Pakistan and the Ahmadis: a tale of state-sponsored bigotry
Recent killings are just the latest examples of decades-long persecution of a community considered non-Muslim by the state
The atmosphere at Sabzazar, Lahore, is still gloomy following the gruesome murder of Prof Dr Ashfaq Ahmed. The 78-year-old was shot dead by unknown assailants on April 6 while being driven by his grandson to his office. His crime was that he belonged to a sect viewed by orthodox Muslims in Pakistan as heretical and un-Islamic: the Ahmadiyya.
Prof Ahmed’s killing was the second such incident within a span of eight days. On March 30, an Ahmadi lawyer, 69-year-old Malik Saleem Latif – who happened to be a cousin of Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam – was mercilessly murdered in Nankana Sahib by an activist from the proscribed militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
A press release issued by Anjuman-i-Ahmadiyya Pakistan immediately after Prof Ahmed’s murder iterated that religious fanatics have launched a hate campaign against the Ahmadiyya community, which has paid a heavy price in blood. In fact, the Ahmadiyya community has been marginalized by the state and powerful clerical interests for decades.
Last year, six Ahmadis were slain due to their faith. A seventh, 65-year-old Khalid Javed, died of a heart attack when the Ahmadi mosque he was worshipping in – in Chakwal, Punjab province – was fired at by an unruly mob. The onslaught, on Eid Milad Un Nabi, Muhammad’s birthday, was intended as a demonstration of their love for the Prophet.
Hundreds of Ahmadis have been killed since 1974, when Pakistan’s parliament declared them a non-Muslim minority. In a single day in 2010, 94 were killed in Lahore when two Ahmadi mosques were attacked by hardline Pakistani Taliban.
In December 2012, a group of zealots entered an Ahmadiyya graveyard in the Model Town area of Lahore graveyard and vandalized more than 100 tombstones inscribed with Quranic verses. In July of that year, the Protection of Khatme Nabuwwat Movement – a Saudi-funded group with an explicitly anti-Ahmadiyya mission – had approached the Liaquatabad police station in Lahore demanding a ban on Islamic inscriptions on Ahmadi tombstones. The police and district judges responded by making noises to the effect that legal restrictions on Ahmadis posing as Muslims or performing Islamic rituals must be enforced.
In a single day in 2010, 94 were killed in Lahore when two Ahmadi mosques were attacked by hardline Pakistani Taliban
On December 5, 2016, a Counter Terrorism squad stormed the Ahmadiyya central offices in Rabwah – an Ahmadi majority-populated town in Punjab – under the pretense that the community was publishing a monthly bulletin despite a government ban. They made arrests, took away office equipment and personal belongings, and manhandled the staff.
Exactly a decade after Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim, Pakistan’s military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, issued a Martial Law Ordinance designed to keep the activities of religious minorities in check. Ahmadis were prohibited from professing their faith, either verbally or in writing. Pakistani police erased Islamic verses from Ahmadi mosques, destroyed Ahmadi translations of the Quran and banned Ahmadi publications. The use of any Islamic terminology by Ahmadis, the offering of Ahmadi funeral prayers, and the displaying of Islamic tenets on Ahmadi gravestones were made punishable offenses. Even the call to prayer was banned for Ahmadis.
Soon after, the 4th Khalifa (spiritual head) of the Ahmadiyya community, Mirza Tahir Ahmed, left Pakistan for the UK. Hundreds of Ahmadis prosecuted under Zia-ul-Haq’s ordinance are still languishing in various jails and the state is a silent spectator. Since 1984, 27 Ahmadiyya mosques have been demolished, 21 set on fire or damaged, and 17 forcibly occupied. Construction has been stopped on another 53 mosques, and 32 have been sealed by the authorities.
As if that was not enough, the Punjab Provincial Assembly in 1999 changed the name of Rabwah to Chenab Nagar and allocated hundreds of housing projects to non-Ahmadi settlers to transform the town itself.
In 2002, the US House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on Pakistan to rescind its anti-blasphemy provisions and the second amendment in its constitution, which declares Ahmadis non-Muslim. To date, thousands have left the country to seek asylum abroad. Those remaining just want to be recognized as Muslims but in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan their persecution is legal, protected and encouraged.