Cont Islam (2014) 8:115–131 DOI 10.1007/s11562-014-0294-y
Approaching conflict the Ahmadiyya way The alternative way to conflict resolution of the Ahmadiyya community in Haifa, Israel Emanuela C. Del Re
Published online: 3 March 2014 # Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014
Abstract The role and incidence of the Ahmadiya community in Israeli society, with its around 2,000 members, is not related to the dimension of the community, its religious activities or its dissemination on the territory. It is related to the strong social and political engagement of the community not only in religious but also in civil society activities where it resides, despite all the difficulties that derive from its disputed role in Islam. The Ahmadiyya community in Haifa constitutes a relevant example of contribution to peaceful and productive coexistence. Haifa itself is characterized by a very interesting social and political climate, by which it is considered a “model” of coexistence in Israel, despite the fact that many contrasts and contradictions persist, such as forms of discrimination and inequalities. The civil society is particularly active, and institutions and NGOs devoted to the Arab-Jewish dialogue are many. Religious and political leaders communicate and participate together in various events, where their openness and mutual respect are intended to symbolize harmony with the intent of this being mirrored by the whole society. The Ahmadiyya Community plays an active role in this evolving process. The author, who has carried out qualitative research in Haifa to film a scientific documentary on the Holiday of Holidays and the validity of the Haifa model of coexistence, applied participant observation in the framework of grounded theory to analyze the role and impact of the Ahmadiyya community in the complex Israeli context, also on the basis of extensive in depth interviews with community members and leaders. Keywords Ahmadiyya . Israel . Grounded theory . Coexistence . Conflict resolution The Ahmadiyya Community emerged immediately as fundamental during my field research—carried out together with Roberto Cipriani—in Haifa, Israel. The research was aimed at exploring and analyzing the dynamics and impact of the Holiday of Holidays on coexistence. The Holiday of Holidays is a festival that takes place every E. C. Del Re (*) Niccolò Cusano University of Rome, Rome, Italy e-mail: [email protected]
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December that has celebrated its twenty-first year since its foundation in 1993. The festival is a unique and extraordinary event in which the most significant holidays of the three main religions of the local population—Judaism, Islam and Christianity—are celebrated at the same time, with the participation of representatives also of other groups such as the Baha’i. The festival is based on the expression of many art forms performed by artists who promote the Jewish-Arab dialogue in Israel, such as mixed orchestras, theater and dance companies among others. The festival also includes some rituals (Christmas parade) and symbols (Menorah and Christmas Tree together) related to the main religions. The research was carried out using qualitative methods inspired by grounded theory, by which observation and theoretical elaboration proceed simultaneously, in a constant interaction. I carried out and filmed more than 50 interviews with academics, artists, intellectuals, religious leaders, politicians, activists, and people of the streets of Haifa, while participating in all aspects of the festival and in many aspects of the life of the city, filming them.1 The Ahmaddiyya Community emerged from the start as one of the most present and cooperative communities in the life of the city, and also in the festival, as its leader and members participated in all the symbolic and official ceremonies and gatherings, together with other religious and political leaders with whom it maintains serene and active relations. This field of research allowed me to define the Holiday of Holidays as an interesting form of conflict prevention and resolution, in which the Ahmadiyya Community plays a significant role, as explained in the article that follows. Looking at Israel from the grandiose Mahmood Mosque in Kababir, on the top of Mount Carmel in Haifa, the situation in the country appears different. The Mosque was built by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the late 1970s with funds gathered through donations made by members of the local community for which it is a source of pride, with its 34-m high minarets and its bright green night illuminations. Kababir is a mixed neighborhood of Haifa established in 1928, inhabited mostly by Jews and Ahmadi Arabs who arrived there in the 1950s. It represents a micro-cosmos in the wider context of the complex and yet unique social climate in Haifa. The situation in Israel looks different from here, because the situation in Haifa is different from anywhere else in Israel and, as Sami Michael—the famous writer, Nobel Prize candidate, President of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel—told me in an interview, it is positively different from anywhere else in the Middle East, as it is characterized by a peaceful coexistence (Del Re and Cipriani 2011a), or “something that is close to coexistence”, as Edna Zaretsky—councelor and social scientist, member of Haifa City Council and of Beit Hagefen board—specifies (Del Re and Cipriani 2011b). The concept of coexistence refers to a state in which groups live together respecting their differences and solve their conflicts in a peaceful way. In International Relations, the term, which became a successful slogan at the time of the Cold War referring to the relationship between the United States and the USSR, developed a new dimension in the 1980s, when it started to include: “non-aggression, respect for sovereignty, national independence, and non-interference in internal affairs” (Weiner 1998). Coexistence is multifaceted, and can include a number of different social and political attitudes. Mainly, these attitudes can be summarized as: (1) the ability to coexist in the sense of existing together in the same place or time in mutual tolerance, not 1
This essay has been completed in September 2013.
