Opinion: Dr Jonathan AC Brown: Muslim scholars unanimous about Ahmadis


Ataul Fatir Tahir, London

In a recent discussion on Twitter about Ahmadis, a well-respected academic and Professor of Islamic Civilisation at Georgetown University, Jonathan AC Brown said, “Look I’d love to accept Ahmadis. But please find me one Sunni or Shiah scholar who accepts them as Muslims?

I respect Prof AC Brown for his academic works, love for Islam and condemning the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims. But his constant reference to the age-old, all-Muslim-scholars-are-unanimous-about-Ahmadis argument is not only fallacious in nature – carrying endless problems – but also disrupts Quranic injunctions to “reflect” and “ponder”, using our own reasoning.

Prof Brown said he would “love to accept Ahmadis”, but quickly falls to the decision of so-called Muslim scholars. It is a tragedy he doesn’t give more importance to Prophet Muhammad’ssa verdict of what defines a Muslim: “Whoever prays as we pray, turns to face the same qiblah as us and eats our slaughtered animals, is a Muslim…” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

The irony in Prof Brown’s argument is that Muslim scholars enjoy issuing endless edicts of disbelief against one another too. For example, Ahmad Raza Khan, the founder of the Barelvi Muslim movement that has 200 million followers in South Asia alone, issued extremely hateful edicts of kufr (disbelief) against other Muslims – calling them “disbelievers”, “hell-bound” and “deserving of the hell-fire”. I will not detail the flurry of more graphic explanations of kufr he issued, which, of course, his adherents must accept.

Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, a prominent and important Deobandi Islamic Scholar threw the same level of edicts against Ahmad Raza Khan and those who followed him.

I am not even scratching the surface here, but you get the point. The sad reality is that this vicious cycle continues today; fatwas of disbelief and being outside the pale of Islam are very common amongst these scholars.

How can such “scholars” ever be credible sources, especially by an honest academic? Surely, if followed, no one will ever be a Muslim!

It is fascinating to note that Muslim scholars cannot even rest on one definition of a “Muslim”. The Munir Inquiry Report tried to find a solution, but failed miserably. And so, with no unanimous definition of a “Muslim” and countless edicts of disbelief against other Muslims, how can we rely on so-called scholars?

This is the problem! When it comes to Ahmadi Muslims, academic rigour and facing the arguments head on are swiftly thrown out of the window and scapegoat opinions are ushered in.

This happened at the time of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, peace be upon him, too – after he intellectually dismantled the arguments opposing him, Muslim scholars began signing edicts of kufr (disbelief), declaring Hazrat Ahmadas to be outside the fold of Islam. Of course, many rational and honest scholars of Islam accepted Hazrat Ahmadas as the Imam Mahdi and Promised Messiah.

The consensus argument is clearly flawed, but also fallacious, drawing upon the Authority Fallacy. Just because Muslim scholars label Ahmadis as non-Muslims, doesn’t mean they are correct. Their mere “authority” as scholars – even if unanimous – does not prove Ahmadis as non-Muslims and outside the fold of Islam. It is not comprehensive. This is often called the appeal to authority and, in my opinion, is what plagues the Muslim world today.

Instead of thinking for themselves, searching for the truth, being academically rigorous and understanding the rationale and logic behind verdicts, Muslims blindly follow what their ulema (scholars) tell them. Islam does not teach this.

The authorities are the Holy Quran and Prophet Muhammadsa – they will never be fallacious. So, let’s stick to the Quran and what Prophet Muhammadsa had to say. The agreement of scholars will never eclipse the verdicts of the Quran and Prophet Muhammadsa.

However, I believe and hope that Prof Brown does not base his whole premise on the opinions of other scholars.

I implore Prof Brown to take a step back – away from the prejudice and unanimity of scholars – and decide for himself, after researching Ahmadi Muslim beliefs, if he truly thinks them to be Muslims or not.

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  1. Turning to the opinions of scholars while bypassing the Quran and Sunnah actually shows that they have no evidence from the Quran and Sunnah to declare Ahmadis kafir. Appealing to consensus before these primary sources of authority is not a theologically valid method for reaching the truth. Also, there isn’t even a consensus among the Sunni scholars, and between the different schools, as to what constitutes a consensus in the first place let alone on anything else.

  2. 100 years ago the westerners who accepted Islam, many of them were frustrated of the sectarianism that existed in Christianity. And they thought that Islam presented a universal teaching. It is a pity that sectarianism and Takfir has even influenced the western Muslim scholars of today.

    The professor is ignorant of the fact that many of those westerners who were interested in Islam were either directly influenced by the Promised Messiah a.s. (e.g. Alexender Russel Webb) or had correspondence with him (e.g. Abdullah Quilliam). Russel Webb was well aware of the Promised Messiah’s claim.

  3. In addition, I would like to say that there are muslims who think that time has drawn where ahmadi jurispodence should be viewed with the same in line to other Muslim sects


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