With roughly 10 to 20 million members, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat (AMJ) comprises only one per cent of the worldwide Muslim population.
The Ahmadiyya’s growth in Germany
In Germany, too, the Ahmadiyya represents roughly 1 out of every 100 Muslims, counting approximately 45,000 members. This still makes the German Ahmadi community the largest in Europe, ahead of the UK.
What is more, Ahmadis have a larger public profile in the Federal Republic than their small numbers would suggest. For instance, the country’s oldest mosque in Berlin was founded and is still run by an Ahmadi splinter group. Of perhaps more contemporary relevance is the fact that Ahmadis are the first – and so far only – Muslim group to obtain the status of corporation of public law; a German legal title bestowing a host of juridical and financial privileges otherwise limited mostly to a number of Christian churches and Jewish congregations.
Since 1989, the Ahmadiyya has also pursued an ambitious plan of constructing 100 mosques in Germany. After years of slow growth, the community has expanded strongly since the early 2000s. As of 2018, it is approaching the mark of 50 places of worship; roughly half of them are located in the central German state of Hesse.
Missionary and outreach activities are thus part of the community’s fabric; a fact that has also led the AMJ to launch the first explicitly German-language web-based TV station catering to Islamic topics and questions. (The service is also broadcast with subtitles to the UK.)1) http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/ahmadiyya-gemeinde-zeigt-sendung-islam-verstehen-14534603.html
Ahmadiyya members also strive to present themselves as model Germans. To this end, the community has mounted a new campaign, titled “We are all Germany” (Wir sind alle Deutschland). On the one hand, the campaign aims to reduce public anxieties about Islam; on the other hand, its goal is to raise awareness of the Ahmadiyya and attract new believers.2) https://www.waz.de/staedte/duisburg/kampagne-muslimische-gemeinde-will-islambild-verbessern-id215679067.html
Black, red, gold
The flyer accompanying the campaign is visually striking, designed entirely in Germany’s national colours black, red, and gold. Its cover picture shows a – presumably Ahmadi – crowd waving German flags against the backdrop of a sunset.3) For the flyer, see https://ahmadiyya.de/fileadmin/user_upload/bibliothek/wir_sind_alle_deutschland.pdf
The flyer also includes a set of quotes from the current Ahmadi caliph Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad. Under the heading: “What do I believe in as an Ahmadi Muslim?”, the AMJ seeks to offer a paradigmatic account of its doctrines to non-Muslim Germans. The question is, again, written in Germany’s national colours, and the subsequent text is plastered with little German flags.
The caliph’s statements all emphasise the importance of non-violence and love, as well as inter-religious solidarity between the three Abrahamic faiths. Most centrally placed on the flyer are, however, injunctions calling upon Ahmadis to be loyal and obedient to (even non-Muslim) governments. Serving one’s country is depicted as a religious duty.
A twenty-minute explanatory video accompanying the campaign offers a throwback to the AMJ’s activities in Germany in 2017.
These activities revolve not only around a number of new mosques opened by the caliph, but also around the community’s charity and public-spiritedness: Ahmadis are depicted cleaning the streets from the rubbish left over after New Year’s Eve, donating blood, planting trees, holding charity runs for the needy in Germany and funding development projects for the poor abroad.
‘Muslims show their colours’
Visually, the film echoes the flyer’s emphases: at every mosque opening, crowds of small girls are shown waving German flags. And at the Ahmadi’s annual gathering, hundreds of attendees gather on an airfield under the tagline “Muslime zeigen Flagge” (Muslims show their colours), raising black, red, and golden placards to form a human choreography depicting the German flag.
The commentator’s voice-over proudly announces: “These young Muslims send a special signal this year: they commit themselves to Germany and depict the largest Germany flag ever carried by Muslims. For ‘We are all Germany’, they want to say.”
Throughout the video, and in line with the community’s strong focus on dialogue, a plethora of local and national-level political figures are shown, making more or less informed yet universally enthusiastic statements on the AMJ’s projects.
At times, the film caters so much to a dominant, non-Muslim German position (or at least to such a position as it is imagined by the video’s makers) that it is almost hard to watch. One of these moments occurs when an attendee of the Ahmadi’s annual conference expresses his gratitude that his parents could make a home in Germany, exclaiming on stage: “O Germany! How can we forget your gallantry, your compassion?”
Statements such as these might resonate well in the United States or, provided that a republican flavour be added to them, in France. In Germany, however, they seem somewhat out of place. This is not to say that there is no national(ist) discursive repertoire that is widely used across the political spectrum; yet this mainstream national imaginary does not operate via turgid celebrations of gallantry and compassion. (And hard-line nationalists who like to sing the praise of the German Volk would also be referencing less noble and universal virtues.)
Relationship with Sunni Muslims
While the eager adulation of Germany simply risks being somewhat overblown, other aspects of the Ahmadi’s messaging run into more substantial political problems. For instance, the AMJ’s persistent drive to present itself as supremely peace-loving risks coming at the expense of non-Ahmadi Muslims: the image film occasionally presents them as ruthless jihadi troublemakers, confirming Islamophobic clichés held by a wider German public.
To be sure, the Ahmadis do suffer at the hands of Sunni zealots – nowhere more so than in the AMJ’s lands of origin in Pakistan: Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims through an amendment to the Pakistani constitution in 1974. In 2010, two simultaneous suicide attacks in Lahore killed 84 Ahmadis during Friday prayers.
In Germany, hostility against Ahmadi community members has not been widely reported upon. However, Salafi circles appear to have threatened Ahmadis in Hesse.4) http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/18/131/1813193.pdf, p. 3 And Ahmadi leaders note that their relations to Turkish-dominated, Sunni-Hanafi congregations are not always free of friction.5) https://www.waz.de/staedte/duisburg/kampagne-muslimische-gemeinde-will-islambild-verbessern-id215679067.html
The Ahmadiyya in the face of Islamophobia
Overall, the AMJ has celebrated considerable successes in Germany: free from the religious persecution it must fear in Pakistan and a number of other locales, the community has expanded and obtained the status of public law corporation that all of the much larger Sunni Islamic association have hankered after in vain for decades.
What remains to be seen is whether the AMJ’s self-image and self-presentation as German model citizens will protect them from an anti-Muslim sentiment in politics and society that only seems poised to grow.
There is already considerable evidence to the contrary. Their expansion plans make Ahmadis suspicious to many Germans.6) https://jungefreiheit.de/sonderthema/2007/der-hundert-moscheen-plan/ Christian crosses have been erected at Ahmadi mosque building sites to protest the advance of Islam7) https://www.evangelisch.de/inhalte/142706/15-03-2017/protest-kreuze-gegen-erfurter-moschee-bau-sollen-abgebaut-werden . (An alternative, somewhat cruder message has been to place pigs’ heads on stakes.8) https://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2013-11/leipig-moschee-schweinekoepfe ) And the community’s moral conservatism – in particular on questions of gender and sexuality – has earned the AMJ accusations of fundamentalism.9) https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/necla-kelek-ueber-die-ahmadiyya-alles-andere-als-weltoffen.886.de.html?dram:article_id=394068
Thus, Ahmadis might find themselves in the same boat as their Sunni brothers and sisters, after all – no matter how hard they wave the German flag.
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