A brief note is provided here on the background of persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan and a few observations are made on its overall impact on the community.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at is a religious community and organization, international in character, with established branches in over 200 countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and Australia. It has tens of millions of members worldwide and is growing. The Ahmadiyya community was founded in 1889 by Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, which he saw as an embodiment of the benevolent message of Islam: peace, universal brotherhood and submission to the will of God. He opposed violence as a means of advancing religion, and rejected terrorism in any form or for any reason.
Anti-Ahmadiyya riots in 1953 and 1974
The Pakistani religious establishment brands the Ahmadiyya community heretical in nature and does not approve of its reformatory nature. Politicians have also found it expedient to support the religious establishment in their anti-Ahmadiyya stance. The first countrywide wave of violence against the community erupted in 1953. Following the riots, an in-depth judicial inquiry by the chief justice and a judge of Lahore High Court found politics to be the main cause of disturbances.
Many a year later, in 1974, Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then the Prime Minister of Pakistan, found it advantageous to have Ahmadis declared a non-Muslim minority, which in Pakistan is a form of second rate citizenship. In his personal life Bhutto was nominally religious and his party had a progressive agenda, but his political rapacity moved him to interfere in the forbidden territory of religion. He orchestrated violent and countrywide riots in partnership with the religious leadership, culminating in a constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadi Muslims as ‘Not-Muslims’. It was a unique innovation; while other Non-Muslim religious groups, like Christians and Hindus, were Non-Muslim minority by their own profession, Ahmadis were forcibly declared a Non-Muslim minority through legislation.
General Zia’s Ordinance XX
Following Bhutto’s lead, General Ziaul Haq, the military dictator of Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, went many steps further when to gain the support of extremists he promulgated the notorious anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance XX in 1984 which added Sections 298-B and 298-C to the Pakistan Penal Code. (The text of these laws is available at sub section: Relevant Laws.) Through this ordinance, the religious rights of Ahmadis were directly violated. Under its provisions, Ahmadis could be imprisoned for three years and fined an arbitrary amount for ordinary expression of their faith. In addition to prohibiting them from proselytizing, it expressly forbade them certain religious practices and usage of Islamic terminology. This ordinance effectively makes a criminal out of every Ahmadi by including the broad provision of “posing as a Muslim” a cognizable offence, giving the extremists a carte blanche to terrorize Ahmadis with the backing of the state apparatus.
Since 1984, two hundred and twenty-eight Ahmadis have been murdered, hundreds more subjected to attempts of murder, a large number saw their personal properties looted and their places of worship desecrated. More than three and half thousand Ahmadis have faced prosecution in courts and hundreds of them have been convicted. An updated summary of police cases and other outrages since 1984 is available at sub-section Facts and Figures. All branches of the government were directed to ensure proactive enforcement of Ordinance XX.
As a result of this legislation, Ahmadis have to live under a constant threat of arrest and harassment. Even using the normal greeting of Assalamu Alaikum has landed Ahmadis in prison. Emboldened with sometimes tacit and at other times active support of law enforcement agencies, extremists have been able to orchestrate large scale riots and violence with impunity. In many townships of Punjab, such as Nankana Sahib and Chak Sikandar, and Gujranwala in 2014, large sections of Ahmadiyya communities were forced to migrate after suffering loot, arson and murder. In all cases government did little to help the victims. Travesty of justice really played out when the victims themselves were arrested by the authorities. This atmosphere of persecution was pervasive and covered almost every aspect of Ahmadiyya life, from political representation to social life, from education to employment; there was hardly any area of human activity which remained untouched.
Although the government has allowed a seat in the National Assembly for Ahmadis, it comes attached with the unacceptable condition that Ahmadis vote as Non-Muslims. This way, they have been effectively disenfranchised in the country’s democratic set-up. Although joint electorate is the official policy for national elections, Ahmadis are still placed on a separate electoral list. Ahmadis cannot vote in the face of such discrimination.
Ahmadi students have been denied entry into professional colleges for no other reason. On occasions, Ahmadis were admitted to a college on merit, but later saw their admission canceled because of their faith. Even to take residence in certain college hostels, students have to declare that they are not Ahmadi.
A column of religion was added to the Pakistani passports and voter registration forms. In order to get a national identity card or a passport, every citizen of Pakistan who wants to be counted as a Muslim has to denounce the founder of the Ahmadiyya community. In the field of employment, even low level jobs are often denied to Ahmadis simply for the reason of their religion.
These laws forced the Head of the Ahmadiyya Community into exile, for he could no longer perform his functions in Pakistan. In his absence, he was implicated in 17 different criminal cases, most of which carried long prison terms and one, for alleged blasphemy, the death penalty. He died in 2003 while in exile.
The situation at Rabwah
At Rabwah, the headquarters of the Ahmadiyya community, the Ordinance’s effect is especially glaring. Ninety-five percent of the population of this town is Ahmadis, yet the government has taken steps to deny them their basic rights of representation and assembly. The annual Ahmadiyya religious gathering has been banned since 1984.
