Trademarking Islam

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I’m reading the Sarai Reader 05 which contains a fascinating paper on the legal status of the Ahmadiyya religious community in Pakistan, and how that may have been impacted by notions of intellectual property law.

The Ahmadiyyas are a small Muslim sect who believe that a man named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the Islamic messiah; most Muslims reject Ahmad, so the relationship of the Ahmadiyyas to mainstream Muslims is similar to that of Mormons and mainstream Protestant Christians. Pakistani Anti-Ahmadiyya legislation prevents them from using Muslim titles, building mosques, citing the Koran, etc. (I first learned of the community through my friend Naeem’s film Muslims or Heretics, which deals with anti-Ahmadi sentiment in Pakistan and Bangladesh.)

In her paper “Trespasses of the State: Ministering to Theological Dilemmas through the Copyright/Trademark” (PDF), Johns Hopkins anthropology professor Naveeda Khan shows how courts evaluating anti-Ahmadi legislation in Pakistan were influenced by notions of copyright and trademark, as they debated how best to protect mainline Islam from what they interpreted as brand piracy:

“It may appear that in calling for a legal structure analogous to copyright or trademark laws for the protection of shia’ir-e-Allah, the Supreme Court is simply actualising a potential for the use of the copyright/trademark against Ahmadis long simmering in earlier judgments. However, this Court does something slightly but significantly different. In harnessing the language of copyright/trademark to the Ahmadi question, the Court is making much more apparent that the intent of these transgressions, that is, the unlicenced use of titles, texts, modes and spaces of worship, is that of wilful deception…Neither Muslims nor the Islamic state is affectively constituted and legally armed to provide the necessary aura of protection around such objects, such that non-Muslims may recoil from using them. The judgment, in effect, calls for a feedback loop similar to copyright/trademark law, for only then will Muslims, in general, and the Islamic state, in particular, treat shia’ir-e-Allah in the appropriate manner so as to make unthinkable its improper appropriation and use.”

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