By Mohammed Hanif
October 19, 2017
This country has a poor
record of protecting its religious minorities, but we outdo ourselves when it
comes to Ahmadis. Members of the sect insist on calling themselves Muslims, and
we mainstream Muslims insist on treating them like the worst kind of heretics.
The day I wrote this piece, a small headline
in a newspaper informed me that an Ahmadi lawyer, his wife and two-year-old
child had been shot dead by gunmen at home, for being Ahmadis. Killings like
this have happened so many times that the story wasn’t even the main news. On
May 28, 2010, some 90 Ahmadis were killed during attacks on two mosques in
Lahore. No public official attended the funerals.
You would think that the government, law
enforcers and the courts would do something about such sustained acts of
brutality. But they are too hard at work. I learned from another recent
headline that a district court near Lahore, in eastern Pakistan, had sentenced
three Ahmadi men to death for blasphemy. A fourth man was shot dead before the
trial while in police custody.
It is always prudent not to ask what
blasphemous act is said to have been committed, because under the law,
repeating something blasphemous can itself constitute blasphemy. According to
one newspaper report, the men were on trial for attempting to remove from wall
religious posters that incited hatred against Ahmadis. That’s right, they were
sentenced to death for taking down posters that incited people to kill them.
(The prosecution argued that since the posters were religious, removing them
was an insult to the Prophet Muhammad.)
The Ahmadi (or Ahmadiyya) sect is a
reformist movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad toward the end of the 19th
century in the city of Qadian, in what is today the Indian part of Punjab.
Ahmad claimed to be the incarnation of a Messiah promised in Islamic holy
texts. That challenged the mainstream Muslim belief that Muhammad is Islam’s
last and final prophet. Ahmad was accused of being an agent of the British
There are no reliable statistics about the
number of Ahmadis in Pakistan today. Many Ahmadis don’t publicly identify as
Ahmadi; others refuse to take part in the census. Estimates range from 500,000
to four million.
In 1974, Pakistan’s elected Parliament
declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. Religious parties had held street protests
demanding this, and even though Parliament back then was full of liberals and
socialists, there was hardly a dissenting voice when the time came to pass the
Our Parliament today is still at it. Last
week Muhammad Safdar, a son-in-law of the recently deposed prime minister,
thundered against Ahmadis, demanding they be banned from joining the armed
forces. He also demanded that a physics department of a university in Islamabad
be renamed because in 2016 it was named after Abdus Salam, the only Pakistani
scientist to become a Nobel laureate. The Pakistani government had already
taken close to four decades to name anything after Mr. Salam, a theoretical
physicist, because he was Ahmadi. It appears that not a single parliamentarian
spoke up against Mr. Safdar’s diatribe.
Earlier this month, Parliament also changed
the oath that Pakistanis are required to take to get a passport or run in an
election. A standard version of the statement goes: “I hereby solemnly declare
that I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an impostor Nabi and
also consider his followers, whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group,
to be non-Muslims.” (Nabi means prophet.) Language in the election law was
changed from “I solemnly declare” to “I believe.”
It’s not clear why this happened. The government
claims it was a clerical error. But there was a public uproar over the change,
including accusations that the government was going soft on Ahmadis. Parliament
promptly backtracked, and we all resumed solemnly declaring rather than just
The word “Ahmadi” was hardly even used
during the debate in Parliament. We prefer to call the Ahmadis “Qadianis,”
meaning from Qadian. Ahmadis consider the word derogatory, which is why we use
I got a call a few months ago from my
family who still lives in my ancestral village in Punjab. A stranger had come
asking about me, I was told. He claimed to be my friend from school. While I
was still trying to put a forgotten face to the name, my relative asked, “Is
your friend a Qadiani?” I suddenly remembered the boy from my school who was
indeed a friend and happened to be Ahmadi. I asked the relative, “How did you
know he was a Qadiani?” The reply shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did. “I
have an inbuilt Qadiani detector. I can always smell them.”
I wanted to remind my relative that when I
was a kid and he was a young man, all his best friends were Ahmadis and I had
seen him locked in our bathroom smoking his first cigarette with those
infidels. But then I remembered the slap.
It must have been around 1974. I was about
nine years old and was taking my Quran lessons. My teacher was gentle. At the
time, protesters in the bazaars were asking shoppers not to go to Ahmadi-owned
shops. I asked my teacher who the Ahmadis were, and he patiently explained that
they were heretics, because they challenged the notion that Muhammad was
Islam’s last prophet. I said, even if they are heretics, does Islam say we
can’t buy stuff from their shops? The slap was full and hard.
As I grew up, Ahmadis went from being
treated as zealous reformist Muslims to non-Muslims to Kafir, or heretics —
worse even than Hindus or Jews. In the mid-1980s, a decade after Ahmadis were
declared non-Muslims, another set of laws forbade them to act like Muslims.
This is the tricky bit, because Ahmadis insist
on calling themselves Muslim and behave like Muslims. They pray in mosques,
they call out the Azaan at prayer time, they say “Assalam Alaikum,” they invoke
Allah’s will or his mercy — and every time they do any of the above, they
violate the law of the land. If they call their mosque a mosque, they become
criminals. If they call their daily prayers Namaz, as Muslims do, they risk
imprisonment. Ahmadis have been charged with blasphemy for printing a verse of
the Quran on wedding invitations.
Early this month, I saw Pakistan’s foreign
minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, give an interview on television. He had just
returned from a tour of the United States and had been accused of hobnobbing
with Ahmadis while there. He was at pains to explain that he had never met an
Ahmadi in his life. To prove his point, he said that once, while he was sitting
in a restaurant in Islamabad, two boys came up to get a selfie with him. “I
asked them, ‘I hope you are not Qadianis.’” The foreign minister and the show
host shared a hearty laugh.
I called up my long-lost Ahmadi friend
recently and the brief conversation that followed was full of blasphemies. He
was acting all Muslim. “Assalam Alaikum,” he greeted me. By the grace of Allah,
he said, he still has a job. Sometimes, when people suspect him of being
Ahmadi, he is thrown out of shops or business meetings. But Allah is kind, my
friend insisted. His wife, a teacher of fashion design, still has a job at a
university — though she doesn’t use the staff room because some people have
become suspicious. The kids are doing well, thanks to Allah, but he has told
them not to tell even their closest friends that they are Ahmadis.
He tried to make us both feel better:
Thanks to Allah, it’s not as bad for us as it is for Shias. Look how many of
them get killed for their beliefs.
Pakistan was essentially created to protect
the religious and economic rights of Muslims who were a minority before India’s
partition in 1947. But since the country’s inception, we have created new
minorities and keep finding new ways to torment them.
Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”
and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti,” and the librettist for the opera “Bhutto.”
Don’t despair Sir, look how many “Muslims” are
killed all over the Muslim world also for being Muslims! Then the Qaatil and Maqtool are all Shaheed!
You rightly say as did Jinnah: “Pakistan was
essentially created to protect the religious and economic rights of Muslims who
were a minority before India’s partition in 1947.”
In his book ‘Benefactor of Humanity’ Prof. Rafi
Ullah Shehab, “one of the prominent religious scholars of Pakistan”, after
quoting the full text of the treaty Muhammad had signed with the Jews and
Christians of Madinah, says:
“The non- Muslim minorities of Pakistan are not
the conquered subjects of any enemy territory. They joined the Muslims in their
struggle of Independence and are living with them in peace. They can claim full
citizenship status as was granted by the holy Prophet to the Jews of al- Medina
and Christians of Najran…… The non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic State enjoy
complete freedom in this respect…”-Page 119i.