, even ones on behalf of peace.
Faced with the traditional Islamic belief, that Muhammad is the Final Prophet, the Ahmadis maintain that even following his death prophecy still remained, and it was transferred to the founder of the sect and his students. The Ahmadiyyah sees itself as a global religion that is supposed to include not only Muslims, but also Christians, Jews and Hindis.
According to Ahmadi belief, Jesus was a man who was neither crucified nor transported to heaven, but was taken down from the tree by his students, traveled to India, where he died at the age of 120 in Srinagar, Kashmir. Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the sect, is in their eyes a reincarnation of both Jesus and Muhammad. He is the promised "Mujaddid". For his followers, he is the "Mahdi", a savior or a messiah, and there are those who see him as a prophet.
Once India split into a Hindu state and a Muslim state, the religious center was transferred to Pakistan. The movement was persecuted in Pakistan for years, and moved its religious activity to London. Today, centers of the Ahmadi movement can be found in many countries. During the hundred years of its existence, the Ahmadiyyah sect has managed to create a well organized movement, including missionary forces, educational institutions and cultivated religious centers, spread over many countries around the world: In Asia, Africa, Europe and America.
The Ahmadis in Israel
According to Muhammad Sharif Odeh, head of the Ahmadi in Israel, the sect has 1500 members in Israel. On the 17th of March 1928, the "Center of the Ahmadi Delegation to the Middle-East Countries" was transferred from Damascus to Kababir village on Mt. Carmel in Haifa. Today the village is a neighborhood of a thousand, surrounded by Jewish neighborhoods. The Ahmadi community in Haifa has a large octagonal Mosque patterned after the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The current head of the sect in Israel is the son of its founder in Israel. The sect has a number of vehicles to spread its beliefs: A monthly magazine named "Al-Busra Al-Islamia Al-Ahmadiyyah" (The Ahmadiyyah Muslim Gospel); a website, as well as a satellite television station, mta.tv.
Although the sect's religious center hosts organized groups from the entire country, not many have heard of it. "It does not interest the media, because we provide no action", Muhammad Sharif Odeh tells Omedia, "Maybe because we do not throw rocks". It is possible that they are ignored because they broadcast a message of "Love for All, Hatred for None", while the media in Israel is deficient in its reporting methods and publishes mainly news items and articles of the "dog bites man" genre.
According to the Ahmadis, the main problem of radical Islam is the distorted interpretation of the Quran that the fundamentalists have adopted. According to Sharif, the problem in Islam, as in other religions, is the total adherence to the words of clerics, whose words are perceived as the words of Allah. "We believe that the interpreter can be mistaken. Let us return to the source rather than to interpretations that divide between people, as if a religious ruling of a cleric is the divine word, similar to what obtains in the Catholic Church, where the Pope is infallible".
Sharif notes that the perception of "Muhammad Baseif", i.e. the call to spread Islam by the sword, does not appear at all in the Quran, nor is it mentioned in the Hadith (Interpretations by Muslim wise men). "It is just an invention of some Sheikh. It does not obligate me, nor any other Muslim".
According to Sharif, the meaning of the word Jihad as it appears in the Quran means a supreme effort, endeavor, and not the interpretation adopted later. They are bound, so they say, by the original interpretation of the word. The call of Jihad, for them is: "Call to your sovereign, and argue with him in the best way possible. Islam clearly states that you can not employ coercion and force in matters of religion and faith".
Bu the problem of the Ahmadis is not with normal interpretation, but specifically with an interpretation that "contradicts the text". Sharif defines it: "An interpretation that harms the principles of justice or contradicts science. All the time you need to return to the source, reinvestigate the religion. In Islam the rules are not set in stone, but elastic, and dependent on the changing situation. If there is a scientific development that contradicts an existing interpretation then that interpretation is no longer holy". It should be noted that one of the recent Nobel Laureates in physics, Prof. Abdul Salam, is a member of the Ahmadi sect.
The Ahmadiyyah Movement published an ad opposing the latest comments by the Pope against Muhammad, but which also criticized the "barbaric" reaction, as Sharif terms it, to these comments. Sharif says it would have been better to respond to the Pope with words, "With scientific proof and not by burning churches (Such as after the caricatures in Denmark). Nobody has the right to injure another for no reason. The Quran clearly states that you are forbidden to damage the prayer locations of other faiths".
Radical Islam is a misrepresentation of Islam. The Ahmadi call upon their fellow Muslims "Let us return to the Quran. We will not find any verse in the Quran that forces anyone to accept the religion or a verse that speaks of a Muslim theocracy. The Quran clearly states 'if you are a ruler – rule justly'. If an atheist is fit to be a minister or prime minister, there is no reason not to choose him. I need to choose a person who fits the job professionally, not because of his religion and nationality. We should return to the Quran and not the interpretations that serve as a stumbling block by differentiating between religions and nations. This interpretation has transformed religion into a source of hatred and hostility – into a new form of Paganism. It is an attempt to conquer another in Allah's name". The Ahmadi sect, according to Sharif is a nonpolitical movement and therefore is opposed to involving religion being in political issues.
"As Muslims, We Have Made Terrible Mistakes"
Sharif does not deny Islam's militant past, and notes that "The Muslims have made terrible mistakes". However, according to him it can not be attributed to the core of Islam. The Quran teaches how to treat the enemy. The founder of the sect said, based on the Quran: "The principle is that in our heart we have love for all of humankind. Loving every human is the duty of a good believer. I love humankind as a mother loves her children. The Muslim within you is the part doing its best to bring happiness to all. And that is a universal message, rather than one based on sector".
