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Zane Ahmad Chowdhry

Zane Ahmad Chowdhry is a Junior studying Science, Technology, and International Affairs at Georgetown University with minors in history and mathematics. His identity as an Ahmadi Muslim inspires his research on the impact of social media proliferation on religious minority communities in South Asia. Outside of his studies, Zane also serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Georgetown literary magazine, The Anthem, and is active in his campus' Muslim Student Association by promoting intra-religious and inter-religious dialogue. He serves his Ahmadi community by serving as the Vice Chairman of the Muslim Writers Guild of America to work with young Ahmadi men to publish letters and op-eds in local and national publications across the US. 

About the collection

Zane's collection has two foci, one global and one local. For the former, he focused on his own community of Ahmadi Muslims. For the latter, he tracked posts on Nextdoor by residents of his hometown of Vancouver, WA. One caveat: though his town has a substantial Asian and Hispanic population, they seem not to be using Nextdoor and their voices therefore cannot be captured by this method. Still, these screenshots provide a window into how his local community has experienced the pandemic.

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Nextdoor, Vancouver, WA

Nextdoor in Vancouver, WA

These screenshots from Nextdoor provide a glimpse into how one locality is experiencing the pandemic. The posts document new economic pressures, concerns about vulnerable populations like the homeless and the elderly, newfound friendliness and community policing of social distancing, as well as the proliferation of rumors. 

Ahmadi Community

COVID-19 and the Ahmadiyya Community

Guidance from the Caliph

The Community's fifth and current Khalifa, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, had paused his weekly televised Khutbahs (Friday Sermons) for only one week. This is the only time in my memory that this Khalifa has paused the Friday Sermon broadcast, and he has been serving as the Khalifa since 2003. He instead chose to give a comparatively brief video message from his new office, which was inaugurated in late 2019. In this Urdu message (subtitled in English), he advised the Community to pray Jummah at home and keep steadfast in prayer on top of several health recommendations. The only times I can name off hand in which the Khalifa has not led Jummah prayer are immediately after the demise of a sitting Khalifa; during the Partition of India and Pakistan; when the third Khalifa, Mirza Nasir Ahmad, was shot during prayer (although he recovered); and the passage of Pakistan's Ordinance XX, promulgated on 26 April 1984 to prohibit the practice of Islam and the usage of Islamic terms and titles for the Ahmaddiya Community, only resuming when the sitting Khalifa fled to the UK. After sending this message, the Khalifa resumed his weekly sermons, saying that people can still listen to them at home and then perform Jummah prayer themselves. By stopping the Jummah Sermon for a week, the Khalifa here demonstrated to skeptical Ahmadis that offering prayers at home is licit during these uncertain times. 

The Corona Pandemic: Our Duties and Responsibilities- Urdu Sermon by Khalifa Mirza Masroor Ahmad,, 4/10/2020

The following week's Khutbah is also attached (as well as the full Urdu audio) in which the Khalifa dedicated his sermon to dealing with the COVID-19 crisis as well as spiritual and religious advice. He noted that (perhaps in response to critics) that nobody has the authority these days to declare a plague to be a divine sign in favor of the Community, quoting the second Khalifa. Instead, the Khalifa said that all precautions should be taken and that the sickness could very well be a sign from God, however, it may be a more general reminder to hold steadfast. The Khalifa also addressed any possibility that "no true Ahmadis" will be affected by saying that these kinds of statements do not hold any water. He then addressed the death of one of his elderly security details who was reported in my WhatsApp channels to have died due to heart failure. The Khalifa very directly noted in his sermon that his faithful security guard passed from a combination of heart complications and the Coronavirus. By sharing this story, the Khalifa effectively quashed any possibility that "true" Ahmadis are immune. 

Jummah Prayers and Social Distancing

These guidelines on how to conduct the Friday prayers during social distancing were released by the National Tarbiyyat Department of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of the UK, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of the US respectively. 

Ahmaddiya Media on COVID-19

MTA International, formerly known as Muslim Television Ahmadiyya, or MTA, is a non-profit satellite television network that that is run and funded through donations from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. It is a 240hour religious broadcast watched through streaming, dish, Jadoo and other streaming boxes, YouTube, etc. The channel has tracks for several languages, most notably Urdu, Bangla, English, French,  German, Bahasa Indonesian, and Arabic, as well as a channel dedicated to coverage in Africa (mainly West-Africa but also includes other countries). I uploaded 2 programs that aired in English that advocate for traditional social distancing, knowledge, discerning fake information from real, etc. I noted how they included both medical experts from inside the Community and outside, perhaps to increase credibility with the younger generation. The program aired about mental health in the crisis struck me particularly because of the taboos surrounding discussions of mental health in many South Asian and West African immigrant communities (the typical viewer for the English track). I also included one Urdu educational program, posted below, and noted subtle differences, such as advising that women and children do not go outside the home for any reason if possible, while men should do necessary work/shopping.

Social Media and the Ahmaddiya Community During COVID-19

telegram forward.jpg

This an excerpt that is circulating on Telegram, taken from the teachings of the second Khalifa of the Community, who is held as an extremely high authority due to his relationship to the Community's founder). This espouses the Ahmadi view that Jummah can be performed with only two people (with no specification of gender). This is much less restrictive than other madhabs, like Hanafi, that require a quorum of five men for Jummah. It reads in part:

Hazrat Musleh Ma’ud said  “Salatul Jummah can be offered at home with members of the household.

Question: Are two people enough for Jummah?

Answer: Yes

(Fatawa Musleh Ma’ud pg. 105-106)

In a local Telegram chat, questions arose on visiting the mosque during social distancing. It was decided that only one person would be allowed to visit the mosque to make sure it remained occupied but without violating social distancing.

This is a series of sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) that was circulated via Whatsapp among community members in support of social distancing practices as being consistent with Islamic teachings. 

These homeopathic guidelines for preventing COVID-19  is circulating in the community. Although the Khalifa and MTA have been pushing mainstream prevention measures, it is interesting to note that internal channels continue to push homeopathic prevention as well, providing an interesting dynamic between modernity and tradition within the community. 

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