Rabwah: A Place for Martyrs?
That was the title of a Report of the PHRG mission that visited Rabwah in 2006. This report received good press in Pakistan, and a number of prominent column writers wrote columns in support of that report. As no member of that mission is included in the present mission, it is needful to present a small brief on this town’s past and present situation.
Rabwah was established by Ahmadis in 1948. Ninety-five percent of its 60,000 population is Ahmadi. It is the headquarters town of the community in Pakistan, and in a way its world headquarters. It suffered its heaviest blow when in 1984 it lost its crown in that the Khalifatul Masih was left with no option but to migrate from here.
Soon after the promulgation of the anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance XX, the government of General Zia took several steps in league with the mulla. A number of mullas were facilitated to be posted in and around Rabwah whose sole function was to indulge in anti-Ahmadiyya activities. A mulla Allah Yar Arshad once claimed to his credit registration with police of 40 criminal cases based on religion against Ahmadis. A large number of Ahmadis of Rabwah, hundreds of them, have suffered prosecution in courts under the anti-Ahmadiyya laws.
This tyranny through bad laws reached its climax when the entire Ahmadi population was booked by the police in 1989, and again in 2008. Rabwah is the only town in Pakistan where any citizen can be arrested anytime by the police, as the relevant FIR has remained open.
As if the imposition of non-Muslim status was not enough, the government had earlier proceeded to unlawfully usurp Ahmadiyya-owned land on the west bank of the river Chenab in 1975, and allocated it to non-Ahmadis to establish a Muslim Colony where extremist mullas subsequently built a big seminary, a congregational mosque and a clinic of Al-Rashid trust, an organization now banned for its terrorist links. This neighborhood is a hub of anti-Ahmadiyya activities. Its special target is Rabwah itself.
Since 1984, the government has not permitted Ahmadis to hold their annual religious conference here, while non-Ahmadi mullas are routinely permitted every year to hold two or three major open-air conferences in Rabwah. Participants and fiery speakers are transported to Rabwah from other cities. These sectarian events pose a serious threat to citizens of Rabwah. It is noteworthy that while the authorities grant the freedom of assembly to all, be they jihadists, racists, anarchists, extremists, communists, atheists, whatever – but not to Ahmadis, who have not been permitted to hold their peaceful traditional religious conference for 25 years.
Ahmadis of Rabwah were disallowed to peacefully celebrate their centenary in 1989. The government forbade them to illuminate their houses, distribute sweets to children and serve food to the poor. The authorities repeated the exercise in May 2008 when Ahmadis wanted to celebrate the Centenary of Ahmadiyya Khilafat.
Community level sports programs are also not permitted. Pakistan Amateur Basketball Association arranged a championship in Rabwah in April 2008, but the authorities, urged by the mulla, employed police and forced the Association to cancel the championship. Players who had arrived in Rabwah had to go back without playing.
Rabwah was reputed for its schools and colleges. Non-Ahmadis also availed of their high standard of education. The government nationalized them along with others in 1972. However, the government has changed its policy in recent years, and has denationalized most of those who applied for it, but not the Ahmadiyya institutions although Ahmadis have met all the prescribed pre-conditions. The standard of these nationalized schools and colleges has plummeted to a low level which has done irreparable damage to the education of Rabwah children and youth
The Ahmadiyya press at Rabwah is denied the freedom of press that everyone else enjoys in Pakistan. The Ahmadiyya daily Alfazl was disallowed publication for 3 ½ years. Ahmadi editors, publishers, printers were booked in a record number of police cases. They suffered arrests and prosecution for years. These difficulties continue to-date.
In 1999, the government even changed the name of Rabwah, against the wishes of its inhabitants. This was a frightful blow to the basic rights of its residents. This was undertaken by the government of Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, who is ruling the Punjab once again.
Last but certainly not the least is the case of the Rabwah town council. The government has implemented such rules and procedures that Ahmadis not only cannot contest the local government elections, they cannot even vote. As such, not a single councilor in the town council of this Ahmadiyya town is an Ahmadi. The council does not represent the town’s population; so they pay no heed to the plight of the town. Its water supply, sewage system, state of cleanliness, etc are in a deplorable state. Apart from 2 or 3 kilometers of the roads in city centre, the rest are as if they are in a war zone. The daily Ausaf, Lahore of May 31, 2009 gave the following headlines to its story on Rabwah: Report is sought over Ausaf report on the deplorable state of Chenab Nagar. No drinking water, substandard sewage system, worn out roads, negligence of TMA Heaps of filth stink and depots of filth help in breeding poisonous mosquitoes, flies and other insects
Rabwah continues to suffer not only municipal neglect but also persistent tyranny from the state. It is a mirror of the plight of Ahmadis in the entire country.