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trying to eliminate one another, yet not sharing a social space (Rupesinghe 1998); and (2) the ability to interact, with a commitment to mutual respect and tolerance, negotiating solutions for peaceful resolutions of conflicts (Kriesberg 1998). Around 600,000 people live in the metropolitan area of Haifa: 90 % are Jews, of which one-quarter are from the former Soviet Union; and 10 % Arabs, mostly Christian (Israel Central Bureau of Statistics 2010). Haifa is also the home of the Bahá’i World Center and of the Ahmaddiyya Muslim Community. Around Haifa on Mount Carmel live some 40,000 Druze, mostly in the towns of Daliyat el-Carmel, Isfiya and Shfar'am. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community established itself in Israel in 1925 under the British Mandate of Palestine. The Ahmadis have been subject to various forms of persecution and discrimination since the foundation of the movement in 1889, especially in Sunni-dominated countries, where they are defined as heretics and nonMuslim. The latest serious episode of intolerance occurred in 2010 in Lahore (Pakistan) when an attack during Friday prayers killed 94 Ahmadis and injured some 120 people, but others continue to take place and Ahmadis killed. According to a Report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (2013: 101): “the most severe forms of discrimination were reserved to members of the Hindu, Christian and Ahmadi communities. (…) Hate speech continued unchallenged with the Ahmadis being the most common target”. Moreover, “The Ahmadis complained that while the authorities banned their conferences, rallies and major sporting events in Rabwa, the center of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, anti-Ahmadi clerics were given a free hand to hold a number of provocative rallies in and around Rabwa”. In an interesting study on inter-community relations in Haifa, carried out by the Shatil Shared City Project (Haifa Shared City Program 2012), four “models” of coexistence dynamics were identified: “(1) the “demonstrations” (protests) model, which resembles war; (2) the “Holiday of Holidays” festival model that blurs the conflict; (3) the “Masada events” model (popular street parties for young people) that blurs identities and difference; and (4) the “Hecht Park” model,2 which recognizes the difference but is indifferent to it” (Haifa Shared City Program 2012: 493). These models are elaborated on the basis of analysis of the kind of social dynamics that emerge in events in which members of different communities of Haifa meet in urban spaces for different reasons, which are typical of urban social life but become special in a divided city where every moment shared by different communities becomes highly symbolic. The claim of the Shatil Shared City Project study is that “intercommunity relationships in the city are dynamic, ranging over the four models with dizzying speed, affected by external events in the Jewish-Arab conflict” (Rosen 2012: 492).The models described stress that coexistence by nature does not impose the annihilation of different identities—ethnic, political, social, economical or other—in the name of peace. Moreover, if coexistence becomes the principle at the basis of an applied policy, it becomes a fundamental tool for conflict prevention. Although not perfect, Haifa is considered a model of coexistence, in which the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community plays an interesting role, especially as regards conflict prevention, considering that, as Simon Ross Valentine (2008) says, the movement stresses non-violence and tolerance of other faiths, and is also zealous in its outlook and has a strong missionary program. 2 Hecht Park is the largest stretch of greenery within the urban area of the City of Haifa. It is accessible to anyone.
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The role and incidence of the Ahmadiyya community in Israeli society, with its around 2,000 members, is not related to the dimension of the community, its religious activities or its dissemination on the territory. It is related to the strong social and political engagement of the community not only in religious but also in civil society activities where it resides. Participation and constant presence can be identified as the pillars of the strategy adopted by the Ahmadiyya in Haifa, together with effective communication, ecumenism, publicity and visibility, constructive attitude, and a focus on worldwide and universal issues. It is a social-political strategy that is motivated by a number of aims: to be able to avoid exclusion and persecution and to protect the members of the community; to participate actively in the life of the wider town in line with the missionary aspirations and dissemination of values, beliefs and principles through visibility; acquisition of a stronger social and political credibility; recognition. The strategy is the same that is adopted elsewhere in the world where the Ahmadiyya Community opts for an assertive attitude, but unlike countries like Canada or the UK where the efforts the Ahmadi can be diluted in myriad initiatives with other communities that take place in those countries, the incidence of their presence in Haifa emerges as relevant also because the very fact that the town is small offers more opportunities for visibility. Not only is Haifa a small city, but the focus on coexistence in it is very strong, allowing more opportunities for expression and participation in city life as well as that of small communities. The Ahmadiyya Community in Haifa also acts as a catalyst to other religious communities, such as the Baha’i, that also recognize the moral quality of moderation and peacefulness, making them multiplying agents of positive messages, nourishing each other in this task. The very interesting social and political climate by which Haifa is characterized, has created an image of it as a “model” of coexistence in Israel that—despite the conflict, the contrasts and contradictions, discrimination, inequality and violence that persist— constitutes a fertile humus for the Ahmadiyya Community. Haifa’s civil society is particularly active, with many institutions and NGOs devoted to the Arab-Jewish dialogue. Religious and political leaders communicate and participate together in various events, where their openness and mutual respect are intended to symbolize a harmony intended to be mirrored by the whole society. As the reformed Rabbi Golan Ben Chorin affirmed in an interview with me, it is not a question of numbers, because the ability of those involved in dialogue activities to influence the Israeli society is much stronger than their quantity (Del Re and Cipriani 2011c). Defined by the Mayor of Haifa Yona Yahav as “Reform Arabs”, as quoted in Hovel (2012) ,3 the Ahmadiyya with their leader Muhammad Sharif Odeh propose alternative ways to conflict resolution, especially refusing violence and promoting the concept of 3 The concept of Reform Arabs can be related to a number of interpretations of the need for change that is diffused in the Arab world, especially as a consequence of the wave of recent movements, that, according to the Arab Reform Initiative (http://www.arab-reform.net), for instance, has: “triggered a deep and irresistible movement of change in the region. It is bringing profound transformation in politics, governance, societies, state-society relations as well as in the overall strategic landscape of the entire region. It also represents a unique and decisive moment for Arab societies to shape their future”. Another way of looking at the same concept refers to Pro-Reform Arabs as advocates of an American Style democracy in the Arab world. (See for example: Mohammed El-Bendary 2011).
