Quiet Qadian erupts in joy after Ahmadi’s Oscar feat

Qadian is an important destination for the community as every year in December, Ahmadis from 35 countries congregate here for a three-day annual convention.
Actor Mahershala Ali with Emma Stone holding their Oscars.(REUTERS)
Actor Mahershala Ali with Emma Stone holding their Oscars.(REUTERS)
Updated on Feb 28, 2017 10:48 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByManraj Grewal Sharma, Chandigarh

There was a ripple of excitement in Qadian — a quiet border town of Punjab and the headquarters of the Ahmadiyya community — as news about an Ahmadi actor being awarded an Oscar came streaming through. Mahershala Ali, who won the best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of a drug dealer in ‘Moonlight’, is the first Muslim film star to pick up a golden statuette.

A Muslim convert since 1999 with a Christian minister for a mother, Ali joined the minority Ahmadiyya community, a sect seen as heretical by other Muslims, in 2001.

Qadian is an important destination for the community as every year in December, Ahmadis from 35 countries congregate here for a three-day annual convention.

Maqbool Ahmad, a journalist in Qadian and his wife Tahira, who is from Pakistan, are thrilled with Ali’s Oscar feat. “It’s a big achievement for a Muslim, that too in the US where the current administration does not look upon them favourably. Mahershala Ali has given a boost to the image of Muslims worldwide with his talent.”

Tariq Ahmad, the official spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya community, welcomed the Oscar, saying it was praiseworthy. “We appreciate the Oscar but we don’t think it will have any impact, positive or negative, on the community.”

Ahmed’s cautious response may have something to do with the widespread persecution faced by the community. It was only in the 2011 census that Ahmadiyyas were included as a sect of Islam in India. This followed several high court rulings upholding them as Muslims. In earlier census reports, only Sunnis, Shias, Bohras and Agakhanis were identified as sects of Islam. Islamic seminaries in India, like the Darul Uloom Deoband, also don’t recognise the community as Muslim. Prime Minister Narender Modi has, however, gone on record to praise the community for its “religious tolerance and universal brotherhood”.

Pakistan’s Constitution does not recognise Ahmadis as Muslims, and they are heavily persecuted. Violence against the Ahmadis in Pakistan is commonplace and many take refuge in India.

Even on Monday, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi was forced to delete a congratulatory tweet when people on Twitter began pointing out that Mahershala Ali was an Ahmadi.

Speaking to reporters backstage, Ali said, “Regardless of one’s theology or how you see life or relate to worshipping God, as an artist your job is the same... to try and tell the truth.” He added that he didn’t feel an actor’s religion was relevant to his work unless it “gives you more empathy to the people you have to advocate for.”

Ali recently told Britain’s Radio Times magazine that he discovered he was on an FBI watchlist after the 9/11 attacks. “If you convert to Islam after a couple of decades of being a black man in the US, the discrimination you receive as a Muslim doesn’t feel like a shock,” he said.

There are around 1 lakh Ahmadis in India. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad founded the movement in 1889. Rejecting orthodox Muslim beliefs, he preached that he was the promised messiah with the divinely inspired task of bringing God’s teaching into harmony with the present-day world.

Many Muslims, including Pakistani documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and feature director Asghar Farhadi, have won Oscars in various categories over the years but none has been awarded a statuette for acting.

‘Moonlight’ pips ‘La La…’, gets best picture Oscar

Los Angeles ‘Moonlight’ won the Oscar for best picture on Sunday, beating favourite ‘La La Land’ for the movie industry’s most prestigious award. But in a highly unusual mishap, presenter Warren Beatty mistakenly initially announced that musical ‘La La Land’ had won, causing confusion and uproar on Hollywood’s biggest night. Beatty said he had been given the wrong envelope to open. Emma Stone won best actress for the musical, and ‘Manchester by the Sea’ star Casey Affleck was named best actor on a night where US President Donald Trump was the butt of numerous jokes, capping a Hollywood awards season marked by fiery protests at his policies. ‘La La Land’ director Damien Chazelle, 32, became the youngest person to ever win a best director Oscar.

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