The Prime Minister has appointed Lord Tariq Ahmad, who is a member of the Ahmadiyya sect, as her Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Downing St says the role will allow Lord Ahmad to demonstrate the “country’s commitment to religious freedom by promoting inter-faith respect and dialogue internationally.”
However, the appointment could prove controversial because of the tensions between Muslims and Ahmadis which exist. Although the Ahmadiyya self-identify as Muslims they are considered to be outside the fold of Islam by a consensus of mainstream Muslim scholars. The community complain of persecution in places such as Pakistan.
Their recognition of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in British-ruled India in 1889, as a “prophet” is viewed by Muslims as a breach of the Islamic tenet that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was God’s last Messenger.
Legal restrictions in Pakistan began in 1974, following a constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis non-Muslim. A decade later General Zia ul Haq barred Ahmadis from identifying themselves as Muslim.
Downing St says Lord Ahmad will promote the UK’s “firm stance on religious tolerance abroad, helping to tackle religious discrimination in countries where minority faith groups face persecution.”
It said the appointment underscores the Prime Minister’s commitment to tackling religious prejudice in all its forms and follows the government’s recent announcement of a further £1 million funding for places of worship that have been subjected to hate crime attacks.
Lord Ahmad said: “In too many parts of the world, religious minorities are persecuted, discriminated against and treated as second class citizens. As a man of faith, I feel this very keenly. Freedom of Religion or Belief is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It must be respected. People from all faiths or none should be free to practise as they wish. This respect is key to global stability, and is in all our interests.
“I am delighted to have been appointed as the PM’s Special Envoy. I shall use the UK Government’s global network to reach across religious divides, seek the elimination of discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and bring different communities together.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Religious discrimination blights the lives of millions of people across the globe and leads to conflict and instability. Both here and abroad, individuals are being denied the basic right of being able to practise their faith free of fear.
“Tolerance for those of different faiths is fundamental to our values, and is an issue I know is already of great importance to Lord Ahmad, who is constantly looking for fresh ways to promote religious liberty in his role as Minister for Human Rights at the Foreign Office.
“I look forward to supporting him in this new role as he works with faith groups and governments across the world to raise understanding of religious persecution and what we can do to eliminate it.”
Tariq Ahmad, 50, is a businessman and a Tory life peer. He was appointed Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 13 June 2017.
He is a member of the Ahmadiyya community and from 1999 to 2008 served as Vice-President of AMYA, a youth organisation. After the 2015 General Election, he was appointed Minister for Countering Extremism at the Home Office.