Admonitions from the Caliph
For their three day annual meeting, the Ahmadi Muslims of Pakistani origin erected a city of tents with separate spaces for the men and women. The two genders prayed, gathered and ate in separate quarters. A bazaar with Pakistani wares was also divided for men and women.
Food and household wares were sold on both sides of a fence that allowed no glimpse of the other side. But a marriage arrangement office was set up in a trailer so that Ahmadi men and women seeking a spouse could find their way to one another.
"A sense of humility is a part of the faith," says Mirza Masroor Ahmad as he calls upon women to wear headscarves. In order to reach the women more directly, he held an address in the women's tent. The men followed the sermon from their separate quarters from a large screen. The religious leader issued a strong warning against living an immoral lifestyle. Women are not to dance at weddings, for example.
"While dancing the body is exposed in a very shameful way," he asserted. "But if a woman understands her religious duties properly, she will also raise her children well."
Concerns about the future of their children in a non-Islamic majority society played a central role for the Ahmadi. The fact that the children are growing up different from their parents was apparent above all in the different languages. While older men mostly spoke in the Pakistani languages of Urdu and Punjabi, most children spoke with one another in German.
Among the many traditional Pakistani caps made of fur and felt in bright colors, there were also many baseball caps. European foods were available for the younger generation.
Many youths decline the spicy dishes favored by their parents, explained an Ahmadiyya representative. But the community is making efforts to ensure that the children remain rooted in their religion despite their Western environment. They created a youth project and handed out readings for young boys and girls.
The current and fifth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslims is the great grandson of the community's founder. In 1891 Mizra Ghulam Ahmad declared himself the Islamic Messiah in British-Indian Qadian. According to the Ahmadis, he did not intend to found a new religion but instead to revive a more original form of Islam. His community of followers grew rapidly, primarily in the area that is today Pakistan.
But the movement split in 1914 following the death of Ahmad's first successor, who was revered as Caliph (the Arabic word for "representative").
Some of the faithful expressed their desire for a committee to lead them. But the majority of the group elected a new representative for the Messiah. Ever since, the Caliph is elected for life. According to the group, the community has several million followers worldwide.
The majority of Sunni and Shiite Muslims consider the Ahmadi to be heretics rather than reformers. In 1974 the Pakistani Parliament declared them non-Muslims. Violent persecution and fighting ensued and partly continues today. Many adherents fled abroad.
Ahmadis and "other Muslims"
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Germany claims 30,000 members today, among them a few hundred Germans, Turks and Arabs. The followers established local communities and built mosques. The community in Berlin Pankow-Heinersdorf recently commanded attention when they began a project to erect a mosque.
Prejudices against Islamic places of worship have affected the Ahmadis as much as other Muslims, although there is hardly any contact between the representative Islamic organizations and the Ahmadiyya community.
Abdullah Uwe Wagishauser, chairman of the community in Germany, rejected accusations that Islam is prone to violence and resistant to integration. He says the religion is fundamentally peaceful and tolerant. "We Ahmadi Muslims experience Islam today like the Muslims of Mohammad's time – as a spiritual, transcending force," says Wagishauser.
The community stresses that it does not strive for power and supports the separation of religion and the state. But as regards morality and observance of prayer and other religious rules, the Ahmadis are relatively strict. They believe that in order to please God on earth and in heaven, the Koran and the commandments must be observed, says their spiritual leader. This means obeying the Caliph, he impresses upon the men and women alike.
© Qantara.de 2007
Translated from the German by Christina M. White