Pakistan Reader# 139, 20 October 2020
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has repeatedly called on Pakistan's government for the immediate introduction of parliamentary legislation to repeal discriminatory laws against religious minorities such as the penal statute that mandates capital punishment for "blasphemy".Lakshmi V Menon
Pakistan is home to the world's largest Ahmadi population. Ahmadis constitute between 0.22 per cent and 2.2 per cent of Pakistan's population. Pakistan's Ahmadi population has often faced persecution and discrimination by the Sunni majority. However, only seven per cent of Pakistanis consider Ahmadis as Muslims. ("Pakistan: Situation of members of the Lahori Ahmadiyya Movement in Pakistan" RefWorld, UNHCR, 1 March 2006) To make things worse, Peshawar is currently witnessing an uptick in violence against Ahmadis. Meanwhile, the recent acquittal of a Christian man, Sawan Masih, who has been on death row for six years for alleged blasphemy, paints a bleak image of the country's attitude towards minorities especially in the context of the Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code which is simply known as the "blasphemy law". (Neha Sahgal, "In Pakistan, most say Ahmadis are not Muslim," Pew Research Center, 10 September 2013)
The recent violence against the Ahmadis in Peshawar
Lately, the Ahmadi community in Peshawar is being hunted down. There have been several attacks on Ahmadis in the city since July 2020.
On 29 July, a teenager shot dead an American national Tahir Naseem in a courtroom. The deceased was standing trial on blasphemy charges. It was later found that the deceased had left the Ahmadi community. On 12 August, an Ahmadi trader Meraj Ahmed was gunned down by attackers in Dabgari Garden area in Gulbahar, Peshawar. On 5 October, unidentified gunmen shot dead a professor Dr Naeemuddin Khattak, belonging to the Ahmadi community, in the Wazir Bagh area of Peshawar. The gunmen stopped the professor's car, opened fire on him and fled. The murder was linked to an argument over religion. According to Dawn, the initial investigation suggested that Khattak was killed over his religious beliefs. ("Professor belonging to Ahmadi community shot dead in Peshawar allegedly after religious argument," Dawn, 6 October 2020) Separately, on 11 September an Ahmadi's residence in the limits of Phandu was besieged by a charged mob armed with batons and stones. Following an argument regarding a public gathering that took place a few days prior, the mob surrounded the family's house accusing the family of preaching their faith. Although the police rescued the family, a family member was detained and charged with blasphemy.
Who are the Ahmadis and why are they being persecuted?
The Ahmadiya faith was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) in the late 19th century, in British India's Punjab. Mirza claimed to be the recipient of the divine message and that he was the awaited Mahdi and the promised Messiah; who majority of the Muslims believe would appear to bring about the final triumph of Islam. Ahmadis have a geographical presence from India in the east to Morocco in the west. Adherents claim to be Muslims and identify themselves as Islam's promised second rise. A prediction by the Qur'an which envisages the emergence of a Muslim community in line with the first generation of Muslims; called the surviving group of Muslims by the Prophet Mohammed and the leaders of second Orthodox caliphate. However, others consider them to be non-Muslims and followers of an entirely different religion. Opponents and critics raise various arguments. Some accuse Ghulam Ahmad of falsely claiming prophecy. Some believe he founded the sect to avoid fighting the British by pretending to be 'guardians who should be obeyed'. Some say he wanted to serve the British occupation. Others accuse Ahmadis of making up the justification that the British saved Muslims from being persecuted by Sikhs. In most countries (in particular Islamic), they are prevented from practising their faith and face persecution. ("Aḥmadiyyah", Encyclopedia Brittanica) ("The Ahmadiyya, One of Islam's Most Controversial Sects," Fanack, 1 January 2020) Significantly, Ahmadis neither consider themselves a political grouping under a religious mask, nor do they portray or propagate an intellectual doctrine or a religious movement in response to any political sect. Ahmadis simply believe they are the last existing group of true believers in a world where Muslims have gone astray and Islam has become soulless. They consider alleviation of pain and suffering of humanity and the achievement of world peace and security by the belief in Allah and the Prophet Mohammed as their purpose. (Yohanan Friedmann, "The Ahmadiyyah Movement", Oxford Bibliographies, 19 May 2017)
In 1913, Ahmadis split into two sects: the Qadiani Ahmadiyya led by Ghulam Ahmad's son, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmoud and the Lahore Ahmadiyya, led by Muhammad Ali al-Lahori. The Lahore Ahmadis reject Ghulam Ahmad's prophecy but consider him as the promised Messiah.
The Ahmadi community of Pakistan
Pakistan has both Qadiani Ahmadis and Lahori Ahmadis. However, several reports equate Ahmadis in Pakistan with Qadiani Ahmadis, failing to mention the Lahori group. Similarly, the 1998 Pakistani census results only states that Qadiani Ahmadis compose 0.22 per cent of Pakistan's population (approximately 291,000). There is no mention of the number of Lahori Ahmadis. According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2005, "Ahmadis have boycotted the census since 1974, rendering official numbers [of Ahmadis] inaccurate" (International Religious Freedom Report 2005, 8 November 2005). Meanwhile, according to a publication by Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRBC), Pakistani daily newspaper The Nation's Peshawar-based bureau chief linked the unavailability of an accurate census of the Ahmadis to their reluctance "to be counted or introduced as (a) minority".
While the International Federation of Human Rights estimates three million "Ahmadis" and the International Religious Freedom Report 2005 asserts that there are "at least" two million Ahmadis in Pakistan, several reports approximate about four million. According to IRBC, "the number of Lahori Ahmadis is "far less" than the number of Qadiani Ahmadis in Pakistan". It quotes the bureau chief of The Nation: "the Lahori Ahmadi community is diminishing in Pakistan".
