SINGAPORE – The Ahmadiyya Movement started in Punjab of India in the 19th century. The founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was believed to be the next messiah and reformer of Islam. His teachings focused on using Islam to restore justice and peace across the world. The community also viewed themselves as the revival of peaceful Islam which they believed dissipated over the past few centuries.
This was in contradiction to majority of other Muslim sects that believe that Muhammad was the last messenger sent by god. Other different teachings included the belief that Jesus survived crucifixion and died of old age in Kashmir. (Most major Muslim sects believe he was not crucified but instead ascended physically into heaven.)
Since then the movement has spread across the world and sizeable groups of Ahmadis can be found in South Asia, Africa and Indonesia. The community is thought to be highly organized and unified, and is now led by its Caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
The practice of Ahmadiyya in Singapore
The Ahmadiyya movement was set up by Ghulam Ahsan Ayyaz in 1935. He was sent by the ‘Second Caliphate’ of the Ahmadiyya community to the region of British Malaya. Since then, the community has grown to approximately 280 people. The community is also based in a mosque along Onan Road.
According to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Singapore website, the Ahmadis are the leading Islamic organization to reject any form of terrorism and believed that ‘jihad by the pen’ should be practiced instead of ‘jihad by the sword’. Essentially, they believe wars or conflicts should be resolved by intellectual battles rather than violence.
In addition, the community believed that the state and religion should be separated. Ahmad believed that the sanctity of the government should be protected and that misapplication of Islamic law should be frowned upon.
Many of the beliefs of the Ahmadis are similar or exact to Sunni teachings (the major Muslim sect in Singapore). The five pillars of Islam are still adhered to by Ahmadis and they believe in the divinity of Muhammad as a prophet of Islam. However, the community is not recognized by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS).
In 1969, MUIS issued a ruling that labelled Ayyaz a kafir (non-believer) and a murtad (a Muslim who rejected Islam). They labelled his teachings as misleading and astray from the real teachings of Islam. MUIS also labelled the community as a group that fell outside the fold of Islam.
The ruling extends into other rights offered to Muslims in Singapore. Ahmadis cannot be buried in Muslim graves, their marriages cannot be registered under the Registry of Muslim Marriages and they do not qualify for the assistance offered to Malay/Muslims by Mendaki.
The struggle for Singaporean Ahmadis
Syed Ali, 64, and his wife joined the Ahmadiyya community in the 1980s. Their families strongly objected their decision and even cut off contact for about 8 years. His father Syed Ahmad was one of the first few in Singapore to embrace the Ahmadi faith in the 1940s. However, Ali was brought up in a mainstream Muslim environment.
In 1986, The Straits Times quoted then Muslim Affairs Minister, Ahmad Mattar, saying that the Ahmadis in Singapore were being provocative by ‘blatantly’ referring to their headquarters as a mosque. Mattar continued to oppose the Ahmadiyya community that same year and warned of the ‘dangers’ of the group. To make matters worse, in 2008 a dozen of Ahmadi graves were vandalized and the culprits were never caught.
However, other Ahmadis in Singapore do not feel ostracized or rejected by their peers.
Speaking with Yahoo Singapore, Ataoul Qudus, 42, recalled that his schoolmates did not marginalize him and was grateful for a tolerant Singapore. Qudus’ father, Sulaiman Adnan, 68, remembers when his late grandmother tried to keep him away from the Ahmadi faith by sending him to a mainstream Islamic religious school when he was young. After his grandmother passed on, Adnan joined his father in practicing Ahmadiyya.