Editor’s note: It’s a shame that two Pakistani newspapers, Express Tribune and The News, refused to publish this excellent article by Aaker Patel on a much ignored topic. (This is notwithstanding some valid concerns about the last paragraph as outlined in the comments section in this post.) Pakistan’s most persecuted community, Ahmadiyya Muslims, face constitutional and legal discrimination, institutional harassment and frequent acts of violence by Pakistan army-supported Jihadi-sectarian organizations. This exposes the shallowness and hypocrisy of Pakistan’s English press which claims to represent liberal and progressive ideology but in practice remains tightly aligned with the interests and policies of Pakistan’s military establishment and its Jihadi-sectarian affiliates. Recently, The Friday Times which claims to be a voice of Pakistan’s liberal elites published at least four article (in one issue) which misrepresented Pakistan’s most target killed faith group, Shia Muslims. At least one article in TFT also misrepresented the suffering of Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya Muslims. This shows that it’s not only right wing extremists but also urban elites (fake liberals) who are contributing to the sufferings of Pakistan’s oppressed and persecuted communities. Here’s a copy of Mr. Patel’s column published in Live Mint.
I wrote this piece for the two Pakistani newspapers where I write columns, but they did not publish it. These papers are quite liberal, and their editors open-minded. This is the first time they’ve done this, and I see their point. The subject is difficult.
Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community praying in Chenab Nagar, Pakistan, in July 2010. Photo: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.
It is about a sect of Muslims, originally all Punjabi, who are disliked in India and Pakistan. They are called Ahmadis, from the sect’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Or they are called Qadianis, from Mirza Ahmad’s hometown of Qadian in Gurdaspur on the Indian side.
Muslims in both India and Pakistan think Qadianis are apostates, betrayers of Islam, what is called murtadd in Arabic. Pakistan’s passport application forms have this declaration that all Muslims must sign: “I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Quadiani to be an imposter nabi and also consider his followers whether belonging to the Lahori or Quadiani group, to be non-Muslims.”
Why force Muslims to sign this? Actually, the reason for this cruel wording is to ensure that Ahmadis do not sign it. But why? To deny them access to Mecca, where Saudis permit Muslims alone to enter. Pakistan’s four million Ahmadis are denied their religious obligation of Haj through this device. Pakistan’s electorate is separated into Muslim and non-Muslim categories. This means Ahmadis cannot vote in Pakistan, because the state doesn’t recognize them as Muslim and Ahmadis don’t consider themselves non-Muslim. Indian Ahmadis are more fortunate, but not because Indian Muslims are more open-minded.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad with his son in a picture before 1900. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Indian Express reported on 25 September that an Ahmadi exhibition of the Quran in 53 languages was not allowed to be held in Delhi. Jama Masjid’s Imam Bukhari was arrested with 55 other Muslims who threatened the exhibition. A dozen or so years ago, Darul Uloom Deoband’s and Nadwa’s clerics issued a joint fatwa prohibiting Indian Muslims from social and commercial interaction with Ahmadis. They were warned specifically against offering a thirsting Ahmadi water. I wrote an editorial against this, immediately getting the proprietor of my newspaper (who was Muslim) into trouble with Urdu newspapers. Pakistan’s The Express Tribunereported on 8 October that 10 students, including seven girls, and a female teacher were expelled from two schools near Faisalabad after the village learnt they were Ahmadis.
On 28 May 2010, two Ahmadi mosques were attacked in Lahore and 93 Ahmadis were slaughtered. Reporting the mosque attacks live, Pakistan’s television channels called them “Ahmadi places of worship”. Calling themmasjid or mosque means up to three years in jail (section 298b). Three years in jail for the Ahmadi who refers to his prayer call as an azan.
Why such hatred? Let’s try to understand the Ahmadi faith.
At the age of 40, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (died 1908) said he began receiving visions. In one, he saw himself writing some decrees about the future and placing them for God’s approval. God, who “looked like a judge or a ruler”, flicked the pen first to get the ink flowing, and signed. When Mirza Ahmad woke, his shirt was spattered with red ink. This message from God qualified Ahmad as a prophet. This is unacceptable to Muslims because they insist God will communicate with no human of any faith after Muhammad’s death. That line has permanently gone dead.