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“mono-existence” for Haifa, because “coexistence” implies that everyone keeps their distinctiveness and does not seek to assimilate, while according to Muhammad Sharif Odeh in Haifa residents do not feel different from each other (Hovel 2012). The Ahmadiyya community is always present, also in particular events that are to be considered the utmost expression of the personality of a town like Haifa, amongst which the Holiday of Holidays is probably the most important. A festival organized by the Beit Hagefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center that takes place in Haifa every December since 1993 in which not only the main holidays of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religion are celebrated at the same time, but artists from all over Israel and the world gather on stage and in the streets of the Arab Neighborhood Wadi Nisnas, with Jews and Arabs always performing together in any artistic form. While I was filming Haifa’s Answer, a documentary on coexistence in Haifa focusing on the Holiday of Holidays (Del Re and Cipriani 2013)—in the wider framework of a qualitative research with participant observation on coexistence in Israel—a number of analytical elements emerged. For instance, the fact that, despite the participation of many different religious communities—from the Maronite Church to the Baha’i, to the Christian Scouts to the Carmelite, Muslim Arabs and others—and ethnicities—citizens from the former Soviet Union, Arabs, Jews—all social and age classes, the festival has no ambition of defining issues or roles or specific values. As Amalia Sa’ar, a social scientist from Haifa University, director of the Center for the Research on Peace Education affirms in an interview with me: “The idea of ‘not-naming’, is key in the event” (Del Re and Cipriani 2011d). The event itself has been in fact transformed in a form of conflict resolution. Its story explains why. During the second Intifada, after a suicide bombing that killed 15 people and injured 40 in Haifa, relations between Arab and Jews were so tense that the risk of violent escalation was very high. The local religious leaders and the Mayor Amran Mitzna decided to meet and issue a joint declaration for peace and, given that in that year the most significant Holidays of Christianism, Islam and Judaism fell in the same period (December) coinciding with the Holiday of Holidays, they decided to enhance the event, inviting people living in Wadi Nisnas the Arab neighborhood to open their homes and go to the streets to celebrate, and asked artists to perform. The Holiday of Holidays has acquired more and more importance. The Municipality understands the political as well as the social value of the event and invests a million Euro in it every year. It has also become an attraction for tourists, but has kept its incredible conflict prevention energy. The role of the Ahmadi in the festival, which mirrors part of the life of the town, has emerged as fundamental because of their constant presence and recognized authoritative representativeness. Sheik Muhammad Sharif Odeh—the head of the Community in Israel—always takes part in all public events. Having interviewed more than 50 people, including Muslim, Christian, Druze and other religious leaders, to realize my documentary Haifa’s Answer, it emerged that the difference between the Ahmadiyya and other Muslim religious leaders was the ostensible distance of the Ahmadiyya from the stringent political issues in the country. In fact, Sheikh Samir Assi, Imam of Al Jazaar Mosque of Acre and Sheikh Mohamad Kher Halabi from the Druze town of Daliath El Carmel immediately approached the issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, going as far as calling for the intervention of the international community, given that I, the interviewer, was Italian, and underlining the tensions between the Palestinians and the Jews at all levels. On the contrary, the head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
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in Haifa Sheik Muhammad Sharif Odeh indulged in a high theological dissertation and interpretation of crucial issues such as Jihad and a sociological explanation of the relationships between the communities in Haifa and the attitude needed to protect the members of the community in order to promote peaceful coexistence. One of the reasons why the Ahmadiyya Community in Haifa is not attacked or criticized as in other areas by other Arab communities, is that most Arabs in the town are Christian. In a presentation of the Ahmadiyya Community in Israel disseminated on YouTube, Muhammad Sharif affirms: “This is a secular Jewish state that gives freedom of worship for all religions despite the conflict and all the political problems, there absolutely is freedom of worship here” (Ahmadiyya in Haifa; a short introduction to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Haifa 2010). This clarifies and at the same time justifies the approach of the community towards the State and the Institutions. The appreciative statements that Muhammad Sharif Odeh made about the actual Mayor of Haifa Yona Yahav in the interviews realized during the filming of the documentary, could also be interpreted both as a way of recognizing the positive situation in which the community lives in Haifa and as a way of ensuring the continuation of such condition in a country where tensions, challenges, pressures and risks are very high. The same attitude has been adopted also by other religious leaders such as the Archimandrite Agapios Abu Saada, Superior and Pastor of the Greek Melkite Parish in Haifa, who says openly that he appreciates very much the attitude of the Mayor because he allows his community to close the streets when there are special celebrations and so on. In a social political context like Israel, these elements cannot be underestimated, given that the relationships between the communities are very difficult and rarely serene (Del Re and Cipriani 2011e). Nevertheless, public statements by the Ahmadiyya Community praising aspects of Israel make the role of the Ahmadiyya in the country appear as controversial in the eyes of many. The web is full of allegations regarding not only the validity of the doctrine of the Ahmadiyya, but also their close relationship with the Israeli institutions, given that many hold positions in the administration—an argument that is used by