“Our motive is not to sell books but to propagate our teachings, and, most importantly, remove misconceptions about us and our manner of following Islam,” says Shaikh Fatehuddin, 26, an Ahmadiyya missionary and deputy-in-charge of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission based in Tughlakabad in Delhi.
At the World Book Fair 2018, the Mission has put up a huge stall, taking up the space of six regular stalls, spread across hall number 12 and 12A. On display are translations of the Quran, books on Prophet Muhammad, the Hadith and on the history of the Ahmadiyya community — in various languages including Hindi, English, Urdu, Arabic and Punjabi.
The Ahmadiyya movement, which originated in the late nineteenth century Qadian in Punjab, is based on the life and teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who proclaimed himself to be the messiah that Prophet Mohammad had promised would arrive as a reformer. It is mainly for this claim that mainstream Muslims do not recognise Ahmadiyyas as Muslims.
“The founder of our community is believed to be the second spiritual coming of Jesus Christ, and also the second spiritual coming of prophets of all religions of the world,” says Hafiz Abdul Ghani Shobambi of the Mission.
The movement spread to other parts of South Asia, Africa, and Indonesia. According to Fatehuddin, at present 600 Ahmadiyyas live in Delhi, and about 100,000 are spread out in India.
Often considered as heretics by fellow Muslims, the community faces persecution in large parts of South Asia.
“Fundamentally there is no difference between Islam and Ahmadiyyas. But we have differences in terms of interpretations,” says Shobambi. He says Mirza Ghulam Ahmad never propagated anything outside the scope of what was taught by Prophet Muhammad.
The first reported case of persecution of the Ahmadiyyas is believed to have taken place in Afghanistan during the lifetime of founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. In the following decades and centuries, instances of killing, shooting and institutionalised discrimination against the community has been reported from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and several other places.
Persecution of the Ahmadiyyas has been particularly harsh and systematic in Pakistan. It is the only country to have officially declared the Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims.
“Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan are killed and shot. Some time ago, there was a case of a bomb being thrown at our mosque there and close to eight people were reported dead,” says Shobambi.
In India, however, the community has had a comparatively peaceful existence. “Of course a number of Muslims here as well feel an enmity towards us since we follow the religious leaders of most other communities, be it Ramchandra or Krishna. But since India is a secular country, and there are many religions here so we have faced lesser problems here,” says Fatehuddin.
In India, the Ahmadiyya claim to Islam was supported by the landmark ruling in the Shihabuddin Imbichi Koya Thangal vs K.P. Ahammed Koya case of 1970. While legally they cannot be prohibited from calling themselves Muslims, or from following any of the Muslim practices, none of them still hold a position in the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
Isolated instances of Ahmadiyya persecution have reported in India. The attack on an Ahmadiyya mosque at Hyderabad in 2008 is one among few other instances of discrimination against them in the country.
The hatred for the community saw itself playing out at the book fair as well. “Many people come here and tell us that we should not have set up a stall her as we do not represent Islam in its true spirit,” says Fatehuddin.
“Some non-Ahmadiyya scholars come around and criticise our founder. I try to calm them down and reason with them,” says Shobambi.
At the book fair, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission has put on display around 250 books. The exhibits include translations of the Quran in various languages, commentaries on the Quran and the Hadith, an English translation of the life of Prophet Muhammad written by community leaders and several other books on the theology and history of Islam and the Ahmadiyya movement. “Hazrat Muhammad ka pavitra jeevan,” by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, “Ahmadiyya arthat Islam dharam ka vastawik swaroop,” and “Islami usul ki philosophy,” are some of the titles showcased by the missionary organisation.
The Mission is also handing out a couple of books free of cost to every visitor. “The world believes that Islam is synonymous with fundamentalism, war, killing. The fifth successor of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote a book, “World crisis and peace”. We give that as a free gift,” says Shobambi. adding that the negative image of Islam is built by the media and that there is an urgent need to reform that. The other free book given out by the stall is one on the life of Prophet Muhammad.
The Ahmadiyya community has been extensively involved in translating the Quran, Hadith and other books on Islam. In the past years, translations have been made available in more than 70 languages. “In this time of print and electronic media, people believe what they see, read and hear. So we want to make the teachings of Islam available to them in their own language so that they understand it better,” says Fatehuddin.
He reiterates that the book fair is an effort of the Mission to pass on their message of “love all and hate none”. “We spend close to Rs 10 lakh on putting up this stall at the book fair, and our sales are hardly worth Rs 10,000,” says Fatehuddin to drive home his point. He added the Mission frequently organises peace symposiums and seminars.