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Restoring the Civil Rights of Ahmadis
June 16, 2008
By a Pakistani
(The writer is a lawyer and a participant in the lawyer’s movement. He has asked to keep his identity secret for the fear of persecution.)
The events in Punjab Medical College in Faisalabad recently have brought to the forefront once again a very important and yet neglected issue which continues to blacken our collective conscience as a nation. The expulsion of 23 students for allegedly preaching their faith underscored the sickness that has crept into the majority in this country bringing bad name to the country and the faith of Islam as well. There is need for serious inquiry as to whether this pathetic state of affairs will be allowed to continue and will the Ahmadis continue to be the victims of Pakistan’s version of Jim Crow Laws aided and abetted by a PCO-ed judiciary passing numerous “Dredd Scott” like decisions.
The persecution of Ahmadis even under the present mangled constitution is patently unconstitutional. A fair court of law would have noticed and pounced on the Ahmadi-specific legislation that has crept into our statute books for every single one of these laws violate a couple dozen fundamental rights accorded to the citizens of Pakistan not the least Article 20 which gives every citizen the right to practice and propagate his or her religion without any caveats. The rot however began with Bhutto’s 2nd Amendment which declared Ahmadis Non-Muslim. His law minister, Mr. Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, proved himself to be a poor constitutional lawyer when he declared that the National Assembly was sovereign and could take such a step. The correct legal position was that of Sir Zafrullah Khan, erstwhile Pakistani foreign minister and one of the authors of the Lahore Resolution, who argued that it was beyond the scope of the National Assembly to determine the faith of an individual especially under the Constitution of 1973. Even the Islamic provisions of the constitution of 1973 were to be interpreted according to each sect’s understanding and Ahmadis being an established Muslim sect in 1973 were entitled to their own interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah.
Ahmadis were also very much Muslim when the Government of Pakistan laid claim to Qadian as a Muslim holy place in 1947 as a counterweight to Sikh claims to their holy sites in Pakistan. No less a person than Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, had declared unequivocally on the Ahmadi issue that anyone who calls himself a Muslim is a Muslim and that anyone who says otherwise is conspiring against the Muslim cause. It is little known that Jinnah was finally persuaded to return to India and lead the Muslim League by Mr. Ibrahim Dard, the Imam of the London Ahmaddiya Mosque in the 1930s. The future founder of Pakistan had gone to and prayed behind the Ahmaddiya mosque unaware that the country he was about to create in two decades would one day make such an act punishable under law. If he was to time travel into the future, he would probably abandon the whole Pakistan project altogether.
Every single act of persecution against Ahmadis is quite unjustifiably laid at the door of the idea of Pakistan. Unjustifiably because those at the fore front of the “Persecute Ahmadis movement” are the same people who bitterly opposed Pakistan and considered Jinnah as big a Kafir as they consider the Ahmadis. The first occurrence of the anti-Ahmaddiya feeling on record is a report by a Muslim League activist who found that in the tribal areas, Fakir of Ipi and other pro-Congress Mullah elements had begun to describe the Muslim League as a bastion of “Qadiyanism”. The same feeling has persisted. Majlis-e-Ahrar that led the anti-Ahmaddiya movement in 1953-1954 was the biggest Congress ally before partition. Jamaat-e-Islami chief Maududi had dismissed Jinnah and others as too secular and westernized to properly lead the Muslims. The biggest persecutors of Ahmadis i.e. Darul-Uloom-Deoband and their cronies owe their very political existence to Mahatma Gandhi who introduced these Mullahs in the Khilafat movement — out of which arose the Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind — the forerunner of all fundamentalist and militant movements in South Asia and beyond.
The idea that a majority can dictate to a minority what it is or isn’t allowed to call itself is the very anti-thesis of the principle Pakistan was created on. Pakistan was created on the idea that a permanent majority cannot by sheer numeric strength dominate and dictate to a permanent minority. The anti-Ahmaddiya legislation flies in face of the whole Pakistan idea, leading to at least one perceptive commentator calling the second amendment to the constitution in 1974 nothing less than the death of Pakistan. That a PPP government was in charge and Pakistan’s brightest Prime Minister was in power makes that event even more ironic. Bhutto perhaps had no other option. Had he resisted it, the establishment would have used the issue to dismiss Bhutto the same way they dismissed Khawaja Nazimuddin and the Muslim League government in 1953. Of course Bhutto fell three years later and atleast the rotund and very religious Nazimuddin does not carry the blot of being the Prime Minister who persecuted a group of people based on their faith. Great responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Pakistan People’s Party to undo its heinous mistake and clear up the good name of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once and for all. It has an excellent opportunity to undo a historic wrong.
Remember the issue is not, and it has never been, whether anyone agrees with Ahmadis or considers them Muslim. It is one’s right to hold an opinion but that opinion cannot be imposed no matter what force of majority is behind it. The issue is — as it has always been — what Ahmadis consider themselves. No construction of Article 20 of the constitution can deny them the right to call themselves Muslims and by settled law fundamental rights are the over-riding feature of any written constitution. Therefore the second amendment itself is unconstitutional and illegal, not to mention the antithesis of Pakistan and its idealism. It is also an issue that cuts deep into our aspiration to be a civilized and tolerant society based on rule of law. The actions of those who had always opposed Pakistan and its founder are beginning to taint the very ideal to utter joy of our enemies home and abroad. It is time for Pakistanis to stand up and be counted.