Despite his visions, Mirza Ahmad personally did not claim prophethood. He denounced Judaism and Christianity as error, and once also claimed he was an avatar of Vishnu. Muslims believe Jesus did not die on the cross, but ascended to heaven when alive. Mirza Ahmad said Jesus died not on the cross, but in India. Judgement Day would bring not Jesus, as Muslims and Christians believed, but him. Other than his claim of receiving visions, this is the second thing that is seen as problematic.
Mirza Ahmad’s followers are split into two groups.
The points of Islam on which all Ahmadis agree with other Muslims are: Shahada (“there’s no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”), prayer, fasting, giving alms and Haj. All Ahmadis consider themselves Sunni. Ahmadis don’t believe in taweez (amulets), in jinns, in dargahs and in pirs. In these things, therefore, they appear to resemble conservative Muslims rather than heretics.
On the issue of prophethood, Ahmadis are split. The smaller Lahori group accepts the finality of prophet Muhammad and considers Mirza Ahmed only a renewer.
The main Qadiani allows space for Mirza Ahmad’s “minor” prophecies. On 25 March 1938, Maulana Maudoodi accepted the Lahori Ahmadis as Muslim, but not the Qadianis.
Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s foreign minister, and Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s Nobel laureate, were both from the Qadiani group. The May 2010 massacres in Lahore were of the Qadiani group.
Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1974, Pakistan’s national assembly unanimously declared both groups non-Muslims. Under General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, in 1984, laws were passed criminalizing the practise of religion by Ahmadis.
On 21 November 1996, Salam died in Oxford. His body was brought to Pakistan for burial in Rabwah, a city on the river Chenab built by Ahmadis. His tombstone referred to him as “the first Muslim Nobel laureate for his work on physics”. A Pakistani judge ordered the word “Muslim” to be defaced. It now reads “first Nobel laureate”. Even in death, Pakistan will deny the Ahmadi his faith.
Two years later, on 17 November 1998, Pakistan’s Punjab assembly under Shahbaz Sharif voted to rename Rabwah because it is a Quranic name. Rabwah became Nawan Qadian (New Qadian) against the will of its residents. Some Muslims were uneasy at having to say the despised word “Qadian”. On 14 February 1999, it was again renamed. Rabwah is now called Chenab Nagar.
Mirza Ahmad liked British rule because they gave full religious freedom and legal protection to their subjects. Though some of his teachings are contradictory, he seemed on the whole to be moderate in his interpretations and in his outlook.
There is another thing that gets Muslims worked up about Ahmadis. This is Mirza Ahmad’s undoing of jihad.
He told Muslims to give up qital (jihad’s violent aspect) entirely. His followers, he said, “would have nothing to do with war and fighting”.
“Armed jihad ends, and only the jihad to purify your souls remains,” he said. Jihad of the pen in place of jihad of the sword. Both Qadiani and Lahori groups hold this to be true. All Ahmadis reject Al Qaeda without qualification. It is difficult not to be attracted to such Gandhian pacifism.
In Lahore 10 years ago to speak at the Kinnaird College for Women, I was rattled by the snarling response from a professor there, a woman who till that moment was quite sophisticated, when someone in our dinner group mentioned Ahmadis. She felt they were rightly being punished for their religion, and this is the view of Pakistanis across class.
I would say some of the responsibility for their persecution lies with Pakistan’s Ahmadi community. They will reject this, and it is a callous thing to say given their state, but it is true. They were enthusiastic supporters of the two-nation theory, and of Pakistan. Sir Zafarullah Khan championed the Islamizing of Pakistan through its infamous Objectives Resolution of 1949. Ahmadis crossed over to do jihad in Kashmir, ignoring Mirza Ahmad’s wisdom. They raised a group of mujahideen there called Furqan Force to cleanse it of Hindu rule.
Such bigotry against other faiths usually invites punishment against your own. For the apostates of Pakistan, it has.
Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.
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