Dera Ismail Khan: ordeal of Suleman Ahmad, an Ahmadi youth

The ordeal of an Ahmadi youth

 

Dera Ismail Khan (DIK) is a district headquarters town in the south NWFP. West of this district lies South Waziristan that is often mentioned in dispatches concerning activities of absconding Taliban, while across its southwest border lies the vast province of Baluchistan. The district is inhabited mostly by Pushtuns. Maulvi Fazlur Rahman, the General Secretary of MMA hails from this district. Islamist priests enjoy a lot of political, communal and thereby administrative clout here.

At DIK, like in most other NWFP towns, there is a small Ahmadiyya Community. Suleman Ahmad, an Ahmadi youth, aged 17, resided here at his maternal home. He was a science student at the local college. He lived here with his mother and two younger sisters. His father owns a small business at Bhakkar, approximately 35 miles eastward, in the Punjab. He would come to visit his family two or three times a week.

Suleman is a handsome young man of medium height, fair complexion and Caucasian features. He took interest in physical as well as academic activities. He was a member of the local Brothers Health Club for bodybuilding. He was well respected among the fellow youth, as he was a morally upright fellow of pleasant disposition who offered his prayers regularly and bothered no body. His non-Ahmadi pals even requested him to lead them in congregational evening prayers at the club.

Early in 2003, in a bodybuilding competition, Suleman fared well and was declared as fifth among top six bodybuilders, thus replacing a contender called Rafiq. Rafiq was not pleased, and decided to move against Suleman to remove him from the scene. In the preceding few weeks, Khalid Gangohi, a local mullah had distributed anti-Ahmadiyya literature among the club members. Suleman, in self-defense, had given a few pamphlets of his own to a fellow who in turn gave these to Rafiq. Rafiq passed them on to mullah Gangohi for action against Suleman. The mullah and the antagonist hatched a conspiracy to implicate Suleman in a criminal case based on religion. They started an agitation at the mosque, the neighborhood and the club, and contacted the police as well. Well-wishers of Suleman passed this information to him and informed him of the hostile moves. Suleman informed his family of the ominous developments and even considered fleeing the town, but they were not fully conscious of the enormity of the mischief intended by the mullah. The local police initially took no action on the mullah’s representation, so Gangohi approached the city’s leading mullah, Alauddin, to press charges. Mullah Alauddin wields great influence in the town. He contacted the District Police Officer, who told the SHO to take action. The SHO compiled the FIR on May 26, 2003, registered the case and proceeded to arrest young Suleman. His little sister started shedding tears and crying at his arrest. Suleman was charged not only under the Ahmadi-specific law PPC 298C, but also under PPC 107 and 151 (assembling to disturb public peace and its abetment); on what grounds, is not known. The police also raided his house to recover some Ahmadiyya literature, but found none.

Suleman had no previous experience of dealing with police, or with any department that is concerned with crime and law. In those days, he was appearing in his important final examination of the F.Sc., which would be decisive in his future professional education and career. The criminal case, the arrest, the police lock-up, missing his crucial examination, all these developments were extraordinary and frightful for him. Mullahs made his arrest a big issue and the local press published the news that a Qadiani preacher had been arrested. The press quoted even Maulvi Fazlur Rehman of the MMA as happy and delighted with the arrest. At the police station, a constable, Chan Shah tried to scare Suleman further by telling him of the likely course that the law would take in his ‘very serious’ case.

While Suleman’s attorney moved the court with a plea for his release on bail, Suleman was shifted to the city’s main prison. The prison authorities put him up in the ‘Munda Khana’, the Juvenile Section. This building was built in 1854, and is in a dilapidated state. It has a dirt floor, and its roof leaks badly when it rains. Suleman stayed here while his case was heard in the local court and his plea for bail was moved in higher courts. Life in the prison was hard for the youth who was a decent college-going student. Some of the inmates were mentally retarded, while most of the others had a criminal record. One of those was Aftab, who was a Sipah Sahaba activist. Aftab had been sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment for his terrorist activities. Grenades had been allegedly recovered from him. He hated the ‘Qadiani’ newcomer, and agitated other inmates against Suleman on religious grounds. He also abused him, off and on with bad names. Aftab arranged to import anti-Ahmadiyya literature in the Munda Khana, however Suleman prudently decided not to reply in kind. Food provided by prison authorities was not fit to eat and the tea was undrinkable hot water, so Suleman had to cook his own food like other prisoners. The roti (bread) was provided by the jail, while other rations had to be acquired from outside under personal arrangements. When it rained, water dripped in quantity from the roof, the floor became muddy, and the inmates had to compete for little dry islets on the floor. Movement inside the dormitory became very restricted.

Arrangements for ‘Mulaqat’ (meeting the prisoner) in the prison were highly unsatisfactory. There was only a small space from where a large number of visitors could try to talk to the prisoners through a wire mesh. Everyone had to shout in an effort to get heard, thus very little got communicated through the noise. Visitors had to almost ride others’ shoulders to show their faces. In these circumstances, it became impossible for Suleman’s mother to visit him. She could only pray for her son. Later, jail authorities were somehow persuaded to allow one meeting between the mother and son, under special arrangements.