the AntiAhmadiyya Movement to demonstrate that they are traitors of Islam, going as far as listing names of members of the community in the administration and the positions they hold (see Odeh 1999). In the Anti-Ahmadiyya Movement website, the aims of the movement are explicitly explained: “Qadianism/Mirzaiyyat/Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam has become quite a controversial issue. Muslims everywhere have started campaigning against them. Pretending to be the Champions of Islam and the only true Muslims, they are leading ignorant Muslims out of its fold. Is it a Movement of Reform within Islam as it claims to be? OR is it a Pious Fraud in the name of Islam? In 1988 Mirza Tahir Ahmad Qadiani, Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement and Grandson of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, issued a challenge of Mubahila, in which he labeled the entire Muslim Ummah as Disbelievers and Liars. Syed Abdul Hafeez took up the challenge and set up Anti Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. it is an awareness campaign to educate Muslims and non-Muslims about the true nature of this
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creed and bring to the light the true personality of its founder and his heretical beliefs, as depicted in his writings”. The Anti-Ahmadiyya Movement website lists “other Ahmadiyya Awareness Sites on the Web”: Idara Dawat-o-Irshad in the US, Khatme Nabuwwat Site, Fatwa About Lahoris, The Heretic Sect, Ahmedi.org, Ahmadiyya Cult Info, Second-Hand Islam, Anti-Mehmmodi/Qadiani Website, Indonesian Anti Ahmadiyya, Opposing Views, Illias Suttar's Website, Why Not Ahmadi. Very significant in this sense are also the videos disseminated on YouTube by the Muslim Television Ahmadiyya (MTA) entitled Is Jamaat Ahmadiyya working for Israel? (2009) in which members of the community explain the reasons at the basis of their policy and attitude towards Israel, defending themselves from a number of accusations. Beside the Anti-Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam,4 the web is full of allegations that the Ahmadi are spies of Israel, do not oppose the policies of Israel in Palestine, and others. One of the arguments that the Ahmadiyya Community repeatedly brings about in order to certify its position as regards the policy of Israel in Palestine is the speech delivered in the United Nations in 1947 by the Pakistani Sir Muhammad Zafr Ullah Khan—Ahmadi scholar, famous for writing the Pakistan Resolution of 1940 which rejected the concept of a united India on the grounds of growing inter-communal violence and recommended the creation of an independent Muslim state. The following quotation from his speech at the UN explains its importance of his statements on the issue of the partition of Palestine: “…Shall they be repatriated to their own countries? Australia says no; Canada says no; the United States says no. This was very encouraging from one point of view. Let these people, after their terrible experiences, even if they are willing to go back, not be asked to go back to their own countries. In this way, one would be sure that the second proposal would be adopted and that we should all give shelter to these people. Shall they be distributed among the Member States according to the capacity of the latter to receive them? Australia, an overpopulated small country with congested areas, says no, no, no; Canada, equally congested and over-populated, says no; the United States, a great humanitarian country, a small area, with small resources, says no. That is their contribution to the humanitarian principle. But they state: let them go into Palestine, where there are vast areas, a large economy and no trouble; they can easily be taken in there. That is the contribution made by this august body to the settlement of the humanitarian principle involved…” (Shamim 2012). An historical event that recurs also in relation to the Ahmadiyya cause in Pakistan nowadays. As explained by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad Sahib - the 4th Caliph of Ahmadiyyat who died in 2003 – “Ahmadiyyat has exactly the same relationship with Israel that Rasoole Karim Hadhrat Muhammad, s.a.w., held with the Jews of that era – to call them to light; and whatever Rasoole Karim s.a.w., did was Truth and Light”(Pervaiz 2012). 4 The official website of the Anti Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam is: http://alhafeez.org/rashid/ (accessed March 2013)
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The strategy adopted by the Ahmadiyya Community in Israel, mentioned above, becomes an exercise of equilibrium in different situations, aimed not only at surviving and asserting itself in Israel, but also at surviving in Pakistan and at defending itself from the hostility by Muslims and others worldwide. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict produces in Haifa a delicate swing of identities because each identity enjoys a different status. The Greek Melkite must find a balance between their Christian belief and their Arab origin, so much that they find a solution to the dilemma of which identity prevails by leading back the discussion to the ancient presence of Arabs and Christians in Palestine, basing the discussion on geography, as Archimandrite Agapios Abu Saada affirmed (Del Re and Cipriani 2011e). As regards the Ahmadi, their identity seems to oscillate between multiple identities: the Israeli identity, the identity as citizens of Haifa, the Arab identity, the Muslim identity, the Ahmadiyya identity. The Ahmadi are perfectly able to move between all these identities, having found as a common denominator for each of these dimensions their interpretation of the Koran, the fact that they elevate the level of the issues to universal values, and others. Nevertheless they must come to terms with the social and political reality in which they live. The pillars of the Ahmadiyya strategy that we have identified (participation and constant presence, effective communication, ecumenism, publicity and visibility, constructive attitude, focus on worldwide and universal issues) find a summa in specific actions taken by the Community. For instance, in March 2012 Mirza Masroor Ahmad, head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, sent a letter to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, warning them that their conflict posed dire consequences for the entire world (Israel khalifa