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Wretched Of The Land

The attack on their mosques exposes the raw wound that is Ahmadi existence here

Wretched Of The Land
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Wretched Of The Land
outlookindia.com
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Ahmadis In Pakistan   Ahmadis In India

Population: 4 million   Population: Estimated to be from 60,000 to 1 million
Headquarters: Rabwah town, Punjab   Headquarters: Qadian in Gurdaspur district, Punjab, where the sect was established. The 2001 census counted roughly 20,000 Ahmadis in Qadian.
Status: Since 1974, declared non-Muslim   Why low numbers: Partition saw the bulk of Ahmadis becoming citizens of Pakistan 
What they can't do: Call themselves Muslim, offer prayers in mosques, quote Quranic verses in their newspaper, propagate their religion   Status: Several high court verdicts say they must be treated as Muslim
Threats from fundamentalists: They say it is ‘permissible to kill' them. Some 2,000 died in riots in 1953, suffered untold misery in 1974. The attacks on them claimed nearly 100 lives.   What they can't do: They don't sit on the Muslim Personal Law Board, but are governed by Muslims

 


As the international media frenetically reported the simultaneous terror attacks on the two mosques of the Ahmadi community in Lahore, Pakistani journalists countenanced an arrantly absurd situation—they were required to eschew the M-word under law. In their dispatches, as poignant as any, the two Ahmadi mosques became mere “places of worship”. Between the two nomenclatures—mosque and place of worship—lies the gulf separating Muslims from non-Muslims in Pakistan. The wishes of Ahmadis do not matter, their own definition of themselves as Muslim counts for nothing. The Constitution of Pakistan declares them as non-Muslim and proscribes the use of the word mosque to describe their places of worship. The defiant can flout the law at their own peril.

Preceding this lexical imposition are decades of religious persecution and threats of violence that prompted many Ahmadis to conceal their identity. But the attack on the two Ahmadi mosques, Baitul Noor and Darul Zikr, in which nearly a hundred people were killed, could well become the cataclysmic event for Ahmadis. Indeed, 24 hours after the attack, Pakistani TV journalist Wajahat S. Khan wrote on his blog, “I am an Ahmadi, my name is Khan. There are four million of me in Pakistan. This Islamic Republic is the only state in the world which has officially declared me to be a non-Muslim. Why? It’s simple. I am an Ahmadi.”

Khan then went on to give voice to the community’s wounds. “Ordinances have been passed against me.... In 1974, a parliament I had voted for adopted a law that outlawed me. You might have noted the effects of that today. As my attackers unleashed their wrath, television networks I watch and love got the location of the bloodshed all wrong. What I call a mosque, they called it a place of worship,” Khan wrote. No doubt, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) targeted the hapless Ahmadis believing it could win them the endorsement of  fundamentalist Muslims to whom the creed of the Ahmadis is anathema. But the TTP’s reprehensible act seems to have only emboldened community leaders to assert their identity and protest vociferously against their persecution in which the Pakistani state is complicit.

On May 30 thus, for the first time ever, leaders of the Ahmadi community held an official press conference in Lahore, where their leaders lamented the discrimination they have faced since 1974—the year in which they were declared non-Muslim. Their list of complaints is heart-rending—they have failed to arrange a major public gathering since 1984 even though groups wanting to kill Ahmadis are routinely allowed to hold meetings; the government has banned their azaan or call to prayers and proscribed them from publishing Quranic verses in the community newspaper, Al Fazal; and no punitive measures have been taken against those in society who have declared them “wajib-ul-qatal” (deserving to be killed).


Terror struck A bloodied worshipper being carried out. AFP (From Outlook, June 14)

Long before the cartographer drew a dividing line on the Indian subcontinent, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad established the sect of Ahmadis in Qadian, Punjab, towards the end of the 19th century. Essentially a reformist movement, Ahmad believed Islam had to be revitalised and propagated worldwide through peaceful means. His was a response, scholars say, to the challenges posed by the Christian and Arya Samaj missionaries.

Like other Muslims, Ahmadis too believe in the oneness of God, accept the Quran as their holy text and face the Kaaba during prayer. There’s one crucial difference, though. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed prophetic status as the Mahdi or Messiah, consequently making him a successor to Prophet Mohammed. This is contrary to the dominant Islamic belief, and the reason for the orthodox to hound the Ahmadi community. Though never really accepted by mainstream Muslims as their brethren, Ahmadi travails really began after Partition when some four million of them became Pakistani citizens overnight. Lahore and other cities witnessed rioting against the Ahmadis in 1953, apparently at the instigation of religious parties. Nearly 2,000 Ahmadis perished, prompting then governor-general Ghulam Muhammad to dismiss the federal cabinet and impose martial law.

Years of relative respite later, the Jamaat-e-Islami launched a violent campaign in 1974 against the Ahmadis following a clash between them and non-Ahmadis at the railway station of Rabwah, a town that’s the headquarter of the sect. The Jamaat agitation compelled the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government to amend the Constitution and define a Muslim “as a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Mohammed”. In addition, the parliament adopted a law declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslim. Under the Islamisation drive of President Gen Zia-ul-Haq, an ordinance was issued on April 26, 1984, that prohibited Ahmadis from preaching or professing their beliefs or posing as Muslim. They couldn’t call their places of worship mosques, pray in non-Ahmadi mosques, perform the Muslim call to prayer, quote the Quran or seek converts.

The situation continued to deteriorate for Ahmadis as different terror groups mushroomed post-9/11. Says Ahmadi leader Qamar Suleman, “All Pakistani extremist religious organisations are against Ahmadis.... Some groups even endorse the idea of killing Ahmadis, terming them infidels. Since no government has ever come down hard on the elements instigating violence, it cannot be absolved of the May 28 tragedy. After this attack, we are very scared. Some of us are thinking of leaving the country.”

There seems to be a design behind this orchestrated violence against Ahmadis. Pakistan human rights commission chairperson Asma Jahangir believes that the politics of fanning religious frenzy on the basis of sectarianism is intrinsically linked to creating an environment for breeding nurseries of terrorism. “It creates a culture of intolerance that is inimical to all democratic values,” she told Outlook. “It is not a matter of an ideological battle between the liberals and the rightists. If the scourge of terrorism is to be eliminated, it can only be done by defeating its fascist ideology and subscribing to undiluted democratic and civilised values.”

Indeed, for Pakistan to reclaim its liberal soul, it is important to consider the May 28 assault on Ahmadis, as its national newspaper The Daily Times suggested, as an assault on every Pakistani.

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