WASHINGTON – Pakistani Ahmadiyya community leaders are concerned that the recent debate surrounding the status of Muslim groups and the potential for membership in the newly formed minority commission could jeopardize the security of the group.
Saleem ud Din, spokesman of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan, alleges that since the establishment of the National Commission for Minorities last month, Pakistan’s federal cabinet ministers and members of the provincial assembly have used the words “dangerous” and “inflammatory”, inciting civilians to violence against group.
Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Relations, said last week that all forms of “gentle hearts” towards Ahmadis were un-Islamic and not patriotic.
“Anyone who shows sympathy or compassion towards [Ahmadis] not loyal to Islam or the state of Pakistan, “Qadri said during a television interview with local SAMAA TV.
The NCM, a government body to promote the rights of non-Muslim minorities, has members including Hindus, Christians and other minorities. Initially, it was suggested that Ahmadi also get a commission representative.
Prime Minister Imran Khan rejected the idea after sparking strong condemnation from powerful Sunni leaders who regard the Ahmadiyya belief as an insult to Islam.
Community members in Pakistan identify as Muslims and believe that their leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is the messiah prophesied in Islam. This belief is considered by many mainstream Muslims as blasphemy and violation of Pakistan’s constitution, which defines a Muslim as “a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad.”
“One sunny morning, I woke up and I was declared non-Muslim in Pakistan,” ud Din said, referring to constitutional amendments passed by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1974 which declared the group a non-Muslim minority.
“We believe the state does not have the right to break one’s beliefs,” Ud Din, told VOA. “We do not accept minority status and will never sit on a commission that forcibly appoints us as non-Muslims.”
To reach a final decision regarding the controversy, the Punjab Provincial Assembly on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution requiring Ahmadis to agree in writing that they did not consider themselves Muslim. Assembly members said if Ahamdi refused such a request, it would not only ban the community from getting seats in the NMC, but also meant it violated Pakistan’s constitution.
Human rights issues
Human rights organizations in the past have repeatedly voiced concern about the treatment of Ahmadiyah by the Pakistani government. The organizations said Ahmadis were prevented from basic religious rights such as distributing material about their religion or calling their homes worship mosques.
Human Rights Watch Watchdog said widespread harassment and discrimination against the group was embedded in Pakistani law.
“Ahmadis are one of the most persecuted communities in Pakistan and removing them from the minority rights commission is absurd,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Friday. “Removing Ahmadis from the commission shows the extent to which people face discrimination every day.”
U.S. Commission on International Freedom and Religion (USCIRF) in the 2020 Annual Report recommended Pakistan to be re-appointed as a “country of special concern” for violations of religious freedom because of “systematic enforcement of religious defamation and anti-Ahmadiyah laws.” In a statement Tuesday, USCIRF warned against “a surge in anti-Ahmadiyah hate speech” and “incitement to violence” following the government’s decision to ban them from the newly formed commission.
According to Amjad Mahmood-Khan, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community in the US, Ahmadi has been arrested disproportionately under the blasphemy law in Pakistan in recent years.
He said the group also faced a tendency to escalate sectarian violence by radical Sunnis.
“Pakistani police have destroyed the translation of the Ahmadi Qur’an and prohibited the publication of Ahmadiyya, the use of any Islamic terminology regarding Ahmadi Muslim marriage invitations, Ahmadi Muslim funeral offerings, and the display of the Kalima [the principal creed of a Muslim] about Ahmadi Muslim tombstones, “Mahmood-Khan said.
Of the 220 million population of Pakistan, an estimated 4 million are believed to be Ahmadis. Many followers of the community in recent years have left the country and resettled in the West.
One of the Ahmadis, Nahel Shams, told VOA that his home in Pakistan was marked by a “pagan” sign to distinguish it from the houses of neighboring Sunnis.
“It hurts more than others,” said Shams, 30, who settled in Baltimore, Maryland, after leaving Pakistan in 2012. “Some will not accept my greetings because they consider Ahmadiyya as infidels.
“Others told my friends not to eat at my house because they considered food from an Ahmadi to be prohibited. They told my friend that he had to vomit food. “They will spread rumors that Ahmadiyah people spit in their food before serving it to others,” Shams told VOA.
Ahmed, another Ahamdi in the diaspora, applied for political asylum in the US in 2012.
Ahmed, who did not want his real name to be used to protect his identity, said that he was among 23 Ahmadi students who were tortured and then expelled from Punjab Medical College in Faisalabad in 2008. He told VOA that he was accused of allegedly damaging anti-Ahmadi posters. and preaching on campus.
“That is too scary, and discrimination is at a different level,” he said.
“Nobody talked to me or acknowledged me. If I sit somewhere, people will get up and move away. I am not permitted in the campus cafeteria. There is a sign outside the cafeteria which says, ‘Ahmadis and dogs are not permitted,’ “he said.
Discrimination in law
Some Pakistani observers allege that labeling the Ahmadi community as non-Muslim is a legal challenge, allowing Sunni hardliners in the country to claim that they are implementing Pakistan’s constitution by pursuing the group.
“Ahmadi has been declared non-Muslim by law, but their belief says they are Muslim,” Farahnaz Ispahani, a senior colleague at the Institute for Religious Freedom, told VOA.
As Sunni Islamic clerics continue to push their anti-Ahmadiyah narrative, Ispahani said Prime Minister Khan would likely find himself under international pressure to give minorities more religious rights.
“I believe the Khan government wants to calm criticism from the US / European partners about religious freedom without actually giving rights or justice to the Ahmadi community,” said Waris Husain, a Pakistani expert and professor at Howard University’s Law School.
Editor’s Note: The title was updated for clarity on May 18, 2020.
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