Loyal citizens, persecuted minority: the plight of Pakistani Ahmadis

As the 2018 general elections approached, we saw a continuous effort by all political parties to justify their position on the Ahmadiyya community in order to validate their own manifestos. This has somehow become the central theme for almost all politicians, with the unique exception of Mr Jibran Nasir, who had refused to talk about religious affiliations during his campaign. In this process of reclaiming Islam, many politicians have uttered vile statements against the Ahmadiyya community, including PTI leader Mr Imran Khan. This atmosphere, riled with opposing political stances, has a seriously detrimental impact on the day to day lives of Ahmadis in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the Islamabad High Court Judge Mr Shaukat Siddiqui recently passed a judgement that only exacerbated the plight of Ahmadis. He ruled in a manner by which he infringed upon the very basic human rights of this small community, in the name of protecting Islam. Such discourse promotes hatred and hostility against Ahmadis, results in violence. This violence is both overtly and covertly justified by the religious right, and by moderate elements in Pakistan, seeking glory for the cause of religion. Ahmadis are currently living day in and day out under the fearful shadow of this environment. As an Ahmadi, I want to emphasize on the possibly devastating impact of this discourse. It is important to note here that Ahmadis did not vote in this election, because the rules have excluded their community from the common electorate by issuing separate discriminatory voting lists for them. Therefore, it is understandable that no political party feels a natural desire to court the Ahmadi vote. Nevertheless, as an Ahmadi, I must stir the collective conscience of the people and the political leadership of Pakistan by sharing some recent incidents to highlight certain instances of bigotry.

For instance, two weeks ago, an Ahmadi husband and wife, living with their three disabled daughters in a suburb of Lahore, were taken hostage, seemingly by robbers. However, nothing was stolen, and the assailants fled after shooting the husband dead. A month prior, a hundred-and-twenty-five-year-old library and place of worship owned and managed by the Ahmadi community in Sialkot, were demolished during the month of Ramadan by a violent mob. They were led by local clerics and a PTI leader, and while the party denied any affiliation in the beginning, once it was proven that the politician had indeed belonged to PTI, they chose to stay silent on the matter. The reason behind demolishing the site was said to be illegal construction, disregarding the fact that the building even predated Partition, proving that it was just a targeted attack on the Ahmadiyya community to intimidate them, and impede their rights to worship or own religious property.

In another incident last year, Dr Ashfaq Ahmad, an expert nutritionist, was killed in broad daylight in Lahore, by religiously motivated hatred. There have also been numerous attacks against Ahmadis in smaller villages and towns, which go unreported by the main stream media. After the attack on an Ahmadiyya cemetery in Model Town, Lahore, it has now become a common occurrence to see an Ahmadiyya burial being impeded or blocked by religious clerics backed by anti-Ahmadi outfits, who don’t want members of the community using the same cemeteries as them. The local governments in all these instances never helped, nor did they intervene to provide any protection against violent mobs.

My uncle Dr Asghar Yaqub Khan was murdered during the attacks at two Ahmadi worship places in Lahore on 28 May 2010, while another uncle was seriously injured but fortunately survived. During that horrific day, at least two dozen of my close friends were murdered, leaving deep emotional scars on my family and community. These days the regular conversations between Ahmadis,has a common theme of distrust and fear of further acts of violence on their houses, or dreading religiously motivated disputes and assaults by a religiously inclined neighbour or acquaintance, due to this current heightened and hateful atmosphere. Ahmadis remain anxious for their children in school, about going out in public or even while performing regular chores as they never know when they might face persecution next.

Both my parents and grandparents migrated in 1947, to seek a better life in this homeland that we all fought together for, under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We came here by investing all our desires, aspirations and dreams and by sacrificing all our material possessions. On the other hand, the staunch opponents of the Ahmadiyya community such as Majlis-e-Ahrar were opposed to the very idea of Pakistan. They neither sacrificed for this homeland nor invested in its dreams. We did. It is noted in thePunjab Disturbances Report 1953 that many groups transformed themselves into various ‘Finality of Prophet’ (Khatam-e-Nabuwat) associations, with the sole purpose to oppose, harass and persecute Ahmadis. We have been living under the constant fear, and at times terror of these anarchist groups ever since.

These days the regular conversations between Ahmadis,has a common theme of distrust and fear of further acts of violence on their homes, or dreading religiously motivated disputes and assaults by a religiously inclined neighbour or acquaintance, due to this current heightened and hateful atmosphere.

There had been escalations of these targeted harassments during various periods in history, notably in 1953, 1974, 1984 and 2010. During each cycle of violence these hate groups sustained an unrelenting aggression of attacks on Ahmadiyya worship places, homes, businesses and cold blooded murder of Ahmadi individuals was widespread. General Zia ul Haq in the 1980s gave this violence a lawful foundation via penal codes 298 B and C. This state sponsored persecution continues to this day. We hear news of violent incidents against Ahmadis on a weekly basis. Despite this hostility, many prominent Ahmadis emerged during the same historical periods displaying exceptional capabilities of leadership and service to this nation, such as Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Dr Abdus Salam, Lieutenant General Akhtar Hussain Malik, Lieutenant General Abdul Ali Malik, Major General Iftikhar Janjua, Squadron Leader Muniruddin Ahmed (Shaheed), Mirza Muzaffar Ahmad, Major General Dr Nasim Ahmad and many others. These were all proud Pakistanis who toiled to make this nation great. Today, despite being almost one hundred percent literate, the members of the Ahmadi community find it difficult to secure employment opportunities due to several discriminatory laws in place.

Therefore, I urge all the political and religious leaders of Pakistan to step back, and be reasonable for once. Neither the Ahmadi individuals nor their community has any agenda to conspire against you or Pakistan. Far from it, we have said time and again that we have a deep sense of ownership for this great nation, and have always remained loyal to Pakistan, while serving it the best we can. The Ahmadiyya community has a lot to offer this nation due to their high literacy rate and collective pursuit of professional education. It will be to Pakistan’s advantage to re-think the hateful religiosity and move towards a fairer and egalitarian concept of citizenship. We are in a new age of human civilisation, more profitable for those who excel in knowledge and wisdom. This cannot be attained without promoting social peace, equality, justice and education. We offer to keep contributing as loyal Pakistani citizens. Please pay heed.

The writer tweets @imranahsanmirza

Published in Daily Times, July 28th 2018.


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