of Islam warns Israel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qqj2kff–Q0) and suggesting to return to negotiations. The mere acceptance of the need for negotiation is a crucial step in itself in conflicts, and the Ahmadiyya understood this fully. The fact that such call to the leaders was made at the international rather than at local level—the Community in Haifa could have done it itself—puts the event on a higher, wider level. The conflict between Iran and Israel is not only a question of missiles, not a question that regards the protection of Israel, but a question that endangers the world. Making clamorous actions becomes a way to promote the Ahmadiyya conflict prevention and resolution methodology. Again regarding Israel, quite interesting in this sense is the decision taken by the Ahmadi in 1987 to translate and publish parts of the Koran into Yiddish (http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/ muslim-sect-celebrates-25-years-since-koran-translated-into-yiddish-1.461072 Accessed January 2013.). The community in Haifa celebrated the 25th anniversary of that significant event in 2012 in Haifa. The Ahamadiyya Community has translated the Koran into innumerable languages, but Yiddish has a strong political significance. In this case what emerges is another very interesting aspect of the Ahmadiyya strategy: communication. The statement that Muhammad Sharif Odeh made to the Israeli journal Hareetz regarding the event is simple and profound at the same time: “We decided we had to make sure that our neighbors could also read the Koran” (Hovel 2012). The communication strategy of the Community is efficient and effective, but is criticized because it seems to serve the cause of the Ahmadiyya and not the Muslim Community as a whole. This has raised critiques. This is clear in the words of Mike
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Ghouse—a thinker and activist of pluralism—in a speech delivered in August 2012 published by the World Muslim Congress as regards the translation into Yiddish of the Koran: “I admire the Ahmadiyya Muslim community for the peaceful work they have been doing, wherever they go. They bring a good name to Islam and Muslims (…) One of the things Ahmadiyya community needs to resist is telling others that "we are the Muslims who advocate peace" not like the other ones. (…) Please note the following sentence in the article is not kosher, "You don’t hear about us because we don’t throw rocks at buses," Odeh said. (…) I do note thoughtless comments like the one above. As a persecuted minority, I understand, but still cannot justify such comments”( Ahmadiyya Muslims translate Quran into Yiddish 2012). Ghouse’s comment appears as particularly interesting because it includes all the issues related to Ahmadiyya conditions and strategy (or policy): persecution; arrogance (perceived by others as such) of considering themselves as the “elected”, which is a way to overcome the fact that they are a minority; the issue of including the Ahmadiyya as part of Islam and the Muslims (which Ghouse candidly does). The issue of non recognition of the Ahmadi as part of Islam is interestingly explained by the case of the New York subway posters that the American Freedom Defense Initiative (FDI) were allowed to disseminate in September 2012 winning a case against the New York Transportation Agency, which contested the language: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, defeat Jihad. Paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (FDI)” (Pro-Israel 'Defeat Jihad' ads to hit New York subway 2012). The case raised polemics on the media, from Fox News to CBS, the BBC and others, and when Pamela Geller, the activist that launched the campaign, was invited to discuss the issue with some Muslim representatives on RTTV television, she complained publicly saying that it was ridiculous to confront her with Ahmadiyya representatives who are not only persecuted, but are not even considered as Muslim (Islam Ahmadiyya Muslim debating with Pamela Geller 2009a, b). In the Ahmadiyya strategy, symbolism at its utmost is provided by Israel. It is in Israel that the Community can demonstrate its moral, spiritual, social and political value. In Israel in fact it enjoys freedom of cult, inclusion and participation, but at the same time it resides in a country of conflicts, in which it is obliged to find an alternative way of approaching the different political positions, being constantly on the frontline, which increases its credibility. The participation of the Ahmadiyya in interfaith activities, for instance in the Haifa Forum for Interfaith Cooperation and other, is often seen as ambiguous, controversial or hypocritical—as emerged in interviews I conducted with Arab citizens of Haifa—and even more so when it is appreciated by Jewish people. Just as an example of the kind of appreciation, Earl Shugerman, a retired American immigrant to Israel writes in his blog: “The Ahmadiyya live as peaceful and responsible citizens of Israel, as they do in all countries in which they inhabit. I have been blessed to participate in many interfaith activities during my five years in Haifa. Several of these activities have
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been with my Ahmadi friends and neighbors. My favorite was a youth soccer tournament held at their school in Haifa. Jewish and Muslim youth enjoyed a beautiful fall day of sports, pizza, and fellowship!” (Muslim Ahmadiyya in Israel 2012). There was no interaction between Ahmadi and Jews until the first Ahmadiyya missionary from India, Jalaluddin Shams, was sent to Israel in 1928. The second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya community visited Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel. On Wikipedia—a popular, easy access information network—a specific entry is dedicated to: “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community-Jewish relations” (Wikipedia 2013) but, other than some religious interpretations on the views of both communities on Jesus, Abraham and others, not much is said about the relations. The Ahmadiyya community seems to have found its own dimension in Israeli society, moving prudently, easily and adequately in Haifa, together with activists and local politicians and religious leaders, but problems emerge in the territories of the Palestinian Authority where a few dozen Ahmadi live. There seems to be a tension between the secular élite and