Facing Persecution in Pakistan….Ahmadiyya Muslim Community finds sanctuary in Guyana

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Masjid Baitun Noor, the Headquarters of the local Ahmadiyya Muslim community

For Maulana Ahsan Ullah Mangat, the missionary-in-charge of the local Ahmadiyya Muslim community, ministering has been a lifelong calling. “I consider it a blessing that I’ve [been able to] dedicate my entire life to Islam and have no other obligations or business,” he says.

QUOTE: “You don’t have any person who comes openly to make problem with you [for religious reasons]. That’s great about Guyana. I’m grateful to Allah, the government and people of Guyana that everyone – Christians, Muslims, Hindus – [has] religious freedom.” =Maulana Ahsan Ullah Mangat

Maulana Mangat (fourth from left) and a delegation of Ahmadiyya Muslims pose with President Donald Ramotar
Maulana Mangat (fourth from left) and a delegation of Ahmadiyya Muslims pose with President Donald Ramotar

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in the Indian city of Ludhiana where he accepted the pledge of allegiance (bia’at) from his first 40 followers, Maulana Mangat explained during an interview with this newspaper in his office at the Queenstown-based Masjid Baitun-Noor. According to Maulana Mangat, in 1958, the local Ahmadiyya Muslim community was founded by a group of Muslims who had become acquainted with the literature of the Nigerian based Ahmadiyya Muslim community. He adds that after contact was made between the local Ahmadiyya Muslims and those in the Ahmadiyya’s spiritual heartland, and Mirza Ahmad’s birthplace, of Qadian, India, a missionary named Bashir Archurd was appointed to be Guyana’s first Ahmadiyya Muslim Missionary-in-Charge.

In addition to its headquarters in Queenstown, Georgetown, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community here runs mosques in Rosignol, New Amsterdam, Sisters Village and Edinburg as well as a smaller prayer center in New Amsterdam and Linden. In addition, Maulana Mangat disclosed, the Ahmadiyya Muslims would be opening a mosque in Mahdia, in the Potaro-Siparuni region, the first Muslim place of worship in that area. Maulana Mangat says that according to a running census kept by his office, there are over 200 members of the local Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
In addition to ministering, Maulana Mangat points out that the Ahmadiyya movement conducts charitable outreaches through the Guyana branch of the international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Humanity First. The NGO is an international charitable trust founded by Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth Head (Khalifa) of the global Ahmadiyya community, and is headquartered in London, United Kingdom.

Malauna Mangat divulges that during the Great Floods of 2004/2005, Ahmadiyya Muslims through the Guyana chapter of Humanity First, distributed two 30-foot containers’ worth of aid supplies. During the disaster, they operated medical camps, and distributed meals and hampers, he notes, adding that most of their relief efforts were directed to the worst affected areas in Georgetown and the Good Hope/ Annandale communities. He mentions that the Humanity First once ran a computer training centre in New Amsterdam which was “very successful [as] many people were trained.” He assures that the local Ahmadiyya Muslims community will continue to search for “other areas to help [the] country.”

Maulana Mangat, who is married and a father of two sons, was born in Mangat Uncha, a Pakistani village in the province of Punjab, some two hours and twenty minutes from the provincial capital, Lahore. From 1993 to 1998, he pursued Islamic Studies at an Ahmadiyya Muslim seminary in Pakistan named Jamia Ahmadiyya Rabwah. After graduation, he served as a Murabbi (religious instructor) for five years until he was appointed to serve as a Missionary in Guyana in 2003. He became Missionary-in-Charge in 2007.