Muhammad Sharif does not know where the Muslim insult to Jews "sons of monkeys and pigs" derives from. "Some very horrible mistakes resulted from interpretations which originated in Islam", and notes that the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, furnishes a similar example of horrible deeds inspired by Christianity.
No Religious Distinction
According to Sharif, the Quran is a collection of all holy books which preceded it. "A Muslim has no qualms with any religion. There is no real difference between Chirstianity and Judaism and Islam. Each one complements the other". He states that in the Quran there is a call for an alliance between those who believe in one God, "that we have no god aside from Allah". The sect forbids looking down on others because of their religion and nationality. The prayers in the Ahmadiyyah mosque are the same as in any other mosque, but Sharif emphasizes that "once the rite becomes an end and not a means, religion transforms itself into a form of paganism".
When it comes to the sacredness of Islamic land (The Waqf), the Ahmadiyyah movement also takes a different approach. As Sharif explains: "The Prophet of Islam said that it is better that the Kaaba (The holiest location in Islam) be destroyed brick by brick, than to allow one drop of blood to be shed. Why die for Al-Aqsa? For the holiness of stones?
An Unequivocal Stance Opposing Terror
As a result of his approach, Sharif's stance on terror is clear. Sharif notes that those who executed terror attacks "Received legitimization from religious rulings" and notes that he has managed to make some people transfer from activity in radical Palestinian movement to adopting the Ahmadi views. "Not with Apache helicopters, but by proving to them that terror goes against the Quran". For example, a former terrorist from Tul-Karem, currently lectures at the Ahmadiyyah religious center.
In an interview to Omedia, Sharif also referred to September 11 unequivocally. "It is a terrible thing, even in the midst of a war of self defense. Islam clearly states 'God does not like to create hostility', but even during an attack and in a war of self defense, the Prophet of Islam said clearly to all 'do not kill women and elders, do not kill children, do not kill a woman, do not even harm a tree'. These are the words of the Prophet Muhammad. A true Muslim does not harm others, not by words nor by deeds".
Islam's Treatment of Ahmadis
In the Arab press the Ahmadis are venomously attacked: "They depict us as evil, as collaborators with the English, and even as creatures of the English. They also call us enemies and collaborators with the Jews", and they have even termed us the 'new Islam from Tel-Aviv'. The internet has hundreds of hate sites against the sect and the malevolent preaching against them in the Mosques, before mass audiences, continues.
The Ahmadis in Israel, unlike their brethren in the West Bank, are not ashamed for being part of the sect. "In the West Bank the members of the sect fear to reveal their identity, because there is a new religious ruling issued by the supreme council of the Muftis", says Sharif. "The Mufti of Nablus delivered a ruling last year against the sect characterizing us as converts. This is worse than being a heretic. In the orthodox Muslim approach, those who convert from Islam are sentenced for death".
Sharif notes that the newspaper of the Islamic Movement in Israel "Sauth Al Haq" also terms them converts. The Movement has also published a book against the Ahmadis. This situation has physical repercussions in the Muslim world. Last year, a terrorist entered an Ahmadiyyah mosque in Bangladesh and carried out a mass murder of worshippers during prayer.
Despite the war waged against them, there are new members from the West Bank as well – from Tul-Karem, Nablus, Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, and villages near Jenin. According to Sharif, a few also join from villages in the Galilee and the Sharon. He is happy to note that most of the new members are young and most of them are academics.
The Right of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel
Beyond noting the fact that Ahmadis are loyal to the country where they dwell, such as Israel, Sharif does not hesitate to mention the right of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, as it appears in the Quran. "It is clearly written in the Sura (chapter) of the People of Israel that this right is granted them by Allah", says Sharif. And he adds: "A prophecy written in the Quran 1400 years ago, clearly declared that God will bring the People of Israel to the Land of Israel from all over the world, and there would be an ingathering of the exiles in the land of Israel – and this enjoins a true Muslim to enter a dialog with the 'People of the Book' (The Jewish People were first called so in the Quran – R.F.) and it states: 'Do not argue with the People of the Book, but only in the most appropriate of ways".
According to Sharif, the Quran does not call for harming a Jew because he is a Jew. He notes the opening Sura that states: "God, bless me as you have blessed them (The Jews)". As for the inter-religious dialogue, Sharif notes that despite his meeting with Rabbi Shaar Yishuv Hacohen, Haifa's Rabbi, there is no inter-religious dialogue of real depth. He believes that "If you know the other well rather than superficially, you will change your opinion of him".
Peace Begins with Moderate Islam
In light of the rampage of radical Islam, it is refreshing to listen to one who clearly corresponds to the definition of "moderate Islam" – the Ahmadiyyah movement. If there is to be a prospect for a better world in general and in our region specifically, it is important that the messages transmitted by the Ahmadis reach attentive ears in the Muslim world, especially Muslims in Israel, and even those within pre 1967 Israel..
The success of this progressive movement would gradually moderate the hate level radical Islam in Israel, i.e. the Islamic Movement and all its wings, including the Southern one (The Southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel is considered more moderate), so that it would harbor less hatred to Jews and the Jewish State. Then there would be hope for true peace in the region. It is also important for Jews to know of this sect, so that we may understand that there is a different Islam, and the desire for peace begins not only with us, but with them, as well.