conservative Muslim society, especially as regards religious matters, which are linked strongly with political and social issues. According to the Ahmadi, there are a number of episodes in which they have reported to be persecuted. In particular, in 2010, Muhamad Sharif Odeh affirmed that the teachings of the Ahmadiyya sect have been labeled “apostasy” by the Palestinian Authority clerics. Muhammad Sharif denounced the fact that this would have exposed the community to persecution, as happens in Egypt and Pakistan. The leaders of the Palestinian Authority, he affirmed, refused to take position on the issue, affirming that the status of the Ahmadiyya Community was a matter to be decided by the courts. The Palestinian Authority promised that although the penalty for apostasy in Islam is death, it would not be imposed on its Ahmadi residents. However, the Ahmadi affirm, believers living in Palestinian Authority areas have undergone beatings and their property has been destroyed (Daraghmeh and Hadid 2011). Muhammad Sharif Odeh also said that been labeled as apostate, the Ahmadi lose their rights, and mentioned the case of an Ahmadi couple whose marriage was cancelled because having been accused of apostasy by their local court, their Muslim marriage was no longer valid because they were not considered Muslim. They also had to give up their property (Miskin 2010). Moreover, this situation obliges members of the Ahmadiyya community in Gaza, according to Muhammad Sharif, to hide their belief. It is interesting to note that the story of the Ahmadi persecuted by the Palestinian Authority has been published on many Pakistani websites. In particular, the Pakistan Defence website links to the issue of Ahmadi attacked by Palestinians in 2010 (Ahmadis under attack by Palestinians 2010). It is interesting to underline the attention to these issues in Pakistan because of the difficult conditions in which the Ahmadi live there, that caused the UNHCR to talk of persecution (UNHCR 2013). The situation in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority territories is complex because every aspect of social life becomes highly symbolic at political level and implies adherence to a cause in which one can either be pro or against. If it is true that, as the Ahmadi affirm, there is a trend for West Bank Palestinians to join the Ahmadiyya community (Hovel 2012), then the question is whether the Ahmadi model has become an option, in a social and political context, where the acceptance of
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deviance from the mainstream model is not easy. The conflict in fact imposes a clear identification of enemies and elements that can potentially endanger the community, as well as reinforcing beliefs as a form of constant reassurance of one’s own identity and refusal of alternatives as perceived causes of crises where there must be absolute conformity that guarantees unity. Another issue that emerges as particularly controversial for the Ahmadiyya Community in Israel is military service. Even more so since 1 August 2012 when the Tal Law, 5 exempting Arabs and Haredim (Orthodox Jews) from national military service in Israel expired, and the Arab community faced a deep split over the inevitable military duty. Mandatory army service applies to all 18-year-old Israeli citizens, since the summer of 2013, although the Knesset must still regulate the new procedures. In July 2013 the government of Israel decided to create a ministerial committee led by the Minister of Science and Technology Yaakov Perry of the Yesh Atid faction. It is called the “Ministerial Committee for the matter of Equal Burden of Military and Civilian National Service and in the Workforce “, or for short, the Perry Committee. Its task is to create an alternative to the Tal Law, which was declared unconstitutional in a Supreme Court ruling in 2012. The issue of the military service remains crucial in Israel because it is related to a number of social dynamics. It is crucial not only for the Arab Israeli citizens, but also for the Haredim, for whom conscription would be a true revolution in their life style and social status within the Israeli society. Israeli Arabs fear their status would change and that they would be put in a difficult situation as regards their co-religionists (Obligatory military service splits Israeli Arabs 2012). Some Israeli Arabs choose to serve. Israeli official statistics say that, in the last 2 years, Arabs volunteering for the Israeli Defense Force doubled to about 400, which is still a very low percentage, considering that the Arab community is about one-fifth of the Israeli population. The issue is delicate under many aspects. Father Afif Makhoul, a Christian Arab of the Maronite Church of S. Louis of France in Haifa, affirmed vehemently in an interview with me (Del Re and Cipriani 2011f) that the issue of the military service is crucial because the fact that the Arabs in Israel do not serve classifies them automatically as “class B” citizens. But, Father Afif says, given that it is the State of Israel itself who According to “The Lexicon of Terms” published in the Knesset website (http://www.knesset.gov.il/lexicon/ eng/tal_eng.htm, accessed in October 2013): “The Tal Commission was a public committee appointed in 1998 by Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, dealing with exemption from military service of Yeshiva students.(…) The appeal to the court was made due to the increase in numbers of Yeshiva students whose military service was delayed due to postponement relating to the “Torah study as vocation” arrangement. The arrangement implied that a Yeshiva student needs to devote all his time to study Torah without having to deal with a paying job. In 1998, when the commission was installed, this arrangement applied to approximately 30,000 men. (…)The recommendations of the commission were presented in April 2000, serving as a basis for the legislation of the Deferral of Military Service for Yeshiva Students Law (Temporary Order), 5761-2001 (also called the "Tal Law") on March 7th 2001. The law was later expanded and approved in its updated version on July 23rd 2002. It included an option for allowing exemption from service under specific terms, also stating that at the age of 22, Yeshiva students will be provided with a “decision year,” for choosing between a one-year unpaid civil service job alongside a paying job, or a shortened 16-month military service and future service in the reserves. The commission recommended that the IDF be prepared to absorb the Haredi public within these frameworks, as well as to expand the Haredioriented military units. It also recommended that those included in the arrangement be carefully supervised and checked while enforcing the set conditions. On July 18th 2007, the Knesset ratified the recommendation of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to extend the validity of the law for another five years”. 5
