The most terrible blot on our country’s fair name is the injustice perpetrated against Pakistan’s tiny Ahmadi community which has never resorted to agitation or violence and which has faced some of the worst possible laws of the 21st century when it comes to a denial of religious freedom. Not only have they been merely declared non-Muslim, but draconian laws make it impossible for them to breathe as free citizens of this country. An Ahmadi can technically be arrested for saying Salam, reading the Quran or engaging in ritual sacrifice on Eid-ul-Azha.
Despite the fact that this year the Supreme Court tried to restore some balance by ruling in favour of Ahmadis’ right to practise their faith within the four walls of their homes and their worship places, the two Eids brought more misery. Complaints were filed against Ahmadi citizens because they were wearing new clothes on Eid-ul-Fitr or wished people Eid Mubarak and of course because they engaged in the ritual sacrifice on Eid-ul-Azha. Their graveyards are routinely raided and their graves desecrated. In one such incident, the human remains of a deceased were dug out and thrown to the side.
In order to get a passport or even an identity card or to get married, a Muslim citizen of Pakistan is required not just to make a positive affirmation of his faith but must abuse Ahmadis to prove his Islamic bona fides. A member of Punjab’s ruling party recently petitioned a deputy commission in the Khushab district to expel all Ahmadis and their families from the district. This is Pakistan in the year 2022.
This year the Supreme Court tried to restore some balance by ruling in favour of Ahmadis’ right to practise their faith within the four walls of their homes and their worship places
It was not always this way. After all Pakistan’s first foreign minister who had also been Pakistan’s lawyer before the boundary commission was none other than Zafrullah Khan, a leading Ahmadi politician. In 1939 during a famous speech in the Indian legislature, Jinnah described Sir Zafrullah Khan in these words: “I wish to record my sense of appreciation – and if I say so coming from my Party- to the Honourable Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, who is a Muslim and it may be said that I am flattering my own son.” This can be found on Page 973 of “Speeches Statements and Messages of the Quaid-e-Azam” Volume II published by Bazm-e-Iqbal.
The same Zafrullah Khan had written the famous memo that became the basis of Lahore Resolution, a point that so called secular leftist Wali Khan seized on when criticising the creation of Pakistan in his book Facts are Facts, a trope sadly devoid any facts whatsoever, implying of course that this tiny community was hand in glove with the British in their “grand conspiracy” to supposedly partition India. Wali Khan is epitome of the strain that had specifically singled out Ahmadis as the target of their ire for the latter’s contributions to the making of Pakistan, but more on Wali Khan and National Awami Party’s duplicitous role in this sordid saga later. The contributions of Ahmadis to Pakistan are second to none. The much touted UN Resolutions on Kashmir are Zafrullah Khan’s doing. Dr Abdus Salam did not just win a Nobel Prize in Physics but was also the founder of both Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). Countless Ahmadi soldiers fought for Pakistan in 1948 and it was an Ahmadi general who laid down his life for the country in 1965.
Farabi called Mr. Jinnah ‘ignorant,’ telling him that it was Iqbal who thought of Pakistan and Iqbal considered Ahmadis traitors to Islam. He further warned Jinnah that all the Muslims will leave the Muslim League if Jinnah did not turn Ahmadis out of the League. Jinnah felt no need to reply to this letter
The story of Ahmadi persecution starts much earlier. It starts with All India Kashmir Committee in the 1930s – a body set up for the protection of Kashmiri Muslims from the tyranny of its Dogra ruler. Dr. Muhammad Iqbal or Allama Iqbal as he is better known, once close to the Ahmadi community himself, felt aggrieved of the fact that he had been denied the presidency of this body and in his place Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood, Ahmadi community’s second head and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani’s son, had become the president. This turned him rabidly against Ahmadis. In a public exchange with Jawaharlal Nehru, Iqbal called Ahmadis the enemies of both Islam and India. Nehru – to his credit – pushed back but tragically a few years later same Jawaharlal Nehru allied his Congress Party to rabidly sectarian Muslim parties which had long stood against Ahmadis and Shias within the Muslim community.
