Façade of religious harmony and tolerance in Pakistan

Ahmadis residing in Pakistan are not at peace even after their demise

On 13 July, in a village (Tirigri) in Gujranwala, police and locals allegedly removed Islamic symbols from the graves of the members of the Ahmadiyya community. This graveyard was a shared graveyard of the Muslims and Ahmadis till 1967.But after the Ahmadiyya community got the official status of a minority, the Muslims had separated their graveyard.

The Ahmadiyya community is a religious minority in Pakistan. There are between 10 and 20 million people in the world that identify as Ahmadi Muslim. While this seems like a large number, it accounts for less than 2% of the total worldwide Muslim population. The origin of the Ahmadiyya community goes back to the British-ruled India of 1889 in the province of Punjab.Many European missionaries wanted to free Indians “ both Muslims and Hindus of what they characterized as their religious ignorance by bringing them to the truth of Christian traditions. To restore the wholesomeness of Islamic traditions that had once influenced much of South Asia, Ghulam Ahmad reinterpreted branches of Islamic thought. He broadcast the message of reform through his prolific writing.

While most Muslims understand Mohammad as the seal of the prophets, the last sent by God.                                                                                                                      Ghulam Ahmad claimed himself as the prophet. He claimed himself as the final prophet instead of Mohammad. Which caused criticism on the Ahmadiyya by other orthodox Islamic scholars. Even though Ghulam Ahmad faced criticism, his message attracted growing numbers of followers among Muslims struggling to deal with the realities of British rule. In 1889 he inaugurated a small group called the Jamaat-i Ahmadiyya (the Organization of Ahmad), that helped spread his message.

 In 1947 Pakistan became a separate country and Punjab became a province of Pakistan. Because of this contradiction between the Ahmadiyya’s belief and the orthodox Islam, this community had become victim to discrimination. The first major expression of anti-Ahmadi sentiment targeted an Ahmadi, Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, who held the foreign minister’s post in 1953.Some Muslims circulated rumors that Ahmadis proselytized among Muslims and represented a Western-supported conspiracy. This spurred riots throughout the country in 1953 that led to six deaths. Subsequently the government removed all Ahmadis, including Zafarullah Khan from prominent official posts.           

The, anti-Ahmadi sentiment became so strong that in 1974, the Pakistani prime minister declared Ahmadiyya to be non-Muslim. Over time, this declaration led to a ban on the term mosque being used to define Ahmadi places of worship. The hatred towards the Ahmadiyya grew stronger with time and with the second constitutional amendment it was also declared that besides that the Ahmadiyya is view as non-Muslims, they will also face prison sentences if they refer  themselves as such..

The event occurring on the 13 July happened as a follow up action when a complaint was lodged on the 3rd of July 2020 by Muhammad Ikram other locals with the Rahwali Cantonment police to remove the Islamic symbols from the graves. According to the police the complaint was reasonable valid, because under the constitution of Pakistan the Ahmadiyya community are not allowed to use Islamic symbols and by doing so they are creating unrest under the locals.

The deem this unrest the police asked the Ahmadiyya community to sign a petition to remove the Islamic symbols from the gravestones.

Freedom of religion is one of the fundamental Human rights of our international community. It is established in the Human Rights Declaration and ICCPR of which Pakistan is a signatory. Because Pakistan is a signatory to these conventions, Pakistan is obliged to respect this freedom. Even though they are obliged to respect this freedom, reality has shown that Pakistan is not respecting this freedom. As already mentioned, Ahmadiyya’s are not free to practice their religion and when they do, they can face prison sentences.

Although Pakistan was created as a state for Muslims, it was not an Islamic state at the time of its independence in 1947. The country’s founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, emphasized the importance of freedom of religion in his speech to the opening session of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.  As a result, the freedom of religion in Pakistan was guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan for individuals or various and religious sects. In today’s Pakistan, however, intolerance is endorsed and even encouraged by stringent laws that discriminate against religious minorities and even criminalize the religious practices of the Ahmadiyya community.

Since the amendments passing in 1974, the sectarian angst has become integral to Pakistani law. Unlike all other Muslims in the country, Ahmadis are prohibited from calling their place of worship a mosque and saying the common Islamic greeting of Assalamo Alaikum or the testimony of faith, known as the Kalima. They are singled out in their passports and legal identification and cannot hold governmental positions without publicly denouncing Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

It seems like asking, but just as the Pakistani government façade the freedom of religion, this was merely façade of the police. The truth is that the Ahmadiyya community where pressured to sign the petition and had to accept it.