What is it?
It maintains an estimated 15,000 mosques and centres, 1000 schools, 50 hospitals and several philanthropic organizations in over 195 countries around the world. It enjoys extraordinary support from politicians, world leaders and international organizations such as Amnesty International, the United Nations and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Most recently President Obama spoke up in support of this community by granting them an official house caucus in Capitol Hill which will work towards safeguarding their rights within and outside the United States. This is the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Where it happened
Now we shift our gaze to a small town near London which has been repeatedly identified as “an area of concern” in reports published by the British government. 1 in every 4 people here are Muslims, the majority of whom belong to Azad Kashmir and Bangladesh. According to UK Crime Statistics there has been no significant decrease in the number of crimes committed here between December 2010 to December 2013 but instead there has been a rise in violence against whites, against Asian women (particularly those involving honour crimes), forced marriages and domestic abuse. This is Luton, a town that topped the list of worst places to live in Britain back in 2004, and things remain largely unchanged.
What exactly happened?
What does Luton have to do with the Ahmadiyya Muslim community? Not much, except that in March 2014 an advertisement appeared in 30 local newspapers, including The Luton on Sunday, to celebrate 125 years of the community. Whilst thousands went about their daily lives glancing unaffectedly at the advert, a group of residents in Luton were outraged and decided to take the newspaper to task. One can assume the extremely convincing rhetoric of the 'members' of the 'other' Muslim community in Luton won the newspaper over, as the following Sunday a clarification appeared.
“Last week Luton on Sunday carried an advertisement from The Ahmadiyya… we would also like to make it clear that we disassociate ourselves from the content of the advertisement... On Friday we met with the representatives from the Muslim community to discuss the advertisement which we had accepted in good faith but now understand has caused offense to members of the Muslim community in Luton...”
Why this should shock us?
This in a country which has prided itself on being home to an ever-growing ethnically diverse Muslim population from varying sects as well as Budhists, Bahai's, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Wiccans, amongst countless others. A nation which extends human rights to its own as well as outsiders without discrimination: whether it is the 72 year old British-Ahmadi Muslim Dr Masood jailed under the blasphemy law in Pakistan in December 2013, or the countless asylum seekers fleeing persecution including the landmark cases of the Afghan athiest, the Ugandan LGBT community and the Syrian refugees, just in the last year.
This in a country where people have the right to profess and practice their faith without fear of retribution, so while Ahmadi Muslims carried out a campaign to tackle Islamophobia by printing adverts across London buses in 2011 with the message “Muslims for loyalty, freedom and peace”, the same rights had been afforded to atheists who spread their message through a similar campaign, “there's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. This in a city where mayor Boris Johnson said “London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance” in 2012.
Why it matters?
But it would seem that the editor of Luton on Sunday has other views about his city and what it stands for. Or maybe he simply felt that the fair and just moral code espoused by the nation was worth compromising in the face of differences of opinion? Or maybe he did not realise the significance of dropping the word “Muslim” for a community which is recognised in all nations of the world as part of the fold of Islam, with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
This, in a city which is home to a greater number of Indian restaurants than Mumbai and Delhi and which has the highest population of Koreans in Europe, further proving the fact that it is an ever evolving, inclusive multi-cultural metropolis. This in a country where the 30,000 strong Ahmadi Muslim community, living cohesively with members of all faiths and ethnicity, continually boasts of loyal and significant contributions towards the betterment of British society.
In 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron amongst other prominent politicians including Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim woman to serve in the British cabinet, applauded the community's efforts towards raising millions of pounds in donations for causes such as the Poppy Appeal, environmental causes, feeding the homeless, organizing blood donations and promotion of peace and harmony through inter-faith dialogue and community activities. The community held a conference to celebrate 125 years in Britain in February 2014 and received messages of support from Queen Elizabeth II, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and several British and foreign dignitaries such as the Hindu Council UK, the spiritual head of the Druze community in Israel and the Archbishop representing the Roman Catholic church as a show of solidarity.
Today in history
This in a country which has always embraced and acknowledged the contributions of Ahmadi Muslims such as Professor Abdus Salam, who was invited to take a chair at Imperial College in 1957 and went on to establish the world renowned and prestigious Theoretical Physics department at the college. Not to mention Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan who was the first Indian to top in his class at Kings College London and is credited for his contribution towards drafting the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, being elected President of the UN General Assembly as well as the first Asian president of the International Courts of Justice and the first Foreign minister of Pakistan. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation recently established at Kings College London has inaugurated the Zafarullah Khan Essay Competition recognizing him as a stalwart and encouraging modern day thinkers and activists to continue on with his extraordinary legacy.
What goes on in Luton?
Meanwhile, taking a leaf from Pakistan's manual where the word 'Muslim' has been erased from Dr Abdus Salam's gravestone and Zafrullah Khan's name has been ripped from history books, Luton on Sunday has caved in to religious thuggery. This too at the hands of a community which is often embroiled in religious-spurred and racist violence propagated by gangs such as the Yellows of the Choudary, the Khans, Ghafours, etc, engaging in violent crimes such as theft, drug trafficking and stabbings. A community which is rife with honour and hate crimes warranting the establishment of several centres for abused women and children escaping forced marriages and death threats. Most recently finding itself in the papers when four of its residents, inspired by Al Qaeda, were jailed for 44 years for plotting terrorist attacks on military buildings, the MI5, the US Air Force and local shopping centres in 2013.
According to Crime Statistics UK, a comparison between the towns of Luton and Earlsfield and Morden (the latter two with large concentrations of Ahmadi Muslim residents), indicates stark differences between the crime rates in these areas with Luton leading with a total of 1160 reported in February 2014 as opposed to the 400 registered in Earlsfield and 250 in Morden. A testament to, if nothing else, the internal disarray and disharmony prevalent in the town, which points to a growing wave of extremism and radicalisation in the aptly nicknamed “Islamic Republic of Luton”.
Now if a free newspaper in a free country decides to retract and censor the word “Muslim” from a paid advertisement which was published on behalf of tax paying, law abiding, stand up citizens, what hope does the rest of the world have? The prophetic answer lies in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation, must begin by subduing the freeness of speech”.
This article first appeared in the Friday Times.