The Agony of Pakistan's Ahmadiyya

Just a month ago, at least 95 members of the Ahmadiyya Islamic sect were killed and nearly 100 injured in attacks on their places of worship in Lahore, Pakistan’s Punjab province. The attack was part of a campaign against Ahmadis by Islamist groups openly sympathetic to terrorist groups including the Taliban.

Ironically, most of the politicians were very careful to condemn the attacks on Ahmadis. Punjab’s chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, has not shown his face at either Ahmadi mosque despite living down the road from them. Mohammed Hanif, a journalist, wrote: “When the funerals of the massacred Ahmadis took place there were no officials, no politicians present.” This is a common practice otherwise.

Several days after the attack, former Pakistan Prime Minister and Pakistan Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif said the members of the Ahmadi sect are his brothers and sisters and that militants should be flushed out wherever they are active. His comments drew sharp criticism from religious parties like the Khatm-e-Nabuwat Movement, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami. Maulana Ilyas Chinioti, the head of KNM, a member of the PML-N and the Punjab provincial assembly, also condemned Sharif’s statement. Maulana seems to be openly preaching that non-Muslims are lesser humans despite the fact that Ahmadis profess that they are Muslims. Those who dare to defend the rights of religious minorities are usually labeled as being ‘anti-Islam’.

Ahmadis have been under widespread attack by increasingly violent Islamic fundamentalists across the planet. The movement was founded in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908 and who claimed to have succeeded the prophet Mohammed as leader of the religion and who would bring about the final triumph of Islam as per Islamic prophecy. They are a relatively small minority in Pakistan, making up somewhere between 0.25 percent and 2.5 percent of the population. A year ago 90 Ahmadis at a rally were injured in an attack by Islamic fundamentalists in Indonesia.

According to a June 4 story in The News a surviving attacker of the Lahore carnage, Abdullah alias Muhammad, said he was misled into believing that Ahmadis were involved in drawing blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet, so their bloodshed was a great service to Islam. The attacker belongs to a militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda. He was trained in Miramshah in North Waziristan, a lawless tribal area.

Right after the Lahore carnage, a mysterious SMS campaign was launched against the Ahmadiyya community, making them even more fearful, Minorities Concern of Pakistan has learned. Moreover, the Islamists issued statements in which they asked Ahmadis to cease from hurting the feelings of the majority population.

Jamaat-i-Islami chief Syed Munawwar Hasan on June 18 warned of fresh Khatm-i-Nubuwwat action if the “Ahmadis did not accept their minority status” in Pakistan. At the same time, many blame "foreign hands." Some openly say the Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was involved in the Lahore attacks. However, Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared on June 18 that the RAW was not involved in the killings.

The campaign against the sect began a decade ago in Pakistan. Before the partition of Pakistan and India, anti-Ahmadiyya agitation was instigated by the Majlis-i-Ahrar, a lower-middle-class party. In 1934, Ahrar arranged an anti-Ahmadi movement called the Tahafuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat Conference, held at Qadian. Ahrar was angry with the Ahmadia community’s support of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah for the demand of Pakistan. In 1953, six Ahmadis lost their lives when an anti-Ahmadiyya wave swept the newly-founded country.

The state constituted an inquiry commission over the incident. The commission’s report, also called the Munir Report, carried an analysis of the Ulema's concept of the Islamic State and of a Muslim. The report concluded that the concept of a Muslim differed for different sects and if the fatwas of the Ulema were relied upon to determine whether an individual is Muslim or kafir, no sect could be called Muslim because of the lack of a single, coherent and unanimous definition of a Muslim and an Islamic state.

According to Waqar Gilani, in 1973 the then president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Abdul Qayyum, declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. In the same year, a Saudi Arabian conference also agreed to oust Ahmadis from the circle of Islam. The unfortunate beating of students of Nishtar Medical College, Multan in 1974 infuriated the anti-Ahmadi movement. The students, on a train, started shouting against Ahmadis in Rabwah, the headquarters city of the sect, resulting in a strong reaction from the Ahmadis. That geared up the violent Khatm-e-Nabuwat protest.

Later in 1974, a minor incident sparked other anti-Ahmadiyya riots, 24 members the community dead. In the same year, they were declared non-Muslims by the Pakistani parliament. In 1984, General Zia-ul-Haq promulgated a martial law ordinance containing blasphemy laws which undercut the activities of religious minorities generally, but struck at Ahmadis in particular. Since then, they have been arrested frequently for greeting someone with the traditional Assalam-o-Alaikum, reciting Muslim prayers or reading the Holy Quran.

In the period 1984-2009, 105 Ahmadis were killed, according to two authors writing in Viewpoint, a Pakistani online magazine. “During the same period, 22 Ahmadiyya mosques were demolished, 28 were sealed by authorities, 11 were set on fire, and 14 were occupied while construction of 41 was banned. In at least 47 cases, burials were denied in common grave yards while 28 bodies were exhumed,” the two wrote.

Since 2000, an estimated 400 Ahmadis have been formally charged in criminal cases, including blasphemy. According to one report, in 2009 at least 37 Ahmadis were charged under the general provisions of the blasphemy laws and more than 50 were charged under specific provisions of the law applying to Ahmadis. Many remain imprisoned.

Both printed and electronic Pakistani media have played a scandalous role in spreading hatred against the community. Recently, the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) blamed major media outlets in Pakistan for inflaming rhetoric against Ahmadiyya, Ismaili and Shia Muslims. In particular, the MCC pointed out that GEO Television has become the voice of al-Qaeda and the Taliban and spreads hate against these communities as well as against non-Muslims.

According to one report, “After the attacks some newspapers ran op-ed articles creating an impression as if these attacks were a violent consequence of the ongoing polemic between certain Muslim sects and the Ahmadiyyas.”

The religious minorities in general and Ahmadis in particular are not treated by the state as equal citizens. They are routinely intimidated and persecuted because of their faith. Unless the state changes its mindset about minorities, they will live under constant threat, which is against international human rights laws and the constitution of Pakistan.

Aftab Alexander Mughal is editor for a Pakistan-based non-governmental organization, Minorities Concern of Pakistan