Prisoners of Faith: The Ahmadis in Pakistan

18-12-2014

“You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship... You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

- Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder (1947)

 On August 11, 1947 these words started a new chapter for Pakistan and its people. They still symbolize the inclusive and tolerant vision of Pakistan’s past. However, these words also highlight the contradiction of the reality of Pakistan’s present. The Preamble of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees “[…]fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic, political justice, and freedom of thought, expression belief, faith, worship and association, subject to law and public morality.”[1] However the Preamble hardly reflects the current reality of religious minorities in Pakistan. The state is failing to fulfill the words of its founder and its constitution with the lack of concrete action to protect religious minorities. Amongst the numerous religious minorities in Pakistan, the Ahmadiyya community is one of the most discriminated.

The Ahmadiyya community has its origins in British-controlled northern India in the late 19th century, identifies itself as a Muslim movement and follows the teachings of the Koran. The community was named after its leader and founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who was born in 1835, and later reckoned as the messiah and a prophet by his followers. However, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s prophetic status is rejected by the orthodox Muslims. They believe that Mohammed was the final prophet sent to guide mankind.

In 1974, Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims[2], despite the fact that such a declaration violates Pakistan’s own Constitutional provisions, specifically articles 8-27 on Fundamental rights.  The constitution states that “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion; and every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions”.[3]

The ‘Takfiri’[4] ideology forced many Ahmadis into exile, resulting in severe discrimination, persecution and violation of their basic human rights. The confrontation between the majority and minority Muslim groups creates a dimension that is not present in the conflicts with other (non-Muslim) minority groups. Ahmadis claim of belonging to the larger Muslim community offends the Muslim majority (both Shia and Sunni) in Pakistan, thus causing severe discrimination on the religious grounds.

The most obvious example of discriminatory law towards Ahmadis can be found in the Pakistan Penal Code. Ahmadi’s are prohibited from calling themselves Muslims and using Islamic words and phrases.[5] The so-called Anti-Blasphemy Law[6], prescribed the death penalty as the appropriate punishment for blasphemy, was originally directed against Ahmadis. This means that Ahmadis could be sentenced to death for simply professing their faith. Therefore, many Ahmadis avoid publicly professing their religious identity out of fear of becoming targets of discriminatory practices.  They are punished for alleged words and beliefs meanwhile violent acts against them easily remain without retaliation. After a 6-year informal moratorium on death sentence in Pakistan, the renewed practice is particularly threatening to the members of the Ahmaddiya community.

A clear example of the everyday discriminatory practices against Ahmaddis took place on 12th May 2014, an Ahmadis community member got involved in an argument with a local Muslim shop owner[7]. As a conclusion of their argument the owner, unsatisfied with the result of the fight, filed blasphemy charges against him and three other Ahmadis who accompanied the man.  The police of Sharaqpur arrested them to later jailed them without conducting proper investigation. Later on, a young man came to the police station police uniform and called for all 4 alleged Ahmadis for further questioning. When they came, the man wearing the uniform opened fire on one of detainees, who died at the spot. The constable at the station arrested the man, who is currently in the prison. His case has been in court ever since, and the final verdict is expected to be announced soon. The incident, unsurprisingly, also received media attention[8]. The majority of the media coverage, however, was inadequate, as it contained numerous factual errors.[9]

Attacks towards the Ahmadiyya community, clearly based on discrimination on religious grounds, are commonplace in Pakistan. Our partner organization visited a senior journalist of Chenab Nagar who belongs to the Ahmadiyya community in one of their fact-finding missions. The journalist also declared that Ahmadis are indeed not treated as Muslims and their rights are, therefore, not recognized by rejecting their religious affiliation. Government of Punjab remains indifferent with their lack of action against the offenders who harass and threaten the Ahmadi Community in different areas of Pakistan. The Ahmadiyya community of Chenab Nagar constantly pleads local administration and police authorities to identify and penalize such offenders.

On 22nd May 2014, a 50-years old  renowned cardiac surgeon, member of Jamiaat-e-Ahmadiyya, went to Pakistan with his family in order to conduct research and voluntarily work at Tahir Heart Hospital in Rabwah[10]. For the last couple of year, the surgeon lived and practiced medicine in the USA. The doctor did not receive any threats upon his arrival to Pakistan until one day on 26th May, 2014 he went to the mosque to pray with his family. After the prayer the doctor, as he was entering a graveyard, two unidentified persons on motorbikes shot him at gunpoint. The doctor died immediately. The perpetrators easily escaped from the place of the shooting. Despite almost 5 months of investigation, the perpetrators are yet to be identified and arrested by the Police Authorities of Chenab Nagar.

In Pakistan, the Ahmadiyya community does not live, but rather survives at very high risk. The hatred environment and aggression against them is currently at its peak. The actions of media, government and judiciary are disappointing. The community constantly calls for the end of Pakistan's surreal inversion of justice. Basic law enforcement, along with the reform or repeal of the abusive blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws, are the necessary steps towards ending such injustice.


[1] Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Preamble p1., http://www.na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1333523681_951.pdf

[2] Chapter 5: Interpretation, article 260, definitions, 2/(b), p 155, http://www.na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1333523681_951.pdf

[3] Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Chapter 1:Fundamental Rights, article 20

[4] A takfiri is a Muslim who accuses another Muslim (or an adherent of another Abrahamic faith) of apostasy.

[5] “any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves 'Ahmadis' or by any other name), 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 shall be punished with imprisonment of either  description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”

Pakistan Penal Code nr.298-C. http://www.pakistani.org/pakistan/legislation/1860/actXLVof1860.html

[7] GHRD fact finding investigation 2014

[9] e.g. they have not conducted proper investigation and reported the offender as a minor boy aged 13

[10] GHRD fact finding investigation 2014

Medical Health camp at Gazipur, Dhaka organized by GHRD

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Ahmedi Pakistani community has boycotted elections for 30 years.