By the late 1930s Majlis-e-Ahrar – one of the aforesaid Congress backed rabid sectarian organisations – had already been agitating for the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims within British India. As part of the Muslim unity board, they tried to influence Mr. Jinnah and the Muslim League. Mr. Jinnah who counted Ahmadis amongst his friends and allies, not the least Sir Zafrullah Khan who was to become his stop confidante, stoutly resisted this demand. For this he earned the opprobrium of Majlis-e-Ahrar and its leaders Ataullah Shah Bukhari and Mazhar Ali Azhar, who would later call Jinnah “kafir-e-azam” or the “great infidel.” Dawn and Vatan, Jinnah’s own newspapers, reported on 4 May 1944 that Jinnah had promised Pir Akbar Ali MLA that Ahmadis would be treated at par with every other sect of Islam. Almost immediately Jinnah received a barrage of letters. One came from the Sunni Imam of Jama Masjid Batala, Nazir Hussain, who asked him if it was true that Ahmadis were allowed to join the Muslim League and that Muslims were perturbed at the news. Jinnah replied on 16 May 1944 saying that he had quoted the clause of membership in the Muslim League which stated that any Muslim resident of British above age 18 could be part of the Muslim League. The clause actually also provided for others if approved by provincial leagues but that was a separate matter. To the Ahmadi Nazir-ul-Umoor Jinnah pointed out the same thing.
Critically, Jinnah refused to deny the contents of the newspaper reports in either letter. If there was any ambiguity still, Jinnah laid it to rest on 23 May 1944 in Srinagar. He was asked by the press about the status of ‘Qadianis’ who had recently been banned from Kashmir’s Muslim Conference. Jinnah replied that as far as Muslim League was concerned, any Muslim could join it without regard to sect or creed, and that Muslims of Kashmir should not raise such sectarian questions. The newspaper men persisted. Jinnah’s reply was historic: “Who am I to declare a person non-Muslim who calls himself a Muslim?” Consequently the Muslim Conference of Kashmir also opened its doors to Ahmadis and many of its leading members were Ahmadis. In the Jinnah Papers we come across M. A. Hafeez Khan Farabi’s letter dated 6 June 1944. Farabi called Mr. Jinnah ‘ignorant,’ telling him that it was Iqbal who thought of Pakistan and Iqbal considered Ahmadis traitors to Islam. He further warned Jinnah that all the Muslims will leave the Muslim League if Jinnah did not turn Ahmadis out of the League. Jinnah felt no need to reply to this letter. It is incredible the pressure Jinnah sustained on the matter but what is more incredible is that he refused to budge on the issue.
Things began to change in 1953. This year two members of Pakistan’s military establishment travelled all the way to Multan where Ataullah Shah Bukhari, the old Majlis-e-Ahrar leader, was residing. By this time Bukhari had made peace with the fact that his politics had been convincingly buried by the Muslim League for good. These two gentlemen however convinced him to come out of hiding and help liberate Pakistan from the evil clutches of ‘Qadianis.’ Sufficiently incited and encouraged, Bukhari along with Maulana Maududi started an agitation movement in Punjab asking for the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims and removal of Zafrullah Khan from office. However, once the anti-Ahmadi disturbances began to get out of hand, the Pakistani state intervened with full force.
The disturbances were dealt with an iron hand and the leaders rounded up. It also led to martial law being imposed in the city of Lahore. The Muslim League government led by Khawaja Nazimuddin was removed from office. This was followed by the Munir Kayani Commission, which underscored the dangers that this issue posed to Pakistan’s national identity. Instead of learning a lesson from this our powerful establishment had just tasted blood. It realised that this is a potent issue that can be brought up whenever a civilian government gets out of line.
