In a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) rally on the30th of April this year, party leader and former Prime Minister of Pakistan Raja Pervez Ashraf boasted of how the party broke “the neck of Qadianis (derogatory term for Ahmadis)” . Following backlash from a few sections of social media, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tweeted: “Politicians have no right to comment or question peoples’ faith. History has thought us politicisation of faith has lethal consequences for all.”
Pervez Ashraf’s comments came a week after the Press Section of Sadr Anjuman Ahmaddiya released its Annual Persecution of Ahmadis Report 2015. The report reveals that as of December 31, 2015, 248 Ahmadis have been killed over their faith while 323 have been the victims of attempted murder in Pakistan. Furthermore, 27 places of worship have been demolished, 32 sealed by authorities and 16 illegally appropriated. The report adds that 39 Ahmadi graves have been desecrated and 65 bodies refused burial in joint cemeteries. Last year two Ahmadis were killed for their faith.
As of December 31, 2015, 248 Ahmadis have been killed over their faith
The spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya community, Saleem ud Din, says there is a significant increase in hate propaganda against the community. “The government agencies responsible for implementing the laws are being manipulated by opponents of the community. Instead of upholding the law, they continue to cave into the demands of extremists,” he says.
The most high profile incident involving the Ahmadis last year came in Jhelum on November 20, when a factory belonging to an Ahmadi was set ablaze. The head of security Qamar Ahmed Tahir, who is an Ahmadi as well, was arrested over allegations of burning the Quran. Following the arrest an enraged mob torched the factory late at night, with workers – most of them Ahmadis – inside.
“It was a false accusation of blasphemy,” an Ahmadi worker who had to flee the town claimed. “This prompted mullahs in nearby mosques to incite murder against us, reiterating that we are wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of murder)”
Saleem ud Din reveals that he couldn’t find a single Ahmadi in town when he visited Jhelum the following day.
The Annual Persecution of Ahmadis Report 2015 further highlights that Ahmadis were discriminated against in local body elections on account of their faith after being included in a separate voters’ list. “The community made attempts to make clear their stance on the issue, but all newspapers refused to publish a statement on their behalf,” Saleem ud Din claimed. “The discriminatory Ordinance (XX) of 1984 violates the human rights of Ahmadis and goes against the vision of Pakistan propounded by its founder, Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The government should immediately abolish all such laws and safeguard the basic rights of Ahmadis that they are entitled to as citizens of Pakistan.”
On March 24, British media reported that a Muslim shopkeeper was stabbed to death in Glasgow, Scotland, after a “Happy Easter” message on his Facebook profile. The news of Pakistani-British man Asad Shah was carried in Pakistani publications as well.
Following further investigations it was revealed that Shah, who belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect, was killed by another British Pakistani Tanveer Ahmed – who traveled over 200 miles from Bradford to stab the Glasgow-based shopkeeper 30 times in broad daylight. “Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam . . . If I had not done this, others would have,” Ahmed said.
Tanveer Ahmed traveled over 200 miles to fatally stab Ahmedi shopkeeper Asad Shah in Glasgow
Following the murder, leaflets calling for Ahmadis’ murder were found in Stockwell Green Mosque in south London. The leaflets were authored by Pakistan-based Khatam-e-Nabuwwat’s former chairman.
“I was surprised to see Khatam-e-Nabuwwat’s banner proudly displayed on the street in Manchester just a month after Asad Shah’s murder. Especially after the BBC found the murderous literature against Ahmadis,” says British Bosnian writer and activist Lejla Kuric who wrote a piece titled ‘Self-mutilating sectarianism: Pakistan’s murderous anti-Ahmadiyya takfir has reached the UK’ last week.
Kuric says the reaction of British Muslim groups is as dispiriting in of those in Pakistan. “Following Shah’s murder, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), a nationally representative umbrella body with over 500 affiliated Muslim organisations said ‘There is no place for hatred of this kind.’”
“For it to count as a meaningful defence of a community clearly under attack the MCB would have asserted that Ahmadis, just like any other group of people, should have the right to self-identify as they wish. At the very least they should have called out the discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws in Pakistan and addressed the blatant anti-Ahmadi bigotry blaring from too many Muslim institutions in Britain,” Kuric maintains.
“Just four days Shah’s burial, MCB published a statement excommunicating him and distancing themselves from Ahmadiyya community. They couldn’t even support United Against Extremism initiative by Glasgow Ahmadis, that doesn’t even require them to acknowledge Ahmads as Muslims – all it requires is a show of solidarity.”
Being a Bosnian Muslim who had to escape her war-torn home town Sarajevo, Kuric says she knows too well what it is like to be shunned over your religious identity. “I was persecuted for being Muslim. It is depressing to watch Muslims do that to other Muslims.”
Tehmina Kazi, Director at British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) says MCB have not been as inclusive of different sects as one would hope. “In 2014, they announced a ‘Historic Intrafaith Unity Statement’ which solicited signatures from various Muslim groups, in an attempt to forge common ground. But as the blogger John Sargeant pointed out, (Ahmadis) – both Lahoris and the larger Rabwah branch – were conspicuous by their absence,” she says.
Four days after Shah’s burial, the Muslim Council of Britain published a statement distancing themselves from Ahmadis
“What I would really like to see is a statement from groups like the MCB, which unequivocally and unambiguously defends the right of Ahmadis to self-identify. I would also like to see religious leaders from both sects express a more positive approach to Sunni-Ahmadi marriages, which are – anecdotally – still discouraged.
“The term ‘moderate Muslim’ is essentially meaningless when there is so little in the way of positive and proactive action over these major fault lines. Denying another group their right to self-identification, especially so soon after a man has been murdered for expressing his beliefs, is completely unacceptable.”