While in prison, Suleman was taken to the courts handcuffed almost every fortnight except when his security was threatened by a gang of mullahs. These court appearances usually caused great concern, as the mullahs would come to the court in large numbers to intimidate the judge and the defense team. They would shout slogans. At one such occasion a mullah was reported as telling another, “This boy should have been sorted out with a burst (of fire) rather than through the police”. In such an environment, the magistrate could not muster the required courage to release Suleman on bail. He expressed his exaggerated assessment that Suleman’s release would initiate a countrywide protest. The plea for bail was then taken to the Sessions court. Mullahs arrived there as well in numbers. They tried to smuggle in a rapid-firing rifle at the occasion, however it was detected and confiscated by authorities. Fearing a murder in captivity, the authorities decided not to present the accused before the judge who was a woman. The lady was under great pressure. It was no surprise that she rejected the plea for bail on some incomprehensible, even ludicrous grounds. The plea for bail was thereafter taken to the High Court.

In the meantime the stress and strain of stay in prison started having its effect on young Suleman. The criminal company was repulsive to him. He would get up even for the midnight ‘Tahajjud’ prayers. His health was adversely affected. The unhygienic living conditions produced a kind of severe skin disease. Suleman ended up by having numerous sores all over his body. They numbered approximately 40.

The High Court bench at DIK proceeded on summer vacations, so Suleman’s attorney took his plea for bail to the High Court’s head office at Peshawar. The judge initially gave frequent dates for hearing his plea, but could not give a verdict. Then he got transferred, and another judge took up the plea. Eventually, after about four months of incarceration Suleman was set free on bail, on 16 September 2003. It was indeed a most welcome deliverance for young Suleman.

Although Suleman is out of prison, DIK, his hometown has changed for him forever. He has been told that his safety cannot be assured in the town. Thus he lives elsewhere and goes to DIK to meet his mother and sister very rarely. On these occasions he makes sure that he arrives in the town after sunset and leaves prior to the morning twilight. His mother does not let him leave home during the daylight hours. The stay thus amounts to a kind of detention, so he cuts these visits short. He cannot meet even his friends and well-wishers, most of whom shun him now anyway. He cannot rejoin his college because it is no longer safe to do so; everyone knows his position after the case, and the student unions, most of which are organized on sectarian basis, would not let him attend the college in peace. Suleman has already lost one year of his precious youth and education, in fighting the case. He intends to appear in the next yearly examination as a private student, hoping that the damage done to his academic career is not permanent. Suleman is now free, but not entirely, as he has to face the prosecution till the judge gives a verdict. Rashid Ahmad Sanauri, another Ahmadi of DIK earlier suffered prosecution for six years in an anti-Ahmadiyya case (1993 to 2000), partly in prison, as some Quranic verses were discovered at his property. The business of Suleman’s father was severely affected during the course of prosecution. The small Ahmadiyya Community at DIK is dented further as a result of this case, as the mullah now does not allow them to congregate even for the weekly Friday prayers. A new convert to Ahmadiyyat decided to recant because he could not bear up with the stress of being an Ahmadi. In short the toll taken by a single case is indeed great for not only Suleman but for all members of the Ahmadiyya Community in the entire district.

Brief history of Ahmadis’ persecution at D. I. Khan (NWFP)

The small Ahmadiyya community of D I Khan, has had a very rough time at the hands of Ahmadi-bashers during the last twenty years. The city happens to be the hometown of Mufti Mahmud once a JUI chief minister of NWFP, and his son Maulana Fazlur Rehman of MMA. It displays their colours distinctly in the experience of local Ahmadiyya Community. Briefly:

  1. Ahmadiyya mosque was taken over by mullahs in 1973. The loss of their place of worship was a big blow to the Ahmadiyya community. Its traumatic effect is felt to this day by Ahmadis.
  2. Muzaffar Ahmad, age 12, son of Malik Mahmud Ahmad Awan, now the president of the district Ahmadiyya community, was abducted on 27 June 1983 in the wake of false accusations against the Khalifa-tul-Masih IV (Head of the Ahmadiyya Community) regarding Mullah Aslam Qureshi. The boy has not been recovered ever since. The police and the administration did not follow up the matter; General Zia ruled at the time. The boy is perhaps lost forever. One can well imagine the plight of his parents.
  3. Mr Rashid Ahmad son of Mr Bashir Ahmad Sanauri, Ahmadi, faced prosecution for six years in a religious case.
  4. The mosque, the missionary’s house and Ahmadiyya library were destroyed through arson.
  5. The local Ahmadiyya mosque was sealed at the demand of the ‘Organization for the protection of the Finality of Prophethood’. Authorities subsequently opened the locks and handed over the mosque to mullahs.
  6. Now, Mr Suleman Ahmad, an Ahmadi youth has been booked under Ahmadi-specific law PPC 298C. He is at risk of three years’ imprisonment.

 

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