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Religion Fails to Unite Pakistan

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It is strange to witness Muslims killing Muslims. The persecution of Ahmadi community in Pakistan defies the basic principles of Islam. The Ahmadis, a Muslim minority sect numbering between 600,000 and 700,000 in Pakistan, have been victims of a widespread repression led by the state.….writes Dr Shihab Sayeed

 PakistanOn December 12, 2016, when Pakistan was celebrating Eid Milad-un-Nabi, over 2000 Sunni Muslims, led by local clerics, attacked a place of worship used by Ahmadi community in Chakwal, Rawalpindi and threatened the worshippers, damaged the place and forcibly held prayers. The attack was so fierce that scores of Ahmadis fled from their homes and others cowered in fear in hiding.

The attackers indulged in violence and arson freely even as the local police and other security forces either watched mutely or took part in the violence against the Ahmadis. The state sponsorship of the violence against Ahmadis, a minority Muslim sect, was never more blatant. The Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanalluah, instead of condemning the attack and calling for action against the attackers, chose to blame the Ahmadis for taking to the Social Media to vent their angst and cry for helplessness.

The Ahmadis, a Muslim minority sect numbering between 600,000 and 700,000 in Pakistan, have been victims of a widespread repression led by the state. The violence against them has been so widespread and persistent that Ahmadis believe that the state of Pakistan was hell bent up on either driving them out of the country or to the grave. A telling comment was made by a columnist, after the Chakwal attack, in the leading Pak English daily, Daily Times, on December 19, 2016: “The Ahmadi community in Pakistan stands at the brink of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The state’s attitude so far has been extremely callous.“

On December 14, writing in another English daily, Dawn, an independent researcher in Pakistan, Rabia Mehmood, expressed her anguish in these words: “It is an established truth that Pakistan is not good to its citizens who do not practise mainstream Sunni Islam and the status of Ahmadis is a harrowing example of this mistreatment.“

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron MP, Tom Brake MP with the Leader of the community
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron MP, Tom Brake MP with the Leader of the community

The Ahmadis believe that their life is under constant threat and humiliation from birth which extends even beyond their death. If you are a born Ahmadi, you are by default a second class citizen and far worse than other similarly placed minorities like the Hindus and Christians. You cannot practice your religion and you cannot call your mosque a mosque but a place of worship. You cannot read the Quran in public; not quote from it in your mosques. You cannot hold a passport and has no avenues open in government jobs. You cannot wish each other, or anyone else, with the common salutation, aslamvalaikum.

Even after your death, you cannot have any Quranic quote on your tombstone. Gravestones of Ahmadis have been vandalised over the years. The word `Muslim` was erased from the tombstone of the first Muslim Nobel Laureate, Dr Abdus Salaam on a magistrate’s order. Ironically, the Sharif government had recently recognised the Ahmadi scientist’s contribution to the country’s prestige and progress. The attack in Chakwal, which came a few days after the much delayed honour, has with one stroke undone the placating move.

The Ahmadis came under attack of the majority Sunnis within few years of the Independence and their mosques and homes were destroyed in a widespread arson in Lahore, an event which finally culminated in the first military dictatorship. In 1974, Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims by the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government. A decade later, in the infamous ‘Islamisation’ drive of the retrogressive dictator Ziaul Haq, the Ahmadis, like the Shias, were specifically targeted. In 1984, an anti-Ahmadi ordinance was introduced which made practising Ahmadi faith a criminal offence.

The law imposes three-year jail terms on Ahmadis “who directly or indirectly, poses himself as a Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims”.

According to the Dawn article, “students are scared of telling their class fellows about their religion and, in professional spaces, colleagues avoid discussing faith. In short, if you are an Ahmadi in Pakistan, you hide your religious identity.“

This inhuman law opened the floodgates of violence and harassment of the Ahmadis. Since then, 245 Ahmadis have been killed in such attacks, while another 205 have been assaulted, according to the data kept by the Ahmadi community.In 2014 alone, 13 Ahmadis were killed for practising their faith – most in targeted attacks on individuals.

The repression of the Ahmadis has been so systematic and widespread that several rabidly Sunni groups have mushroomed which propagate hatred and violence against the community. One such group is Khatm-e-Nabuwat (Finality of Prophethood), which organises regular rallies and conferences against the Ahmadi community; they call the Ahmadis heretics and call for their killing. The pamphlets distributed by this group, says it was a religious obligation on the part of the Sunnis to kill Ahmadis. It is not a matter of irony but an issue of grave concern while mainstream Pak politicians are found to be hobnobbing with these religious bigots, whose acts are not only criminal and condemnable but also shake the basic tenets of a modern state based upon equality and pluralism.