By Ambreen Agha*
The Ordinance promulgated by the President (of Pakistan) on April 26, 1984, goes a long way in accepting the most extreme demands and transforms much of the daily life of the Community into a criminal offence. — Yohanan Friedman, Prophecy Continuous (1989)
On June 4, 2016, an Ahmadi doctor, identified as Dr. Hameed Ahmed (65), was shot dead by unidentified militants in the Islam Colony area of Attock District of Punjab. Dr Hameed had been facing threats and intimidation on account of being an Ahmadi. In 2014, his clinic had survived an attempted arson attack.
On May 25, 2016, another Ahmadi, identified as Daud Ahmad (55), was killed in a targeted attack while he was waiting for his friend outside his house in the Gulzar-e Hijri area of Gulshan Town in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh.
On March 2, 2016, in another such attack, an Ahmadi, identified as Qamarul Zia (35), was killed for his faith in the Kot Abdul Malik city of the Sheikhupura District of Punjab. Zia was killed while he was leaving his house to fetch his children from school. Zia’s murder marked the first killing of an Ahmadi in 2016. Zia had survived several attacks in the past. Six months ago, he was attacked by cadres of the Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nubuwwat (MTKN/Organization for the Preservation of the End of Prophethood. Zia had also been attacked by some religious clerics in 2012.
According to Persecution of Ahmadis, an organization that documents violence against Ahamdis in Pakistan and rest of the world, at least 194 Ahmadis have been killed in Pakistan since 2001 [data till 2015]. Two Ahmadis were killed in 2015, 11 in 2014, seven in 2013, 10 in 2012, five in 2011, 99 in 2010, 11 in 2009, six in 2008, five in 2007, three in 2006, 11 in 2005, one in 2004, three in 2003, nine in 2002 and 11 in 2001.
According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) data, at least three Ahmadis have been killed in targeted attacks in 2016, thus far (Data till June 19, 2016).
In the worst ever attack on the Ahmadis, at least 86 worshippers of the community were killed and another 98 were severely injured in a suicide attack at Darul Zikr and Baitul Noor mosques in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, on May 28, 2010. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack and congratulated Pakistanis, calling people of the Ahmadiyya community “enemies of Islam and common people”. The outfit urged Pakistanis to take the “initiative” and kill every such person in “rage”.
Ahmadis differ with other Muslim sects over the finality of Prophet Muhammad as the last Prophet. The Ahmadi branch of Islam was founded on March 23, 1889, by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in Qadian town of pre-partition Punjab. They believe in the Prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and have endured discrimination and violent persecution for holding this belief. An estimated 10 to 20 million Ahmadis live all over the world, representing 1 per cent of the total Muslim population. The core community lives in Pakistan, mainly in Punjab and Sindh Provinces. The estimated population of Ahmadis in Pakistan is 2-4 million out of the total population of over 192 million, amounting to 3.1 per cent to 4.2 per cent of the total.
The campaign against Ahmadis started soon after Independence in 1947, when religious clerics in the newly created Pakistan demanded that Ahmadis be declared a non-Muslim minority, and that Pakistan’s first Ahmadi Foreign Minister, Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, be removed from the cabinet for adopting Articles 18 and 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948), providing for the freedom of conscience and freedom to change one’s religion. Khan had then argued that these articles were compatible with and recognized under Islamic Law (Shariah), and declared the adoption of the provisions of the UDHR as an “epoch making event.” Article 18 of UDHR influenced Article 20 of the then Pakistan Constitution, which read:
Subject to law, public order and morality:- (a) every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion; (b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.
Violence against Ahmadis started in March 1953, engulfing Punjab to claim over a dozen lives. However, the persecution of Ahmadis was systematically institutionalized on September 6, 1974, when the Pakistan National Assembly under the leadership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared them as a ‘non-Muslim minority’. The process to dilute the provisions of Article 20 was, in fact, initiated by Bhutto, in 1974. Later, in 1984, President General Zia-ul-Haq issued an ordinance to amend the Objectives Resolution of 1949, in an effort to placate Muslim clerics and establish the principal of religious conformity in Pakistan. Under this resolution, Pakistan was to be modeled on the ideology and democratic faith of Islam and all rules and regulations were to be framed in consonance with Islam, allowing a greater role to the Ulema, who felt emboldened by this recognition.
Thereafter, five Criminal Ordinances explicitly or principally targeting religious minorities were passed by Parliament in 1984. These new laws restricted the freedom of faith for Ahmadis, among others. The five ordinances included a law against blasphemy; a law punishing the defiling of the Qur’an; a prohibition against insulting the wives, family or companions of the Prophet of Islam; and two laws specifically restricting the activities of Ahmadis. Zia-ul-Haq issued the last two laws as part of Martial Law Ordinance XX, on April 26, 1984, suppressing the activities of religious minorities, specifically including the Ahmadis, by prohibiting them from “directly or indirectly posing as Muslims.” Since then, a number of Ahmadi Muslims have been jailed for either reciting the Qur’an, or praying like a Muslim, or identifying themselves as Muslims.
