This is perhaps one of the rare occasions when members of this sect, who face persecution in Pakistan, have come out to proclaim the inclusivity of their faith and answer queries on a wide range of issues. A 10-minute video on Islam’s emphasis on peace and rejection of war is a highlight of the exhibition. “This is an effort by the Ahmadiyyas to tell society that Quran is for everybody,” says Sayed Salahuddin, a volunteer.
But the exhibition has triggered strong protests from other Muslim sects at the venue. They were protesting against the Ahmadiyyas’ claim of being Muslims. The protests forced rescheduling of the exhibition, which will now end on Saturday instead of Sunday.
When the organizers set up the exhibition on Friday morning, they put up display boards addressing issues of jihad, women’s rights, science and globalization along with handsome volumes of over 70 translations of the Quran.
But after the protests the organizers scaled down the exhibition. The books are gone and so have the displays. “We were advised by police to remove the books as mischief-mongers from other sects might desecrate them. We agreed, because we believe in peace,” said Sayed Tanvir Ahmed, one of the organizers, who had come from Qadian, Punjab, where the Ahmadiyya sect was born.
But the man who led the protests, Kamal Faruqui, executive committee member of All-India Muslim Personal Law Board said, “We did not want to create a law and order problem. We wanted a token protest. Ahmadiyyas can’t call themselves Muslims. To be a Muslim, you have to believe in the oneness of God and finality of prophethood. Anyone who doesn’t believe in this is not a Muslim. They have been declared non-Muslims allover the world,” he said.
He heard about the exhibition on Thursday and rumours were confirmed by advertisements in the newspapers. “It’s not a new organization,” continued Faruqui, “They have every right under the Constitution to practice their religion and be treated as a minority. But by calling themselves Muslims, they are deceiving the people.”
The Ahmadiyyas are branded heretics in Pakistan and face opposition. “We are not popular among Muslims,” said Shiraz Ahmad, in charge of education for the Ahmadiyyas in India. “But we never retaliate. We spread the message of peace. We are declared non-Muslims by ulemas because they are afraid they’ll lose control if the masses follow us,” said Ahmad. But he also likes challenges. “We have been facing oppression for over 100 years. But where there is opposition, people also ask questions. They think, let’s go find out.”