The Ahmadi Muslims are one of those communities that are invisiblized and who have to continuously wage a battle to keep their identity alive. The Ahmadis are Muslims who have been marginalised by the larger Muslim community because of certain differences in beliefs. The most basic difference is in terms of the fact that the Ahmadis believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the promised Messiah, the expected Mahdi (the guided one), a Mujaddid (reformer) and a prophet of Islam which contradicts the claims of prophet Muhammad and the belief that he is the final Prophet of Islam. It is these differences that are accentuated to socially boycott, exclude and ostracise the Ahmadis in everyday activities. The Ahmadis have a long history of struggle in which they have been subject to persecution and violence, especially in Islamic countries where they have been declared ‘heretics’. Though the threat of physical violence is almost absent in India owing to the constitutional back up, the Ahmadis claim to feel a kind of social distance, which itself leads to feelings of discrimination. The Ahmadis use a number of mechanisms to keep their identities intact like the use of media, practice of endogamy, different interpretation of the term jihad, etc. One of the most prominent and significant method has been the setting up of the women’s auxiliary organization of Ahmadi women, Lajna Ima’illah.
It was started by the second caliph of the community, Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, in 1992 when thirteen women from Qadian signed up for the movement, so that women’s voices could be heard, their issues could be paid due attention and so that they can contribute in fighting against any opposition that the community faces.
The organization is grounded in the idea that the reformation of women can only be carried out by women.
The organization is grounded in the idea that the reformation of women can only be carried out by women. The Lajna Ima’illah provides women with a structure that they can use to train, develop and enhance both their religious and academic knowledge, acquire health and fitness skills, manage trade and industry affairs and develop their financial abilities. It encourages women to become aware of their status, responsibilities and duties towards society.
The Lajna Ima’illah has been an active organization since its inception. The main aim of the Lajna Ima’illah is well captured by its motto, “No nation can progress without educating their women”. The Ahmadis worldwide insist on the need to educate their women. They have leveled much criticism against non-Ahmadi Muslims for restricting education of women. They encourage women to engage in worldly affairs without overlooking the need for religious training. The emphasis is on striking a balance between the two.
An interviewee, who preferred remaining anonymous, highlighted how the Ahmadi women have been encouraged continually to pursue education and engage in the public sphere “During 1900 period woman education and their participation was more. My grandmother tells me that Ahmadi Muslim women would go to the village and campaign. They had a public life while other Muslims would say that women don’t have any rights without the husband. Ahmadis gave woman much education and we think Islam promotes it.”
The Lajna Ima’illah could be established successfully because of the financial contributions made by the Ahmadi women themselves. When the idea of Lajna Ima’illah was proposed, most women showed enthusiasm and contributed according to their capacity for the construction of mosques. Even the poorest of the lot had something to offer. Those who couldn’t provide financial assistance donated any valuable object that they possessed like jewellery, clothes, utensils, domestic animals, etc. In fact the Fazl Mosque in London, where the head of the community resides, was made with the financial aid of the Ahmadi women.
The Lajna Ima’illah has a hierarchical structure.It operates at different levels—local, regional, national—and each national branch has a President or Sadr, who is either elected or appointed annually by the caliph. Initially its membership was voluntary but today the Ahmadi woman above the age of fifteen by default are a part of Lajna and have to take a pledge after reciting the Shahadah (declaration of belief in oneness of God and acceptance Muhammad as God’s prophet). Every month all the members assemble for a meeting to decide on the agenda and to impart training to the new members. An annual convention is usually held where all the members are addressed and solidarity is displayed. Different activities like quiz, poetry, writing competitions may be a part of the convocation.
When the idea of Lajna Ima’illah was proposed, most women showed enthusiasm and contributed according to their capacity for the construction of mosques. Even the poorest of the lot had something to offer.
The activities of the Lajna Ima’illah include setting up schools for women, organizing seminars on social issues, putting up events emphasizing the need of education and reform for all women, distributing pamphlets to sensitise people about the issues of women in general and of the Ahmadiyya community, holding exhibitions and the like. They also publish journals and magazines addressing social, religious and gender based issues.
In light of the community’s motto “love for all, hatred for none”, the Lajna Ima’illah has been organising inter-faith peace symposiums, to promote and create a platform for inter-religious dialogue, since it is seen as a way of removing any misunderstandings that prevail, achieving communal harmony and developing compassion. In these conferences, women of different faiths are invited to discuss the issues that they face as women in society today and look at possible ways of overcoming them. Other voluntary activities are also undertaken like in 2018 delegates of the organization as a part of their initiative Khidmat-e Khalq (serving mankind) presented the patients and staff of Government Lady Goschen Hospital at Mangalore fruit gift kits. They have also organised free medical camps as a part of the same initiative. The Lajna Ima’illah encourages and helps, both morally and financially, women in pursuing careers and in undertaking entrepreneurial endeavours.
The Lajna Ima’illah is a powerful organization because it has been encouraging women to empower themselves from a time when women’s activities were relegated to the domestic sphere and the public domain was seen as an arena that belongs to men. The organization has been instrumental in achieving the community’s aims of peace, love, compassion and harmony and in creating platforms for dialogues and discussion. Lajna Ima’illah is a robust, distinguished and exemplary organization working to reject the stereotype that women are just fit for natural roles and achieve equality by rejecting the public and private sphere distinctions.
Featured Image Source: Muslim Voices Philadelphia