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The Ahmadiyyas: Pakistan's silent sufferers

Last updated on: June 02, 2010 12:04 IST

The Ahmadis who were killed in a terrorist attack on two Lahore mosques last week were innocent people and by not raising our voice for their rights, we as a nation are collectively guilty of their murder, writes Mehmal Sarfraz from Lahore, in the first of her despatches from across the border

The people of Pakistan witnessed two simultaneous terror attacks in Lahore on May 28, 2010. Thousands of worshippers had gathered for Friday prayers at two Ahmadi mosques, 'Baitul Noor' in Model Town and 'Darul Zikr' in Garhi Shahu, when they were attacked by the terrorists donning suicide vests, wielding Kalashnikovs and hand grenades. More than 90 people lost their lives while hundreds more were injured. The most horrendous aspect of these twin attacks was that they both targeted the Ahmadiyya community, a religious minority that has suffered in silence for far too long.

The Punjab wing of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the Friday attacks. In a text message sent to journalists, the terrorists warned that if the Ahmadis do not leave Pakistan, they should be ready to face death at the hands of the lovers of Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him). It was a grim reminder of how the religious bigots have succeeded in promoting sectarianism and also pointed towards the vulnerability of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan.

A couple of months ago, a friend wrote something so strong on Twitter that it immediately caught my attention. She tweeted, 'Three Ahmadis killed in Faisalabad on Thursday (April 1, 2010). They were ambushed by a car with multiple shooters and were shot at (presumably with semi-automatic or automatic weapons) more than 80 times. They died before reaching the hospital. Is this your Islamic Republic of Pakistan? I curse thee, I curse thee, I curse thee!' Chilling words indeed! And coming from someone who never loses her cool, it made me realise what a mockery we have made of the fundamental rights of citizens in this 'land of the pure'.

The Ahmadis hold different views on the finality of prophethood from that of other Muslim sects. Muslims commonly believe that Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is the last prophet of Islam while the Ahmadis believe that Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was the last of the law-giving prophets in the tradition of Moses and Jesus. They believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-908) was an 'ummati' prophet (a subordinate prophet) and that he was the promised messiah and Imam Mahdi rolled into one. The Lahori Ahmadis believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was just a religious reformer and not a prophet. Whatever the beliefs of the Ahmadis, the real issue lies with the clerics in Pakistan who have always had a problem with the Ahmadis for giving reverence to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

To understand the plight of the Ahmadis, we have to revisit the 1950s. Some Pakistani politicians and most religious parties took to the streets in 1953 leading to the anti-Ahmadi riots. They demanded that the Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims and the then foreign minister of Pakistan, Chaudhry Zafrullah Khan, be removed from office since he was an Ahmadi and the same should be done with other Ahmadis who held any key positions in the government. The government did not give in to these demands.

But all this changed in 1974 when Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a secular and progressive man otherwise, declared the Ahmadiyya community non-Muslims. In an attempt to appease the Islamists, ZA Bhutto crucified secularism at the altar of political expediency by adding the Second Amendment to the Pakistani Constitution. Pakistan's only Nobel Laureate, Dr Abdus Salam, an Ahmadi, left the country for London in protest.

Bhutto's folly opened the door for the right-wingers to further persecute a peace-loving community. General Ziaul Haq, a military dictator who ruled Pakistan for 11 years and was one of the most bigoted rulers in the country's history, promulgated Ordinance XX in 1984, which was specific to the Ahmadiyya community. This anti-Ahmadi ordinance prohibited them from 'posing' as Muslims, calling their places of worship 'mosques' or their call to prayer 'azan' like the Muslims do.

The Blasphemy Law together with this ordinance made it an actual curse for the Ahmadis to live in Pakistan. Many of them migrated elsewhere in the 1980s. Pakistan is the only Muslim country that has declared the Ahmadiyya community non-Muslims and where the identity card forms and passport forms make a clear distinction between Muslims and Ahmadis. Many Ahmadis have been harassed and killed in the name of Islam by fanatics over the years; they have also been targeted by the media. Famous anchorpersons and televangelists have given sermons against the Ahmadiyya community.

After the May 28 attacks, an Ahmadi leader, Mirza Khurshid Ahmad, said, "We are also the citizens of Pakistan. If the government wanted to protect us, it would have stopped the hateful propaganda that goes on against us every single day. Anti-Ahmadi posters and banners are published and put out in open view, conferences are held, statements issued that we should leave Pakistan, we are wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of death), we should either convert to Islam or we would be lined up and shot dead… This goes on right under the nose of the government. Incitement to violence is a punishable offence under the law of the land but nobody takes notice of these things."

It was painful to see the terrorists laying siege to the two Ahmadi mosques for hours and spilling so much blood, but it was even more shameful to be politically correct and calling or writing 'places of worship' instead of mosques. It was appalling to see that no politician had the courage to call the slain Ahmadis 'shaheed' (martyrs) as is usually done after other terror attacks and that none of them went to the funerals of the dead either. Intolerance has overtaken our sensibilities. The Ahmadis who died on Friday were innocent people and by not raising our voice for their rights, we as a nation are collectively guilty of their murder. I hang my head in shame.

Mehmal Sarfraz is Op-Ed Editor, Daily Times, Lahore, and Joint General Secretary, South Asian Women in Media. She can be reached at mehmal.s@gmail.com

Mehmal Sarfraz