As said at the start of the conference, the Ahmadi community was born in 1889 in Punjab, India, not far from the current border with Pakistan. The group’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was also its messiah. After his death, his place was taken by other “mirzas” or guides. At present, the community is led by the fifth successor, Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
The group’s Indian roots are very deep. “Unlike Sunni Islam, which acknowledges only Jesus, Ahmadis recognise as prophets non-Judeo-Christian religious figures like Krishna, Buddha and Confucius,” Fr Rapacioli said. Theirs “is a typically Indian theology and understanding of messianic beliefs.” This openness, as well as the belief that their founder was the new messiah, is one of the reasons for their discrimination and persecution by fundamentalists.
An incident during the conference highlights the predicament Ahmadis face. “At one point, the discussion was going nowhere,” Fr Rapacioli said. “Mobasherur Rahman, national emir for the Bengali community and one of the conference’s organisers, decided to cut short the meeting without explanations despite the fact that many people still had questions to ask. I did not understand why right away, but later, as the honest person that he is, he told me that he saw some Muslims enter the hall. They would have certainly ruined the atmosphere because they were very hostile and aggressive”.
Despite the incident, the conference had a very positive outcome. “Both the Christian and the Ahmadi communities are minorities in Bangladesh. There is a certain gulf between them. We are also ethnically a minority since more than half of all Christians are tribal and indigenous. They are different, and not well known. Yet, not only did they welcome us to their centre, but they also offered us refreshments and made their publications available to us. They did this, in my opinion, to show that they are a community with whom we can open up, engage in dialogue and meet. Now they know they can encounter and discuss peacefully with someone. It is as if they found allies.”
The meeting was constructive for the Christian community as well because encountering “Another religious reality, at times discriminated but with principles close to our own, is something enriching, and enables us to better understand our own faith.” (GM)