Even as the persecution of Ahmadis was legalized and institutionalized in Pakistan, the hard-line Islamist clergy demanded a systematic purge of the Ahmadis. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) aggressively pushed this agenda and its leaders boasted of the anti-Ahmadi initiatives as the Party’s most noteworthy achievement. Indeed, even today, former Prime Minister and PPP leader Raja Parvez Ashraf, speaking at a political rally in Kotli, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, on April 29, 2016, declared,
No one has been able to compete with Pakistan People’s Party, if someone has served Islam! Only the Government of Martyr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto did it. 90 Year Old Problem, the Problem of Qadianis [Ahmadis] who challenged the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, (PPP) shut them up, broke their neck and buried the [Ahmadi] Problem (sic).
The rally was also attended by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and another former PPP Prime Minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani. Such statements by a former Prime Minister reek of hate and intolerance and are a demonstration of the dangers of religious prejudice and persecution that are nurtured by the Pakistani establishment and that have now travelled beyond Pakistan’s borders.
The ideology of intolerance and hate, which triggered the growth of extremism in Pakistan, also operates within the Pakistani Diaspora. The hatred for the Ahmadi has thus been exported to western countries as well. Recently, in an unprecedented anti-Ahmadi incident in the UK, an Ahmadi shopkeeper, identified as Asad Shah (40), was stabbed to death by another British Muslim in Scotland on March 24, 2016. Shah’s killer was identified as Tanveer Ahmad, a 32-year old Pakistani Muslim. Ahmad expressed no regrets for killing Shah and claimed that he had committed the act because Shah had “disrespected Islam,” and was a blasphemer. Significantly, Ahmad received praise from radical Sunni groups for this “courageous act”. The Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e- Nubuwwat (AMTKN / International Organization for the Preservation of the End of Prophethood), the sister organization of the MTKN, congratulated all Muslims on Asad’s cold-blooded murder on its Facebook page, in a gloating message “congratulation to All Muslims.”
Further, on April 10, 2016, leaflets calling for the killing of members of the Ahmadi sect were found in the Stockwell Green Mosque located in south London. The leaflets warned Ahmadis to either convert to ‘mainstream Islam’ within three days or face “capital punishment” [death].
Back in Pakistan, a Canadian cardiologist, identified as Mehdi Ali Qamar (51), was shot dead on his return to his home in the Chenab Nagar town (also known as Rabwah) of Chiniot District in the Punjab Province on May 24, 2014. Qamar had come to Pakistan on a short visit to render voluntary service to the Tahir Cardiac Hospital and was killed outside the Ahmadi graveyard located in Rabwah.
Shah’s murder in Glasgow and the targeted sectarian killings in Pakistan bring an embedded culture of sectarian hatred to the forefront. This culture is fostered by organizations like MTKN that have gained political, legal and constitutional legitimacy in the ‘Land of the Pure’.
MTKN was established by its mother organization, Majlis Ahrar Islam Pakistan (Organization for the freedom of Islam in Pakistan) prior to the 1953 anti-Ahmadi riots and soon after the partition of the sub-continent. It declares on its website,
Its sole aim has been and is to unite all the Muslims of the world to safeguard the sanctity of Prophethood and the finality of Prophethood and to refute the repudiators of the belief in the finality of Prophethood of the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad.
The MTKN cult of violence against the Ahmadis, which includes endured discrimination, violent persecution, criminalization of identity, vandalizing of mosques and homes; and desecration of graves, has been transported to the west. A 2010 AMTKN calendar read, “The only cure of Qadianis (Ahmadis): Al Jihad, Al Jihad.”
The anti-Ahmadi culture and sentiment thrives with the unchecked circulation of hate literature. The anti-Ahmadi text ‘Tohfa Qadianiat’ written by Maulvi Yusuf Ludhianvi, in which he urges ‘ true Muslims’ to “not to leave a single Qadiani alive on earth”, is openly sold across Pakistan. Significantly, on June 10, 2011, the All Pakistan Students Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Federation, the student wing of the MTKN, issued pamphlets branding members of the Ahmadiyya community as “wajib-ul-qatl” (obligatory to be killed). The pamphlet, circulated in the Faisalabad District of Punjab Province, read, “To shoot such people is an act of jihad and to kill such people is an act of sawab (blessing).” Worse, in an outrageous attempt to further restrict the religious freedom of Ahmadis, the Government of Punjab on May 10, 2015, banned more than 90 books and publications by the members of the Ahmadi community. These books primarily include the whole body of work by the founder of the community.
Such state-backed religious zealotry has cost many innocent Ahmadi lives. Anti-Ahmadi violence persists inside Pakistan, with little to no effective Pakistani Government response at Federal, Provincial, or local levels. While the claims of “success against the militants” in tribal areas continue to resound at high decibels, attacks on Ahmadis occur unchecked. On November 13, 2013, Mehboob Qadir, a retired Brigadier of the Pakistan Army, wrote in Daily Times “The state has lost its sense of responsibility, control, direction, leaving the field open to all sorts of rogues, ruffians and assassins from all over the world in the name of jihad.” Regrettably, there is little evidence that the Pakistani state is now prepared to abandaon this long-standing policy of employing terrorism as an instrument of state policy and for domestic political management.
* Ambreen Agha
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management