The Intervention
He reveals, however, that he had developed an early interest in Ahmadiyya since his grandfather’s immediate family were among the first generation of Ahmadiyya Muslims. This family, Maulana Mangat says, converted after his grandfather had benefited from Mirza Ghulam’s supplication on his (Mangat’s grandfather’s) behalf. Explaining further, Maulana Mangat disclosed that when villagers of Mangat Uncha learned of Mirza Ahmad’s proclaiming himself as the Mahdi (Promised Messiah) who would unite all Muslims, his (Mangat’s) grandfather and his grandfather’s uncle along with a “delegation of Muslims” from the village “travelled on foot to India and visit Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and meet him about his claims”.
His grandfather, Mangat says, was desirous of having a son as though he had had many daughters, none of his sons survived beyond infancy. When the delegation met with Mirza Ghulam, the Mahdi, at the request of the uncle of Maulana Mangat’s grandfather, led his congregation in prayer for Maulana Mangat’s grandfather to have a son. Not long after, Mangat asserts, his grandmother gave birth to a son, who survived infancy, and ten years later to another. The second son is Mangat’s father.
“It is Allah’s choice [to bless my grandfather with sons] but we believe that through the prayers of ourselves, other brothers and sisters and spiritual leaders, God shows mercies,” Maulana says in explaining his respect for Mirza Ahmad’s piety, the awe at the decades-old episode still resplendent on his face.

Persecution
“After secondary school, I dedicated my life to the study Islam,” he tells this newspaper, largely due to the persecution experienced by Ahamdiyya Muslims Jama’at in Pakistan.

Under the Sunni Muslim-majority South Asian country’s blasphemy laws, “which is used against anyone who disrespects the Prophet Muhammad (Upon Whom Be Peace)”, offenders face penalties ranging from fines to a death sentence. In 1974, President Zulfikhar Bhutto used the Parliament to pass legislation that declared Ahmadiyya Muslims as non-Muslims. In 1984, under the military government of General Zia-ul Haq, Pakistan banned Ahmadiyya Muslims from worshipping and using any Islam-related terminologies. These were, in both instances, moves to curry political favour with the conservative Sunnis.

“We could not call our place of worship a mosque, we could not call Azhan (the Muslim announcement of prayer), we could not recite Islamic verses,” he recounts. Maulana Mangat believes that the “miserable deaths” which befell Bhutto, who was sentenced to death by ul-Haq’s junta which toppled him, and ul-Haq, who died in a plane crash, were handed down by God as punishment for the men’s “enmity towards Ahmadiyya Muslims.”
“Till today, they cannot say if it (the plane crash) was set by a man or magician. Military personnel from the U.S and Pakistan were with him (Ul-Hack) on the plane. No man could have gotten [close] to a plane which was carrying a President and army officials. It could not have been a man-caused death,” he insists, adding that Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth Khalifa, “had warned ul-Haq, during his Friday sermon that his plane would crash and before the next Friday, it crashed.”

“Pakistan [nominally] provides freedom of religion, but [in practical terms] minorities are not allowed to practice religion,” Maulana Mangat goes on to explain, adding that the enforcement of the blasphemy laws is not always done on strictly religious grounds, since the legislation is often facetiously invoked during the course of minor interpersonal disputes.

He notes: “Even if it’s a civil matter, Muslims try to take advantage [of] Christians and Hindus [using the laws] simply because they are in the minority.”

Maulana Mangat could not understand the distinction between being an Ahmadiyya and a Sunni Muslim. He says that, when as a child, he used to visit non-Ahmadiyya relatives, they would ask his parents “why don’t we become Muslims.”

“While as a child, you got raised to pray as a Muslim, fast as a Muslim and we considered ourselves Muslims!” he stresses, adding: “As a child, I had, naturally, love for the religion I grew up in.”

At Jamia Ahmadiyya Rabwah, he did Comparative Studies as part of his programme there, and that helped him understand differences among sects in Islam and differences among other religions.

Maulana Mangat praises Guyana for its deep rooted culture of religious tolerance. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community has as its motto, ‘Love for All, Hatred for None.’ He, himself, often participates in many inter-faith services and attends religious functions hosted by local mosques affiliated with other Islamic sects.

“You don’t have any person who come[s] openly to make problem with you [for religious reasons]. That’s great about Guyana,” he exudes, saying: “I’m grateful to Allah, the government and people of Guyana that everyone – Christians, Muslims, Hindus – [has] religious freedom.”
Written By Saeed Imran Khalil