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decides, there is a precise will behind this policy, and concludes by suggesting that there should be more freedom for Arabs in Israel to choose autonomously. As the government continues to draft policy on this sensitive issue, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which represents Arab political leaders in Israel, has reaffirmed its opposition to Arab participation in national civilian service because of its connection to military service. Nevertheless there are new movements of thoughts by which some community leaders are changing their position on this issue. The Council of Arab Mayors, which represents most of Israel’s Arab towns and villages, has affirmed that the establishment of new guidelines, by which young Arab citizens might volunteer through local governments, could open new opportunities for Arabs to volunteer for civilian service. According to official statistics, 2,399 Arabs take part in civilian service today (Eglash 2012). As regards the Ahmadi, military service has always been used as an argument to prove that they are collaborating with Israel against the Palestinians, accusations to which the Ahmadi respond denying that they serve or want to serve in the military in Israel, always quoting in their defence the famous speech that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih II delivered in June 1948 in Lahore firmly urging Muslims to unite to rescue Palestine from the Zionists. Nevertheless, the accusations continue and are usually based on a famous book written by Israel T. Naamani in 1972: Israel: A Profile (1972). In that book, which is constantly and widely discussed on the web, it is said that more Ahmadi serve in the Israeli Defense Force than in Pakistan (where they did in fact serve in the military and fought in the Indo-Pakistani wars). Naamani affirms: “and the Ahmadi sect of some 600 people from Pakistan can also serve in the Israeli army…” (Shadid 2008). This discussion is particularly lively in Pakistan, where the question raised is whether the Ahmadi are then to be seen as a security problem, considering that the Ahmadi are also accused of having largely donated to the Indian Army fund after the Kargil War. Not that there is no awareness of the dangers that these allegations imply: the author of an article on the issue of the Ahmadi and the Israel Defence Force underlines the fact that such allegations can cause violent reactions and persecutions, doubting that there is even one single Ahmadi in the IDF. However, he concludes by wondering why the Ahmadi do not take a clearer position against the country that is “the world champion of oppression and tyranny” (Shadid 2008). In fact there are a number of documents in which the situation is described as exactly the opposite, that is that the Ahmadi have been criticized for their extremist views especially as regards Israel. For instance, during the Gulf War, the Head of the Ahmadiyya Community, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, wrote a book titled The Gulf Crisis and The New World Order, in which he blamed Israel for the Gulf War and other major issues in the Middle East. He questioned the validity of Israel’s existence as a country: “There is no basis for the creation of that country… In fact the creation of Israel is not an act of enmity against the Arabs but against Islam” (Mirza Tahir Ahmad 1992). The situation is different nowadays. In a report in the Huffington Post in October 2012 talking about the “Poppy Campaign” launched by Ahmadi Youth in the UK to sell paper poppies nationwide to spread their message of “peace and unity between all nations, peoples and religions” a significant statement made by the Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad is opportunely quoted: “Muslims are obliged to be loyal to the country in which they live. Honoring those who fought to defend and safeguard one’s country is
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an important principle of Islam and in fact is an important principle of peace— especially when it is carried out with a sincere heart and for the sake of winning God’s pleasure.” (Morse 2012) The delicate issue of the relationship between the Ahmadiyya Community and the State of Israel remains. There is another aspect of this that relates to the attitude of the Ahmadi in Israel: it is their inclination to peace and universal values, overcoming political differences, that would make them more acceptable. The Ahmadi report that they are usually facilitated and welcomed more easily in Israel, as a Canadian student tells in a report published by the Canadian Jewish news of a visit to Israel organized by the University of Saskatchewan for aspiring business leaders. At the Israeli border, he was meticulously questioned by the border officials, because he had an Islamic Republic of Pakistan seal stamped on his Canadian passport, but when he affirmed that he belonged to the Ahmadiyya Islamic Community going to visit the Ahmadi mosque in Haifa, the officers relaxed (Moskowitz 2012) The policy of the Ahmadiyya Community in Israel is exemplified by a number of events. The visit in 2009 of Shimon Peres to the Mahmood Mosque during Ramadam (Shimon Peres visits Ahmadiyya Mosque in Kababir Israel 2009) and of the Mayor of Haifa (Mayor of Haifa talks about Ahmadi Muslims 2009) at the Annual Conference of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Jami' Seyyidna Mahmood Mosque, to which many Jews attended the session in Hebrew “to hear a message of peace and advice from Muslims who love the whole of mankind” constitute an important sign of where the Ahmadi want to position themselves in Israeli society, although the peculiar context that is found in Haifa is certainly an added value. When asked what is the secret of Haifa when I was interviewing him, Muhammad Sharif Odeh replied: “In the Bible it is written that there are thirty six just men in the world, and I met