I never knew Asad Shah personally, but as one of my fellow Ahmadi Muslims, I may have bumped in to during one of our annual conventions, the Jalsa Salana which is held in the south of England every summer. I can imagine passing him among the throngs leaving the huge men’s marquee after the congregational prayers or at the end of a session of speeches. We would have mingled with our friends from all over the world after each session; him and me, along with thousands of others enjoying the best of British summer and the best of British inclusiveness and tolerance.
Asad Shah, the genteel Glasgow shopkeeper with a smile, was murdered on 24 March. His murderer, Tanveer Ahmed has been sentenced to 27 years in prison. Unlike Asad, he seems to hate the freedoms this country has to offer to all of us.
He showed no remorse over his actions and in his phone conversations posted on Youtube by his admirers, he repeated his his earlier stance – he is proud of what he has done.
Like many other families, the Shahs came to this country after fleeing state-sponsored persecution in Pakistan. Jihadi outfits there regularly target Ahmadis, attacking our mosques, banning our daily religious rituals and murdering our people in cold blood.
The Pakistani government often appears to be a willing partner in this crime.
In 1974, a constitutional amendment declared us non-Muslims in 1974, and in 1984 we were banned from openly practicing our faith. Along with the anti-Ahmadi laws that carried a penalty of three years imprisonment, the dictator Zia-ul-Haq also implemented the blasphemy laws and made blasphemy a capital offense.
There have been no annual conventions held in Pakistan since that year.
Asad Shah’s murderer was apparently incensed by what Asad posted on Facebook – some thought that it was his Easter message to Christians in Scotland. But the key point is that Ahmed thought that Asad had “disrespected Islam” and that was unacceptable.
Ahmed belongs to the Barelvi sect of Islam. This is often depicted as a peaceful “Sufi” variety of Islam that should prevail over the more dogmatic Deobandis or Wahhabi versions. But this murder shows that even in the Barelvi sect there is a violent streak that has to be checked. Ahmed is of Pakistani origin himself and had direct contact with the family of Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated the Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, for defending a woman accused of blasphemy. Qadri was hanged for his crime earlier this year. This lead to country-wide protests in Pakistan, and many prominent scholars and politicians mourned at his death. For such mourners, Qadri died a hero. Anyone who murders a blasphemer is deemed a ghazi, a honorific title for those who fight wars in a just cause.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been turned into the tools to stigmatize and persecute minorities. Not only this, these laws are directly and indirectly responsible for murders and extrajudicial killings as such acts are seen as a rightful response to any perceived act of blasphemy. Even criticising such laws can be considered blasphemy – as the murder of Taseer underlines.
Tanveer Ahmed’s crime was a carefully calculated and planned murder. He idolised Mumtaz Qadri, and he was not alone. TV channels run by UK-based Barelvi outfits ran live call-in shows openly expressing their support of Qadri and his cause. Even a well-known Imam from Asad Shah’s own city, Glasgow, appeared to eulogise Qadri.
A most disturbing pattern has emerged out of this latest horrible event. Just as Mumtaz Qadri, Tanveer Ahmed seems to have his own cult following. There are videos on YouTube broadcasting his sermons from prison. In a recent speech he has appealed to the Imams in the UK to start petitioning to create a blasphemy law in this country as soon as possible. He is aware of the potency of his actions and the message it carries among the Pakistani-Barelvi diaspora and he has no intention of wasting his 27 year sentence on self-reflection or remorse. His legend is already being told by some clerics in religious gathering in all its gory details.
Such videos are shared widely on many social media platforms and no doubt many British Muslims will be exposed to these stories. Who knows how many will be radicalised by such propaganda?
While we see justice has been served in this case, the sense of loss will remain for many years to come. I say this because we could have prevented this murder by clamping down on the import of hate preachers from Pakistan. Only a few months ago, a cleric who vowed at the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri to carry on his mission, was allowed into the UK. Worryingly, this cleric is a frequent speaker at many UK mosques and on many TV channels. Similarly, the noxious, hate-filled propaganda of various Khatm-e-Nabuwwat-affiliated organizations – that spearhead anti-Ahmadi extremism in Pakistan – finds a receptive audience in many mosques. There are regular conferences held in major UK cities to mark the passing of the 1974 2nd amendment to the constitution of Pakistan that declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims.
The Government should ensure that those convicted of hate, such as Tanveer Ahmed, cannot spread their message on social media or on any platforms. They must crack down on preachers of hate entering the UK. The Government should also act swiftly on intelligence they hold to protect all citizens for an attack on one is an attack on all. Non-violent extremism is potentially as dangerous and must be tackled with the same vigour as violent extremism. We look forward to learning of the Government’s plans in this area.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community has been present on these isles for almost more than a hundred years, bringing with them the peaceful, tolerant and compassionate message of Islam. Their message of peace, non-violence and absolute justice for all mankind is making a real difference to our communities in the UK. Asad Shah was one Pakistani Ahmadi in Scotland; there are thousands more all across the UK willing and eager to share their message of “Love for All, Hatred for None” – indeed you may have seen our campaigns on buses.
You can also come see it at this year’s Jalsa Salana (Annual Convention) in the UK. It is our 50th and we are expecting over 30,000 Ahmadis from all over the UK and from over 90 countries around the world. It remains our hope that together, with all people of peace, we can defeat extremism in Glasgow, the UK and the wider world.
Lutful Islam is a clinical scientist by profession and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK.