HRS International

The right to believe

For the Ahmadiyyah Muslims of Pakistan, life is spent in a constant struggle. I myself was born into a Sunni Muslim family in Pakistan, hence I didn’t understand how tragic the reality of persecution is for a religious minority in Pakistan until I investigated the matter personally. Being part of the mainstream circles of society did not prepare me for the realization of the atrocities being carried out under the umbrella of protection of the Pakistani Government.

By Rooshanie Ejaz . HRS

Following the news one can see clearly that the Ahmadiyyah (also known as the Qadianis) community of Pakistan is under a constant threat. Not only is their persecution common. It is sanctioned by the state under the Anti-Qadiani Ordinance of 1984 and Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law. One may even consider this to be the most organized, large-scale pattern of discrimination against a people anywhere in the world. Under these acts, they are not allowed to call themselves Muslims or behave as Muslims in any way, as it is the Pakistani government that now solely defines who is ‘Muslim’ and who isn’t in Pakistan. Over the last 60 years, numerous figures have played important roles in the systematic and long-term attacks on the sect. The Jamat-e-Islami, Maulana Maududi, and General Zia-ul-Haq have all played key roles in inciting mob violence and the widespread discrimination against the Ahmadiyyah movement. Last year alone saw the deaths of 11 members of the community due to sectarian violence, two of them doctors.

In my quest to better understand the cruel nature of the interaction between mainstream and minority, I recently took a trip to the hometown of the Ahmaddiyyah movement in Pakistan, Rabwah. It is also known as Chenab Nagar, a name forced upon the area by the government after it had already been named Rabwah. After the partition in 1948, the members of this movement fled Qadian in India to settle in Pakistan and bought this section of land from the government. At the time the region was practically a desert, populated only for the mining of granite.

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About 2 hours from Lahore, Rabwha is the home of large numbers of Pakistani Ahmadis. The movement’s headquarters are also located here, and the Ahmadis’ numerous humanitarian causes are run from here. I was lucky enough to be shown around town by some locals.

My trip began at the local graveyard, a well-maintained operation. Immediately I was made aware of the kind of hardships faced by the Ahmadis. When we came upon the graves of some of their most revered personalities I saw how far the persecution goes. On their tombstones and many others in the graveyard were white markings, blanking out parts of the texts written on them. On inquiry I learned that the local district Nazim (mayor), a Sunni Muslim, had sanctioned the blanking out of any text on any Ahmadi grave which even in the least implies that they were Muslims. On one grave in particular this made no sense, that of the only Nobel Laureate from Pakistan, Professor Abdus Salam, which read:

“Professor Abdus Salam, First (blanked area) Nobel Laureate”

The word ‘Muslim’ was blanked out.

I then went into town to a guest house to get settled in. Here I found out that Rabwah runs one of the country’s best charities. Darul Ziafat is a center where free food and an overnight stay are provided to anyone in need. One even has the choice of being served free food in one’s room or at a table.

There are also commercial centers in the city along with a municipal library, a hospital (which offers pro-bono services), and colleges. What I observed as a stark difference between this and other cities of the same calibre in Pakistan was the presence of women. Living in Pakistan, even in the urban centers, one gets used to seeing far more men in public places than women. Yet in Rabwah women seemed to be out in public in numbers almost equal to those of the men.

A fact worth mentioning is that Rabwah’s infrastructural development can almost solely be attributed to the Ahmadi community. Any time the government has stepped in to take over development operations, the result has been less than satisfactory, as those projects often grind to a standstill owing to a lack of competent administration. For example, the college for girls was taken over by the government during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, after which it only declined in its standard of education, maintenance, and facilities. In financial and administrative terms, Rabwah is run entirely by donations of members of the Ahmadiyyah community.

Yet one cannot ignore the background tension which is obvious in the air here. This community is constantly under scrutiny and violent attack from the extremist groups that live in neighbouring settlements. A large part of the land which was fairly bought and paid for by the Ahmadiyyah community has been encroached on by the government. Similarly, the Rabwah town council is known for its corrupt officials who charge the locals exorbitant fees for “Plan Approvals” and levy high taxes, and then pocket the money themselves.

Some Sunni clerics from neighbouring areas have even been routinely known to distribute pamphlets to people passing through, discouraging them to partake in any business dealings with the locals because the money will be a means for the propagation of anti-Islamic teachings and practices. Similarly, the crime committed in Rabwah can be solely attributed to non-Ahmadi Muslims from the area.

On the day of our departure from the town I intended to take some pictures of the main areas to accompany my report. But just after taking about three pictures from a moving car me and my friend were stopped by a few men who drove up to us in a car and were clearly part of the town’s security. They immediately asked who we were and what we were doing there. After we had been cleared, they told us that they have to be very careful these days, as the situation in town is worsening in terms of the citizens’ security. We were then politely asked, for security reasons, to request the permission of the city council to take pictures. This one incident alone makes crystal clear the kind of constant threat that the town’s people live under.

For decades now, the Pakistani government and its state-funded institutions have been responsible for persecuting the Ahmadi people for their interpretation of Islam. It even demands that every single Pakistani passport holder declare on a signed affidavit that Ahmadis are non-Muslims. The points on which the Ahmadis differ from the rest of the Muslim community are few, yet integral. The most important is that Ahmadis stand for a couple of things that would shake the pillars on which clerical Islam is based – namely, a belief in the individual’s right to interpret the instructions of the Quran and a conviction that interpretations of the Quran need to be reviewed according to the spirit of the times.

The Ahmadi community doesn’t believe in violence and openly opposes the waging of “holy war” against anyone. They believe that the spread of education and human rights is the only “Jihad” left to be fought. Humanity First is a non-profit Ahmadi human-rights organization that operates in all the red-alert zones of the world.

Yet most Pakistani Muslims support the notion that Ahmadis are non-Muslims and believe in punishing them when they practice Islam openly. Even members of the educated classes believe that they are the nation’s least deserving minority. They argue that it is the duty of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to define the religion.

The question is not only whether Sunni Muslim beliefs or Ahmadi Muslim beliefs are the true Islamic beliefs, as there is currently also a split between Ahmadi schools of thought. The splinter group calls itself the Lahore Ahmadiyyah movement. The real question is whether there should be state-sanctioned persecution of a group of people by a country that justified its very existence on the basis of the persecution and unfair representation of the Muslim population of the subcontinent?

The Pakistani flag is one-third white; the color is supposed to represent the rights of religious minorities. The acts and constitutional amendments that undergird the persecution of Ahmadis are therefore contradictory to the very essence of the country’s formation.

A similar situation can be observed in Europe, where people like Kurt Westergaard and Geert Wilders are facing the consequences of expressing their opinions. I do not agree with what either of them believes, and it is for just that reason that they must not be prosecuted or attacked for it. Because as long as they are free to exercise their freedom of opinion, I am free to exercise mine.

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