The Ahmadiyya Defined: Colonial Constructions of ‘Sect’ and ‘Community’ in the Punjab, 1881 to 1924

Shazia Ahmad, School of Oriental and African Studies, 2012

The Ahmadiyya is a messianic reform movement in Islam that emerged in the late 19th century in the Punjab province in colonial India. In 1974, the constitution of Pakistan was amended to define the Ahmadiyya as non-Muslim for their belief in prophecy after Muhammad. Hailed by the democratically elected president Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as representing the will of the people, the amendment was passed into law by the country’s National Assembly and Senate. As part of a larger project that traces the historical antecedents of the 1974 amendment, this paper examines how the colonial state in India defined Islam and Ahmadiyya from its emergence. It looks at constructions of ‘sect’ and ‘community’ which evolved in the Punjab out of the colonial project of land administration, suggesting an alternative construction of ‘heterodox’ and ‘orthodox’ in Islam, one which separated rural Muslims from urban Muslims and made Islam a source of difference. Ahmadis were defined, in part, by their position within agrarian society, a society characterized by the colonial administration by its adherence to customary law over religious law and an evolutionary schema that theorized a lack of penetration of ‘orthodox’ religious traditions into the countryside as opposed to townships.