two of them: the first is Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen who has been the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Haifa, and the second is Yona Yahav, the actual Mayor of Haifa. They have made and make it easy for non Jews to live in Haifa” (Del Re and Cipriani 2011g). The relationship with the institutional representative is fundamental for the Ahmadi, as part of their strategy. In line with this is the contribution in 2011 to a meeting of 26 Mayors from all over the world in Haifa (Farhat 2011; Kadesh 2011). The event was sponsored by the American Council for World Jewry in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Masham, the Union of Local Authorities in Israel. The Ahmadi hosted the group in Kababir, organizing a tour of the city and a visit to the Mosque. It seems that the Ahmadi privilege communication at leadership level, to be present on the international arena and to pass their message on, being present and contributing to every phase of world history. Their always moving with the times, always being in contemporary history, is crucial. A most crucial case is Syria, nowadays, and Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad expressed his opinion on it in March 2013 the 10th Annual Peace Symposium at the Baitul Futuh Mosque in London. He said that “In terms of the continuing devastation taking place in Syria, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad warned that assuming the overthrow of the Government would lead to instant peace was not supported by recent history”. The press release of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat International reports that he affirmed that the ‘so-called revolutions’ that had taken place in Egypt and Libya showed that regime change did not necessarily mean peace
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and better international relations. In terms of a solution to Syria’s unrest, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad did not deign to mention Israel’s President Shimon Peres supporting his recent proposal to send a United Nations peacekeeping force made up solely of Arab soldiers should be considered. He also mentioned the financial crisis, by affirming that it is not certain that warfare would remain restricted to Asia but, due to strained financial circumstances, unrest was developing in Europe as well. He appealed for peaceful and fair talks between nations as a means to curb rising tensions and the threat of war (Muslim leader says World War inevitable unless true justice prevails 2013). Going back to the top of the hill of Kababir from where the Mahmood Mosque dominates Haifa, and from which we started this analysis of the role and condition of the Ahmadiyya Community in Israel, some relevant issues and questions can be identified. Although it is clear that the Ahmadiyya Community in Israel plays a role in contributing to conflict prevention and resolution by always disseminating its message of universal peace and respect for all by participating in many activities, especially through its “presence”, many questions arise. For instance, whether their ability to influence society is circumscribed to Haifa, where it finds a particularly favorable context, or whether it has been able to expand to a national level. It is true that the Community participates in meetings of committees at local and national level, but these are related to religious issues, and also its presence in activists circles is limited to a part of the Israeli population that is particularly sensitive to dialogue and coexistence issues and is not representative of the whole population. Moreover, is their presence in mixed circles important because of their message, or is it important because being present they certify their adherence to and approval of the activity and guarantee that it involves a diversified public? Is it the content of the Ahmadiyya message that counts, or the fact that they are open to welcome others? The strategy of communication is very effective because it is based on simple and immediate concepts like peace, respect, always referring to passages in the Koran that are not questionable by other Muslims and labeled as arbitrary Ahmadi interpretations. Furthermore, is the success of the Ahmadiyya community due especially to the personality of its leader, as it seems to happen also with other institutional representatives in Haifa, such as the Mayor, who devotes great attention to the symbolic and ritual aspects of his relationship with all the communities in Haifa? It is true that the level of organization of the Ahmadiyya Community is very high, with efficient information networks (internet, television, publications) with the strongly charismatic figure by which it is led operating as a over-centralizing force. What role does the Ahmadiyya Community in Israel play within the global Ahmadiyya Community? The recent actions taken to sensitize Israel and Iran have drawn attention to the small community in Israel, but their relatively positive condition probably obscures their relevance on the one hand in comparison with the difficult conditions in which the Ahmadi live in countries where they are persecuted, and on the other, their incidence is rendered less important by the fact that, in western countries like Canada, the UK and others, the communities are wider and more present on the international Ahmadi arena. What counts is that the Ahmadiyya Community in Israel has developed an alternative means of conflict resolution that is based on universal Ahmadi teachings and beliefs, but that has been adjusted to the specific local situation and the challenges it
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presents. This is probably the true strength of the community in Haifa: the ability to adjust to every situation, keeping a constant common denominator that can be accepted and approved transversally to all ethnicities, religions and political groups. Another way of putting it, is that they have elevated the issues to a super partes level that protects them from being criticized. Swinging between the need to survive and the aspiration to assert themselves, the Ahmadi in Israel have acquired an authoritative status, being recognized as an essential component of Haifa’s society, with the ambition of becoming essential also to the Israeli society, and to bring the Israeli experience to the world.
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