Plight of Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan

June 21, 2016 1:41 AM (UTC+8)

 

Although over 2 million Ahmadiyyas living in Pakistan follow the teachings of Quran, they are regarded as non-Muslims after a constitutional amendment passed over 40 years ago. Today they are the most discriminated among minorities in Pakistan where police, clerics and courts often act in tandem against them. This peace-loving community is also being increasingly targeted by Muslim hardliners. The anti-Ahmadiyya campaign is gathering momentum in Britain too which is home to around 25,000 Ahmadiyyas

 Dr Khaliq Bashir, 45, belonging to the Ahmadiyya community, was standing outside his clinic in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi late on Monday (June 20) night when a motorcyclist shot him dead.

Police arrive after houses of members of the Ahmadiyya religious minority were torched by a mob following accusations of blasphemy, in Gujranwala, Pakistan
Houses of Ahmadiyyas torched by a mob following accusations of blasphemy, in Gujranwala, Pakistan, in this file photo

On June 5, another Ahmadi doctor Hameed Ahmed, 65, was shot dead outside his house in Darul Islam Colony in Attock by two unidentified men.

These two recent killings are the latest of countless targeted attacks on the Ahmadiyya community and the incidents have triggered yet another wave of fear among them.

Pakistan is home to most of the world’s Ahmadiyyas; an estimated two to four million Ahmadiyyas live there. Given the identification of the Pakistani state with Sunni Islam, all non-Sunnis including Shias, Ismailis, Hindus and Christians are discriminated against.

“But the discrimination that Ahmadiyyas face is unmatched,” a Lahore-based Ahmadiyya writer told Asia Times via email. Ahmadiyyas are Pakistan’s most persecuted minority.

Ahmadiyyas identify themselves as Muslim. Like other Muslims, they follow the teachings of the Quran and regard Mohammed as their prophet.  However, they consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), a Muslim preacher from Qadian in Punjab, to be not only a prophet, albeit one of less importance than Mohammed, but also a mahdi (Redeemer of Islam, as guided by Allah).

This irks Muslims – Shias and Sunnis alike – who accuse Ahmadiyyas of denigrating Prophet Muhammad by not regarding him the “Seal of the Prophets” and according Mirza Ghulam Ahmad the status of mahdi. Muslim clerics say it is the “duty” of Muslims to kill Ahmadiyyas.

Mass violence against Ahmadiyas began early in the history of independent Pakistan. In 1953, around 200 Ahmadiyyas were killed in mass violence targeting members of the community and their property.  In 1974, the Pakistani government amended the Constitution to declare Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims. It defined a Muslim “…as a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad.”

General Zia-ul Haq’s military regime took this further. In 1984, it prohibited Ahmadiyyas from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim,” declaring or propagating their faith publicly, and building mosques or even referring to their places of worship as mosques. They were forbidden from making the Muslim call to prayer.

Desecrated graves at an Ahmadi community graveyard in Lahore.
Desecrated graves at an Ahmadi community graveyard in Lahore

Pakistan’s “blasphemy law” gave “new teeth to those targeting Ahmadiyas,” the writer said. The Ahmadiyya belief in the prophethood of Ahmad could be considered blasphemous as it “defiles the name of Prophet Mohammed.” Blasphemy is punishable with death sentence in Pakistan.

Such institutionalization of discrimination and violence has resulted in Ahmadiyyas and their property being targeted routinely in Pakistan.

Police, clerics and courts often act in tandem, the writer said, adding that local clerics are known to call for the killing of Ahmadiyyas, sanctioning it as a “pious act.” A ‘hit list’ issued by the Aalami Majlis Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwwat and the All Pakistan Students Khatme Nabuwwat Federation in 2010, for instance, included the names of 50 prominent Ahmadiyyas. At least five of those who figured in the list were killed, the writer said.

No action is ever taken against those issuing such ‘hit lists’ or attacking Ahmadiyyas. Rarely has anyone been convicted by the courts in a case against an Ahmadiyya, he said.

In addition to the rising frequency of attacks against Ahmadiyyas since the 1980s, the intensity of violence too is growing. In 2010, extremists attacked two Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore during Friday prayers killing around a hundred people.

Ahmadiyyas are targets of hate crimes in other countries as well. Although they are not declared non-Muslim in Bangladesh, publication and sale of books on Islam by the community is banned there.

In India, Ahmadiyyas are recognized as Muslim; a 1970 high court verdict reaffirmed this by declaring that Ahmadiyyas are Muslims as they believe in two of the basic tenets of Islam i.e. that there is no God but Allah and that Mohammed is His messenger. Still, Indian Ahmadiyyas suffer discrimination and social ostracism by other Muslims in the country.

The anti-Ahmadiyya campaign is gathering momentum in Britain too, which is home to around 25,000 Ahmadiyyas. Pamphlets describing them as “dual infidelists” or those who try to pass off their kufr (disbelief in God) as Islam and as being “worse than apostates” have been distributed in London in recent years. These call for the killing of Ahmadiyyas. In March this year, an Ahmadiyya shopkeeper was killed by a Sunni Muslim for “disrespecting Islam.”

Ahmadiyyas take pride in being a peace-loving community. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is believed to have prioritized the non-military forms of jihad and called for Islam’s propagation through speech and writing, persuasion rather than coercion.

“We are being targeted by Islamic radicals not just for our faith but for our opposition to violence and armed jihad,” the writer said.

This could see the community coming under increasing attack from Muslim hardliners in the coming years.

Dr Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bengaluru, India, who writes on South Asian political and security issues. She can be reached at sudha.ramachandran@live.in

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