The National Action Plan (NAP) launched in January 2015 vowed to take measures to stop religious extremism and protect minorities in Pakistan. “There will be a crackdown on hate-speech, and action will be taken against newspapers, magazines contributing to the spread of such speech,” it says.
Saleem ud Din says instead of protecting Ahmadis’ against murderous hate speech, the Ahmadiyya literature is being banned under the pretext of hate speech, following the recommendation of the Mutahiddah Ulema Board. “They haven’t been able to provide evidence of where this inflammatory material appears,” Saleem ud Din says. “There is absolutely no truth to this claim. The very motto of our community is ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’. As of right now, even Ahmadis themselves are prevented from accessing their own books which goes against the Article 20 of the Constitution.”
Saleem ud Din says hate literature against Ahmadis is being distributed throughout the country specifically in Punjab and Sindh where a socioeconomic boycott is encouraged at a grass-roots level and goes as far as to incite their murder. “Silence from the administration lends credence to the view that those spread discord have official sanction to do so from the authorities,” he says.
“Conversely, the authorities find nothing wrong with the sale of the ‘Tohfa Qadianiat’ written by Maulvi Yusuf Ludhianwi, in which he requires the readers ‘not to leave a single Qadiani alive on earth’, but they decide to ban the books of the founder of the community, on account of their ‘anti-Jihad’ sentiments,” reads the Annual Persecution of Ahmadis Report 2015.
Following the ban, an anti-terrorism squad arrested Abdus Shakoor, an elderly shop-keeper in Rabwah. Shakoor was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment after a trial in an ATA court.
According to the Annual Persecution of Ahmadis Report 2015 anti-Ahmadiyya groups were allowed to hold conferences and rallies in Rabwah throughout the year. Other noteworthy exhibits of anti-Ahmadiyya sentiments include KP Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser participating in an anti-Ahmadiyya conference, which resulted in Majlis Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwwat Peshawar issuing a pamphlet which saying that, “It is Jihad to shoot such people (Ahmadis) in the open.”
Last year Punjab Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution condemning former High Commissioner to UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan’s statement criticizing anti-Ahmadi amendment to the Constitution.
Prominent clerics like Zahid Mehmood Qasmi also reiterated their murderous verdicts against Ahmadis: “Qadianis are a colossal mischief (fitna). The world of Islam will have to unite to crush its head.”
Meanwhile, in December, the Punjab police were ordered to remove anti-Ahmadiyya banners and posters from Lahore’s Hafeez Centre in what many believed was a groundbreaking move. The next day protests erupted on the Main Boulevard outside Hafeez Centre.
“Even the police officers were reluctant to act,” says a police official wishing anonymity. “They feared that there will be backlash against them. While many actually were vocal about the act (taking anti-Ahmadi posters down) being against their religious beliefs.”
Ahmadi editor, writer and activist Malik Omaid believes the state’s ongoing fight against extremism is complicated. “You often see to and fro movements. The stickers against Ahmadiyya have become a norm, an accepted reality. The particular sticker (at Hafiz Centre) went ahead and called them filthy dogs as well – this gave way to social media outrage,” he says.
“The government’s action was right. But it was a knee-jerk reaction because they just removed the sticker and posted it on Twitter. So it was like a response to Twitter outrage. Twitter activists did not stay there and asked for an arrest.
“Now this was logical but when an arrest happened, it was more like an attack to the trader union. I think the later reaction was more influenced by the brotherhood notion of traders fueled by Khatam-e-Nabuwwat.”
Omaid says the posters are just a reflection outcome of the bigotry in the society. “I think instead of cosmetic actions the government should work on decreasing this bigotry. Maybe promoting freedom of speech and letting the persecuted minority explain its stance in society would help decrease misconception against them.”
Saleem ud Din says the Ahmadiyya community is denied the right to hold religious assemblies in Rabwah, a town where 95 percent of the population is Ahmadi. “Moreover we are not allowed to hold sports events. On the contrary, opponents of the community face no such hindrances and are even able to call participants from abroad and plan mass rallies while issuing derogatory remarks against venerable Ahmadi figures and calling for the murder of members of the community. No action has been taken against them with regards to this.”
The spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya community continues: “The government nationalised several educational institutes in the 1970s. Several of those belonged to the community. A large number of these institutions were returned to their original proprietors after a process of denationalization but the community still awaits their return of their institutions despite paying a large sum of money to the government as a deposit. How long will this religious bigotry continue?”
“Sectarianism, murder and social or political discontent are at their peak in the country. For this unrest to recede it is incumbent to revisit the moment when the Government proposed impartial laws and interfered with the religious freedom of people. The current situation of civil unrest and extremism is the result of government interference. Laws which promote prejudice should be abolished as they have tarnished Pakistan’s image. There can be no stability in the country for as long as these laws remain in place.”
Tehmina Kazi believes the monopoly over the Muslim identity needs to be challenged to curb the takfiri sentiments. “At BMSD, we have always accepted as Muslim anyone who self-defines as such. This is the only way of combating the pervasive takfiri mentality of the groups who claim to be promoting or acting in the name of ‘normative Islam’. The range of “acceptable” Muslim opinions is shrinking by the day: feminist, liberal and other dissenting Muslim voices have also fallen foul of the takfiri police.”
Omaid says the clerics’ success in portraying Ahmadis’ existence as blasphemous is the biggest resistive force against religious moderation. “Now as we see recent trend, blasphemy is being used as a political tool by clerics. So even when state is acting against terrorism, it still lacks the will to take on the facilitators – the nurseries of extremism. Hatred will grow, since one-sided propaganda is allowed. The only people I don’t see exhibiting hatred and bigotry against the Ahmadis are those who are irreligious.”
Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a journalist based in Lahore