The Nation's Peshawar-based bureau chief linked the unavailability of an accurate census of the Ahmadis to their reluctance "to be counted or introduced as [a] minority". IRBC also says that Pakistan's Lahori community consists of 5000-10,000 members and is "not growing". ("Pakistan: Situation of members of the Lahori Ahmadiyya Movement in Pakistan; whether differences exist between the treatment of Lahori Ahmadis and Qadiani Ahmadis; procedure for verification of membership in Lahori Ahmadiyya Movement," Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, February 2006)
Ahmadis in Pakistan: Legal and State persecution
From 1953 to 1973, while Ahmadi persecution was sporadic in Pakistan, their branding as infidels by various Muslim clerics was rampant. In 1974 a wave of anti-Ahmadi disturbances led by the Jamaat-e-Islami and Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam engulfed Pakistan. The state of Pakistan reacted by passing a resolution prohibiting the designation/identification of Ahmadis as Muslims on 6 September 1974. The resolution identified them as a non-Muslim minority as they did not identify Prophet Mohammed as the last prophet and explicitly deprived their identity as Muslims. Through a series of acts, ordinances and constitutional amendments Pakistan curtailed their freedom of religion. Pakistan's constitution was also amended to define a Muslim "as a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad". ("Constitution (Second Amendment) Act, 1974")
Later, in 1984, Pakistan by amending its penal code gave legal status to five ordinances which targeted religious minorities. They included a law punishing tainting the Quran; the anti-blasphemy law; a law prohibiting the insulting of the family, wives or companions of Prophet Mohammed; and two laws restricting activities of Ahmadis. On 26 April 1984, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the President of Pakistan, issued the last two laws as constituents of the Martial Law Ordinance XX by amending sections 298-B and 298-C of Pakistan's Penal Code. It forbids the Ahmadis from "indirectly or directly posing as Muslims." Thus, they could no longer profess their faith. Consequently, derogatory religious slurs like 'Qadiani', 'Qadianism', 'Mirzai' and 'Mirzaian' have become popular terms synonymous to Ahmadis in Pakistan. The constitution itself uses the term 'Qadiani'. With the Criminal Law Act of 1986, Pakistan added section 295-C to its penal code - the "Blasphemy Law". The law mandated death penalty for blasphemy. Under the blasphemy law, over 50 Ahmadis were arrested under various provisions of the blasphemy law across Pakistan. The law identifies Ahmadi belief in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as blasphemous. ("Pakistan: Massacre of Minority Ahmadis," Human Rights Watch, 1 June 2010) Ahmadi translations of the Quran were destroyed. The government banned Ahmadis publications and the use of any Islamic terminology in the offering of Ahmadi funeral prayers or on wedding invitations.
In 2017, protests by hardline Islamist groups erupted when the parliament replaced the wordings of the oath "I solemnly swear" with "I believe" in a proclamation of Mohammad as Islam's last prophet. The protestors said the change was "blasphemous" and a concession to Ahmadi beliefs. The government quickly restored the previous wordings.
Ahmadis also face legal hurdles in obtaining government documents necessary for travel and identification. As per Pakistani law, citizens who call themselves Muslims, have to sign the "Declaration in the Case of Muslims" when applying for a passport or Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC). The declaration states "I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an imposter nabi and also consider his followers… to be Non-Muslims." The government also mandates Ahmadis to renounce their faith for obtaining basic travel documents. The passport declaration aims to bar Ahmadis from performing Hajj which Ahmadis believe to be a duty.
Is there no hope?
Ahmadis have long faced persecution in Pakistan. The government's refusal to include the Ahmadis in the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) was a huge blow to the community. Pakistan continues to view them as "kafir” or infidels. Till date, Pakistan's Ahmadi community has been living under imminent threat. In the context of the Minorities Commission and international human rights, the issue of the Ahmadis remains a persistent debate for Pakistan. Globally, this paints a glum image of Pakistan's federation and democracy. In 2009, the US Department of State annual report on human rights stated that Ahmadis in Pakistan were being killed for their faith.
Commenting on the recent peak in attacks, Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya Pakistan spokesperson Saleemuddin says "Over the past few months, there has been an increase in faith-based attacks on Ahmadis… In Peshawar, an organized hate campaign has been launched against Ahmadis which has resulted in the killing of Ahmadis." He added that the professor had been facing "threats and boycott" and opined that he was targeted due to his faith. According to Saleemudin, "When it comes to Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, everyone (all political parties) consider it a national duty to spew venom and hate against the community. Even the Pakistan's federal minister for religious affairs and inter-faith harmony Noor-ul-Haq Qadri has been speaking against the community". "The government has failed in providing protection to Ahmadis," he regretted. ("Professor belonging to Ahmadi community shot dead in Peshawar allegedly after religious argument," Dawn, 6 October 2020)
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has repeatedly called on Pakistan's government for the immediate introduction of parliamentary legislation to repeal discriminatory laws against religious minorities such as the penal statute that mandates capital punishment for "blasphemy". Additionally, HRW has time and again urged the concerned governments and inter-governmental bodies to pressurize Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy law, prosecute perpetrators of crimes against Ahmadis and to encourage religious tolerance within Pakistan. The senior South Asia researcher at HRW Ali Dayan Hasan says "Pakistan's continued use of its blasphemy law against Ahmadis and other religious minorities is despicable… As long as such laws remain on the books, Pakistan will remain a laboratory for abuse in the name of religion." ("Pakistan: Massacre of Minority Ahmadis," Human Rights Watch, 1 June 2010)