Unless something is done urgently to stop what is fast becoming inevitable, Pakistan will have to face the ignominy that countries like Germany faced earlier
It is not clear if this was the case 21 years later, because Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Prime Minister then and someone who was considered a friend and an ally by the Ahmadis, seems to have indicated that the Rabwah disturbances of 1974 were part of an international conspiracy hatched by Sardar Daud of Afghanistan in cahoots with Wali Khan. Whatever the case, the Khatm-e-Nabuwat Movement began with Maulana Mufti Mahmood – another old Congress ally from before partition – leading a merry band of rabid Mullahs against the Ahmadis. Under pressure Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took the issue to the parliament which on 7 September 1974 decided to declare Ahmadis non-Muslim through a constitutional amendment unanimously and without abstentions.
Despite their claims to be a secular movement and their claims to have abstained, the facts are that Wali Khan and his party National Awami Party voted for the 2nd Amendment, which declared Ahmadis non-Muslim. A so-called secular government and a so-called secular opposition knelt down before reactionary religious elements to take the unprecedented step of declaring an entire sect outside the fold of Islam. This was a step that has only led to more sectarianism in Pakistan.
In 1984 the Islamist military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq added Sections 298 B and C to the Pakistan Penal Code essentially making it unlawful for Ahmadis to even call themselves Muslim or practise their faith openly, or recite Azan i.e. Muslim call to prayer. This is the law that has been weaponised by extremist religious groups to persecute Ahmadis. The law has also meant that Ahmadis cannot vote for in order to vote Ahmadis have to sign a declaration accepting that they are Non-Muslims, a position that they are unwilling to concede and which in any event militates against Article 20 of the Pakistani Constitution which makes the right to profess, practise and propagate one’s faith a fundamental right of every citizen of Pakistan. In a very strange 2-1 decision in Zaheeruddin v the State in 1993, the Supreme Court of Pakistan essentially ruled that Article 20 had no bearing on religious freedom where a religious practice “outrages” Muslims. Zaheeruddin v the State will one day prove to be Pakistan’s equivalent of the Dred Scott case in the US. In its zeal to marginalise Ahmadis, the Supreme Court of Pakistan basically abolished religious freedom in Pakistan make it contingent on the feelings of the Muslim majority. In other words, any religious practice that a Muslim might take umbrage with is prohibited despite the fundamental right to religious freedom.
Countless Ahmadi soldiers fought for Pakistan in 1948 and it was an Ahmadi general who laid down his life for the country in 1965
There is just no end to the bloodlust. In 2017 the government, as part of its obligations under the ICCPR and GSP+, tried to restore Ahmadis’ right to vote in Pakistan: not by declaring them Muslims, but by taking away the requirement of them declaring themselves non-Muslims. Powers That Be – now exposed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s judgment in Faizabad Dharna Case – decided to use the issue against the government of the day (as had been done in 1953 and 1974). Institutional memory remains. The laudable step taken by the government, not out of its own volition but because of its obligations under international law, had to be withdrawn.
Meanwhile it gave the ruling party’s political opponents an anti-Ahmadi platform which was used by Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf without remorse. Thus, when Imran Khan tried to appoint the world-renowned economist Atif Mian as the chairman of the Pakistan’s Economic Advisory Council his own party rebelled because Atif Mian is an Ahmadi. Predictably Imran Khan’s government saw more incidents of violence against Ahmadis than any other government prior to it. The Courts are not without their share of blame. Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, the now graced former justice of Islamabad High Court, ruled in 2018 that Ahmadis should be made to take up ‘Qadiani’ or ‘Mirzai’ as their last names so as to distinguish them from other people. His judgment in the Allah Wasaya Case reads like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
So in short, in 75 years, we now stand at the brink of a modern-day genocide. The ten stages of genocide are: Classification, Symbolisation, Discrimination, Dehumanisation, Organisation, Polarisation, Preparation, Persecution, Extermination and Denial.
We stand at the 9th stage i.e. Extermination. Unless something is done urgently to stop what is fast becoming inevitable, Pakistan will have to face the ignominy that countries like Germany faced earlier.
Unlike Germany we are a poor and hapless state, that will not be as easily forgiven.