Protests and rallies of banned and extremist outfits become a serious threat to minorities in the province
By Waqar Gillani
This January 29 witnessed thousands of religious extremists belonging to banned religious outfits — Jamatud Dawa, Ahl-e-Sunnah Wal Jamaat (former Sipah Sahaba Pakistan) and other parties — marching towards an old Ahmadiyya community worship place in Rawalpindi.
Carrying different flags, banners, posters, and placards, containing anti-Ahmadi content, the charged rally was protesting against the worship place of Ahmadis which was situated close to the venue of public rally of these groups, which was staged the same Sunday to protest against America.
Some of them were also carrying portraits of Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer over a blasphemy controversy. They were chanting slogans against Ahmadis and their ‘uncalled for’ activities in Rawalpindi.
The Ahmadiyya community worship place ‘Ewan-e-Tawheed’ situated in Satellite Town near Holy Family Hospital has recently become a bone of contention. Some Muslim residents of the area now blame that the piece of land was bought for residential purposes but was later converted into a place of worship which is not allowed according to Pakistani law.
The protest was arranged on the call of Anti-Ahmadiyya Action Committee and, according to estimates, around 7,000 people and members belonging to traders’ community, Jamaatud Dawa, Jamaat-i-Islami and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, actively participated in it.
It was announced that an intersection close to the worship place will be named “Khatm-e-Nabuwat Chowk”, a title which indicates and alarms Ahmadis to beware of these groups.
“We have been requesting the local administration for the past four months to solve the issue and asked them to close this worship place otherwise the people who attended this rally will themselves solve the issue,” says Sharjil Mir, 36, resident of the area and head of Anti-Ahmadiyya Action Committee which consists on 13 leading Muslims of the locality.
The committee was formed eight months back to fight this problem. “We are struggling to uphold the law of the land. We only want the local authorities to act according to the Constitution of Pakistan which disallows Ahmadis to call their worship ‘prayer’ or preach their beliefs”, he tells The News on Sunday.
Mir says they have no objection to members of any community living in the residential area but according to law they are not allowed to preach.
He says that around 60-70 per cent who attended the rally were traders belonging to different parts of the city while there were activists from all different religious parties.
“We have never asked anybody to come and join; they were sent by Allah to help us. This is a campaign for the cause of Allah and he has chosen me for this movement.”
Security hazards outside the place, especially after the attack on Ahmadis in Lahore in May 2010, killing around 90 people, is said to be one of the ‘reasons’ to lodge protest as the affected community has deputed its own volunteers with latest guns in their hands.
“The road leads to three mosques and a hospital. They even started searching all those passersby Muslims of the locality who wanted to go to their mosques. It started a huge problem as some of the Muslims do not want to be touched by them,” says Mir.
Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan has been facing a systematic opposition from the extremist religious groups in Pakistan for the past several years. “The community has lost hundreds of members and is left in hot waters by the state and the masses alike. After May 28, the community decided to arrange for their own security on the advice of law enforcement agencies which is becoming an issue now. The community’s right to prayers and congregation is in grave danger today,” says Saleemuddin, spokesperson of the community while talking to TNS.
“Ewan e Tawheed has been there for the last 17 years. It is the property of Jama’at Ahmadiyya and is used as a place for prayers. Some elements have started a false, baseless campaign of hatred to create problems. The bottomline is that miscreants want to deprive Ahmadis of their right to pray and congregate,” he says, adding, “We can sacrifice for any right but not these rights.”
He says the miscreants gave an open warning to demolish the place.
“This campaign is a plan to deprive the community’s peaceful members of their right to pray and gather,” Saleemuddin says, adding the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave this right to all Pakistani citizens on Aug 11, 1947.
Mir, who is also president of Rawalpindi Traders Association, which is affliated with the Punjab ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, does not seem satisfied with the performance of their elected parliamentarian on this issue. “There are only a few – four or five – Ahmadi families living in the area and they are creating problems for others,” he adds.
An official of district administration tells TNS that they are in contact with both parties and are trying to resolve the issue. “We have requested leaders of Ahmadiyya community to close down their place of worship temporarily till the people cool down,” he says, requesting not to be named. “It seems that Muslims of the area are not going to accept anything less than that. We have made all arrangements to provide security to Ahmadiyya community.”
Muhammad Usman, 30, a resident of Satellite Town, believes the situation has reached a point of no return. “I think the government should try its level best to avoid the worst — which could be an attack on worship place of Ahmadis by Muslims. If Ahmadiyya community is not following the law, the people should go to court rather than take law in their own hands.”
“The banned religious groups are openly operating and threatening minorities while the government seems mum on these issues,” says Shahid Ahmad, an Ahamdiyya community member, “Are they waiting for some other furious attack on this minority in the country?” Many families in Rawalpindi are believed to have already left the area because of fear and panic.
Additional reporting by Aoun Sahi