In 1989, the District Magistrate disallowed the residents from celebrating the first centenary of the establishment of the Community. They were even forbidden to put up decorative lights outside their homes or to distribute sweets among them. The same absurdity was repeated by the administration on May 27, 2008, the occasion of the Khilafat Centenary. In contrast, religious extremists, most of them non-residents, are allowed to hold meetings and rallies in Rabwah where they indulge in crude personal insults against Ahmadis and their leadership. Even holding of major sports events is prohibited.
Through a legal device, Ahmadis have been deprived of their democratic right to vote. According to rules, Ahmadis may only vote after denying the very basis of their belief system — by declaring themselves Non-Muslim; consequently, the elected town council of Rabwah does not represent 95% of its population. Despite ‘joint electorate’ Ahmadis alone were placed on a separate electoral list in 2013 national elections, so they were thus made to stay away from casting their votes.
There is even a criminal case registered against the entire Ahmadiyya population of Rabwah. It remains open and any Ahmadi from Rabwah can be arrested against this particular FIR at any time. Publication of Ahmadiyya religious literature is forbidden.
Ahmadiyya press is gagged; scores of criminal cases have been registered at the orders of the government against the editors, publishers and printer of Ahmadiyya daily paper and periodicals. They are not permitted to use simple phrases like Amen and Inshallah. The printer in charge of the press has been booked in scores of cases, qualifying him perhaps for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records. The incumbent printer Mr. Tahir M Imtiaz is in prison for over five months in a fabricated case, and the high court has refused him bail.
In 1999, the Punjab Government in a petty display of its power over a disenfranchised community changed the name of Rabwah to Chenab Nagar. On April 30, 1999, authorities arrested the top leaders of Ahmadiyya community on a fabricated charge of defiling the Quran, a charge that could have landed them in prison for life. It was only under international condemnation and pressure that the charges were withdrawn.
The Blasphemy Law
In 1986, the blasphemy law, PPC 295-C, was promulgated. It calls for the death penalty to perpetrators of “blasphemy”. True to the design of its authors, a large number of the victims of this law are Ahmadis even though it is unimaginable for an Ahmadi to countenance defiling the name of the Holy Prophetsa. The Supreme Court remarked in a written judgment in 1993 that an Ahmadi who shows any commitment to the Kalima (Islamic creed) defiles the name of the Holy Prophetsa. Over the years, many governments have come and gone, yet the anti-Ahmadiyya laws as well as the blasphemy laws have remained on the statute book, and Ahmadis are continually being roped in. Since 1984, hardly a day has passed when an Ahmadi was not in prison for his faith.
Till now, 303 Ahmadis have been charged under the Blasphemy law and exposed to the death penalty, while a number of these cases linger in the courts. Pakistan government’s assertion that no Ahmadi has yet been hanged is misleading, as the government policy has encouraged extremists to take law in their own hands and murder Ahmadis. In recent years scores of Ahmadis have been killed only for their faith and hardly any murderer has been punished. This is a text book example of ‘continuing a policy by other means’. In many instances, the murderers and their patrons are well known to the authorities yet no action is taken to bring them to justice.
International human rights organizations have taken notice of this unfortunate situation. Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Advocates Inc. USA, Human Rights Watch etc have published reports on the subject. The UN Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, in 1985, expressed its grave concern over Ordinance XX and urged the Commission to call on the Government of Pakistan to repeal the Ordinance and to restore human rights. Regrettably, however, these expressions of condemnation and concern lack the effectiveness as would compel the authorities in Pakistan to repeal this ordinance, which through the 8th Amendment to the Constitution has now become the law.
There is no let-up in sight. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its verdict of 1993, rejected Ahmadiyya challenge to these laws, thereby bringing the judicial road to efforts to annul them to a cul-de-sac. The Supreme Court not only justified General Zia’s Ordinance XX, it went further to suggest that Ahmadiyya theological position in itself could be considered blasphemous. Democratic regimes of Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif provided no relief to Ahmadis. General Pervez Musharraf placed this issue on a back burner and took care that his dictatorial rule was not affected by any consideration to the freedom of religion for Ahmadis.
The situation worsened after the restoration of democracy in 2008. More Ahmadis were murdered in the initial three years than in the preceding 23 years. The massacre of worshipers in Lahore mosques on May 28, 2010 added a new dimension to the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan. It was revealed in a high-level inquiry that the police protected the terrorists and “venal political influence intervened everywhere”. Terrorists now avail of the anti-Ahmadiyya posture of the state to impose more bloodshed on this vulnerable community. Although religious minorities face difficulties in Pakistan, the Ahmadis are a case apart. Their persecution finds legal cover in the laws of the land. The religious extremists relentlessly exploit this situation, and the state colludes in this exploitation.
Implementation of the National Action Plan after the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar has made little difference to the plight of Ahmadis. Apparently there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but Ahmadis, a faith-based community, have faith and remain hopeful.
August 31, 2015