(RNS) The Muslim Council of Britain is rejecting the minority Ahmadiyya sect, less than two weeks after an Ahmadi shopkeeper was stabbed to death in Scotland.
“Muslims should not be forced to class Ahmadis as Muslims if they do not wish to do so,” MCB, an umbrella group of Muslim organizations in the U.K., said in a statement Wednesday (April 6).
It said the statement was issued because "pressure is mounting to describe this community as Muslim.”
Asad Shah, an Ahmadi shopkeeper in Glasgow, was killed March 24 by a Muslim man in what police called a religiously motivated attack. The MCB condemned the attack soon after, but distanced itself from the sect when debate reignited over whether Ahmadis fall within Islam.
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The sect has faced persecution since it was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, whom his followers accept as a prophet and the promised reformer. Mainstream Muslims believe Muhammad was the final prophet and many see Ahmadis as heretics.
“Given this fundamental theological difference with the Ahmadi community, the MCB is not in a position to represent or be represented by the Ahmadi community,” the MCB said.
The MCB’s statement decried hate speech against the sect, stating: "The targeting of Ahmadis for their beliefs is totally unacceptable."
But the umbrella organization has listed two anti-Ahmadi hate groups with roots in Pakistan among its affiliate organizations.
In 2003, when the Ahmadiyya community opened Western Europe's largest mosque in Surrey, the MCB issued a statement calling Ahmad "an imposter” and denying that the building was a mosque.
Critics say such sectarianism is inciting further persecution against Ahmadis in the U.K., where in recent years Muslim groups have rallied against the opening of Ahmadiyya mosques, distributed anti-Ahmadiyya pamphlets and organized boycotts against shops owned by members of the sect.
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Many Ahmadis have settled in Western Europe, Canada and the U.S. to escape state-sanctioned persecution in Pakistan, where they are legally barred from calling themselves Muslim or practicing their faith.
In response to the latest MCB statement, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the U.K. said the communique was at odds with the umbrella organization's “commitment to peace and tolerance.”
“In a free and fair society like the United Kingdom, it is unacceptable that any group would seek to follow such a dangerous precedent by denying Ahmadi Muslims the right to identify as Muslims,” said the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the U.K.
“Everyone has the right to self-identify as a Muslim or as the follower of any faith for that matter,” the group said.