The 5-million-strong Ahmadi community faces many challenges and persecution at the hands of the Sunni Muslim majority
By Kamran Chaudhry
Amir Mehmood avoids wishing “Assalamo Alaikum,” the Islamic greeting of peace, while addressing audiences in consultations on human rights.
“I apologize. I may end up in prison for three years if someone complains about it. Such practices have led to a brain drain. Many Ahmadis have left the country in the past two decades,” he said.
“Anti-Shia stickers, similar to those targeting our community, are now appearing on multiple shops. Tomorrow it will be Christians or Hindus. The fire that destroys us will reach you as well. I request you to counter this trend in your own interest.”
Mehmood, in charge of the press section of the Anjuman Ahmadiyya association, was referring to the commonly found stickers banning the entrance of Ahmadis to restaurants and business centers around Pakistan.
“Caution! Ahmadis first enter Islam, then this shop,” states a sticker on the door of the burger shop in front of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.
Saeeda Diep, a female activist, posted a similar sticker on her Facebook page.
“Here there is no dealing of any kind with Qadiani and Shia, the enemies of Allah, his Prophet Muhammad, the companions of the prophet and the worst infidels on earth. Therefore don’t bother,” stated a banner at a hardware paint shop.
Mehmood was addressing the Provincial, Policy Advocacy Consultation organized by the Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace in Lahore on March 17.
The commission launched its policy brief on hate speech in Punjab following year-long group discussions with sectarian and religious minorities including Ahmadis.
The Ahmadi community is often referred to by pejorative terms like Lahori group, marzai — a slur that plays on the rank of nobleman or prince — or Qadiani, a reference to Qadian, birthplace of the “prophet” Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
Qadian is located in Gurdaspur district of the Indian-controlled side of Punjab, where the sect was first established in 1889. However, Rabwah, which sits on the banks of the Chenab River, is now considered a sanctuary for Pakistani Ahmadis.
Pakistan’s 5-million-strong Ahmadi community faces many challenges and persecution at the hands of majority Sunni Muslims and a legal system that protects Sunni interests, they claim.
Activists say they are punished for their belief system, which posits sect founder Ahmad as a prophet and Masih Maud as the promised Messiah, or a metaphorical second coming of Jesus. This is considered heresy in mainstream society.
As a result, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared them non-Muslims via a constitutional amendment in 1974, one year into his four-year term in office, after he had already served as president for nearly two years.
Zia-ul-Haq, a four-star general and the nation’s sixth president, followed up on this by promulgating an ordinance that made it a punishable offense for Ahmadis to practice Islam.
The law states that the minority community cannot call themselves Muslim or “pose as Muslims,” an act punishable by three years in prison. By law it is also a punishable offense for Ahmadis to refer to their call to prayer as azan or their places of worship as a mosque.
Since then, the community has issued an advisory to its members to avoid protests and media appearances. Meanwhile, Ahmadis face murder, assault, tyranny, attacks on places of worship, persistent hate campaigns and deprivation of jobs and education.
Persecution in Peshawar
Last week three Ahmadi households in Bazid Khel, Peshawar, fell victim to direct gunfire. In recent months, four Ahmadis were killed in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In February, a procession in Peshawar threatened Ahmadis and demanded they abandon the city.
The spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya community expressed concern over the increase in hate campaigns against Ahmadis in general, especially in Peshawar.
“These attacks are creating a sense of deep insecurity among members of the community while the Ahmadis of Peshawar are living in a deep atmosphere of fear. The perpetrators of this vicious attack [in Bazid Khel] should be brought to justice and the government must put an end to such hate campaigns,” Mehmood said.
According to Mehmood, the violence against Ahmadis in Peshawar escalated after a teenager killed Tahir Nasim, a US citizen accused of blasphemy, inside a court in the northwestern city last July. Nasim was a former member of Pakistan’s Ahmadi minority.
Lawyers and Peshawar police’s elite force later shared selfies with the murderer, who became an instant hero on Pakistani social media.