On the Margins of Faith: A Critical Historical Study of Muslim Religious Identity and the Minority Ahmadi Community in Cape Town

Full Name: 
Dr Nadeem Mahomed
Abstract: 

The Ahmadi movement is one of the most controversial modern Muslim movements primarily for the reason of their unorthodox belief in the continuation of prophecy after the Prophet Muhammad and/or the belief that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the fulfilment of the prophecy relating to the coming of a messiah and the return of Jesus. Even though Ahmadis continue to identify as Muslims and Islam as a religious faith, Ahmadis are persecuted and condemned as non-Muslim by their co-religionists. This thesis addresses the lack of scholarly works concerning the history of the Ahmadi Muslim community located in Cape Town, South Africa, including the origins of the community in the Western Cape (Chapter One). This lack of scholarship has ignored minority Muslim communities within the South African religious landscape and has solely focussed on the historical, religious and social trajectories of Sunni Islam. There has been no scholarly engagement with the history and existence of the Ahmadi Muslim community in Cape Town. The existing scholarship on Muslims in South Africa is limited to delineating the interactions between various proto Sunni groups and the wider non-Muslim polity but ignores the very real interaction between parts of the Sunni Muslim community and non-Sunni Muslims. Furthermore, the difference towards minority Muslim communities has resulted in a concrete marginalisation of these communities, including the Ahmadis, both at a local religious level and at a national political level. The principal issue which this thesis addresses is the identity and status of the marginalised minority Ahmadi Muslim community within the larger majoritarian Sunni Muslim discourse and community which was characterised by hostility, violence and exclusion perpetrated against the Ahmadi community in Cape Town (Chapter Two and Four). In 1965 the Muslim Judicial Council (“MJC”) publicly proclaimed the Ahmadi’s as apostates and instructed individual Muslims to disassociate themselves from any Ahmadi. The MJC instructed the leaders of mosques to forbid Ahmadis’ from accessing mosques and Ahmadis’ were denied the right to bury their dead in racially classified Muslim cemeteries. By 1982 the existing sectarian differences between the majority Sunni Muslim community and the minority Ahmadi community manifested itself against the backdrop of the secular legal system. In 1982, the Lahore Ahmadiyya Association instituted legal action seeking declaratory relief from South Africa’s High Court declaring the Lahore Ahmadis as Muslims and interdicting the MJC from disseminating false, malicious and harmful material regarding the Lahore Ahmadis. A second case involved a claim of defamation by a cleric who was ostracised as an Ahmadi sympathiser (Chapter Three). The overall thesis of this paper is that the presence and history of the Cape Town Ahmadi community provides a unique and alternative understanding of the history of Islam and Muslim communities in South Africa and the construction of Muslim identity vis-à-vis “heretical” expressions of religiosity and belief and moves the existing dialogue beyond the dominant understanding of Islam and politics towards a more nuanced perspective on the communal identity of Muslims in relation to Islam (Chapter Four and Conclusion).

Programme: