Dialectics between transnationalism and diaspora

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community

Authored by: Katrin Langewiesche

Routledge International Handbook of Religion in Global Society

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138182509
eBook ISBN: 9781315646435
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter gives attention to the complementarity of the concepts of diaspora and transnationalization by analyzing the heterodox Islamic movement Ahmadiyya. The Ahmadiyya was founded in 1889 by a Muslim scholar in British India. The movement has reached out to large parts of the world, from the United States to Germany, from the UK to Nigeria and Ghana, as early as the 1910s. For historical reasons, it is closely associated with the Pakistani diaspora but is increasingly embracing converts from different cultures and nationalities. That is why this movement is a good example of a Muslim diaspora with a transnational character. The chapter provides examples of some of Ahmadiyya’s global and local practices with a view to highlighting the dialectic between transnationalism and diaspora. The annual assemblies of the Ahmadiyya, the Jalsa Salana, are analyzed as transnational spaces. These meetings are not only days of prayer for spiritual fulfillment. It is also an occasion to present the humanitarian association linked to the religious organization: its multiple professional Ahmadi networks, matrimonial agency, and wide-reaching media activities. During the Jalsa Salana, today’s Ahmadiyya’s challenge of maintaining the coherence of a transnational discourse without falling into the particularism of a Pakistani diaspora is particularly visible. Some requirements, which formerly served to maintain the Pakistani identity, have been relaxed to facilitate the acceptance and integration of new converts. In contrast, although the Ahmadiyya is no longer a diaspora whose members share the same migratory history and traumatic experience of persecution, it has kept on employing a language of martyrdom to bridge the cultural gap. Today the cornerstone of the community is no longer its national origin but a specific religious faith and its practices. By means of the Ahmadiyya movement, it becomes visible how transnational religious organizations contribute to social dynamics locally as well as globally, by engaging in development cooperation, inter-Islamic or inter-religious dialogue, integration, and public relations via the media beyond the strictly religious sphere. Finally, the example of Ahmadiyya allows us to illustrate the theoretical assumption that religion is a key element for social cohesion in a phase of geographical dispersion or ethnic and national diversification of a diaspora. New transnational practices are linked to the diasporic phenomenon in complex ways. The chapter interrogates the hypothesis that increasing intercultural opportunities might act as a catalyst to move local cultures first into the diasporic space then, via conversion and integration of outsiders, to a more transnational or cosmopolitan arena.

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