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The Other View

Leaving Pakistan behind for good – the Ahmadiyya in Zurich

An Ahmadi place of worship is a mosque. If you disagree, you should STFU about the Europe minaret bans because they were Ahmadi mosques.

This recent tweet from UroojZia prompted me to stop by the local Zurich Ahmadi mosque, which had an open doors day today. Mahmud Masjid was built in 1962, the first stone then was laid by Hazrat Syedah Amatul Hafeez Begum, daughter of the founder of the Ahmadiyya sect from Qadian and it was inaugurated by then UN president Zafrullah Khan (the first foreign minister of Pakistan, one of the famous Ahmadis of Pakistan’s history) and then Major of Zurich Emil Landolt. When the minaret debate raged in Europe in 2009, Switzerland was were it all started and the Mahmud Mosque, being one of only 5 with a minaret in the country (and the picture above gives you a grasp of dimension in comparison to that beautiful church tower …), was an often cited example.

The fact, that at the inauguration the Zurich Major was present is a source of considerable pride to the community of what I overheard today. And till the present the community – which counts some 800 people in Switzerland, hailing from all over the world, most of them though from Pakistan making Urdu and German the colloquial language in the building – is counting on the support of the City Council. Only recently, when the City invited all Imams of Zurich to a festive meeting, a number of Imams from other mosques directed a letter to the Major, asking to keep the Ahmadi Imam out, since he in their eyes was no Muslim. The City Council of course refused. The repression of their sect in many countries, and they emphasized most and foremost Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, weighs heavily on the local Ahmadis and they pointed out, that even here attempts were made to single them out – be it in a Cricket match or an official event. The Swiss State gives them a feeling of being able to follow their belief without repression. There are of course elements of the Swiss State (and especially the SVP party, which initiated the anti-minaret hullabaloo and which has big support especially in the rural areas, not so much in rather left leaning cities like Zurich or Geneva) who would ironically like to repress the Ahmadis just for that – that they are Muslims. But their influence on actual actions of the state (in the end the Bundesrat for statewide decisions, or the City Council for Zurich for example), is smaller than perceived abroad. They just know how to shout louder.

It is noteable with what unease and regret the Pakistani community members talked about their (former) homecountry when I adressed it. Even returning for visits of relatives or their place of upbringing is not an option anymore and they felt no wish to talk about it. At no point did they blame anyone specific or a group of people, but as one person said, they do not want to mix politics and their religion: ‘Mullahs should not become Politicians, Politicians should not become Mullahs’. I have no special interest in the Ahmadiyya, nor in its conflict with the Pakistani state – but it leaves me sad, when I can feel how people have to cut of their connection to their homeland because of the ignorance of a state, including some of its powerful inhabitants and a media that is dynamic and calls itself free, but makes few attempts to stand up against this injustice (by for example sticking to calling Ahmadi mosques ‘places of worship’).

The Mosque houses the flat of the Imam for the whole Swiss community, a homeopathic doctor’s practice, community rooms and space for sleepover for people from more distant communities. They also have a detailed website and are altogether extremely active in their neighborhood, always trying to reach out to outsiders.

About Jakob Steiner

... lived, worked and studied in Australia, Europe and Asia.

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