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Pakistan’s persecuted Muslims
Posted By GEOFFREY P. JOHNSTON
Friday, December 18, 2009
Now that the ice and snow are upon us, many Kingstonians are out in the cold, enjoying the skating rink at Market Square or hitting the local cross-country ski trails for a winter workout. Others, however, dream of the warmth and sunshine of Canada’s all-too-brief summer – a season that allows those living in the Limestone City to demonstrate their respect for other cultures and religions.
For example, if you regularly visit Rotary Park during summer, you may encounter a Christian youth group enjoying a picnic. Other times, you will see Muslims praying toward Mecca before tucking into a barbecued meal. Such scenes of religious diversity make Canada attractive to so many newcomers.
Contrary to overblown allegations of Islamophobia, Canada respects the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion, belief or conscience. And Canada consistently ranks at or near the top of the annual international survey of religious freedom conducted by Freedom House, a U. S.-based think tank.
Ironically, the worst violators of Muslims’ religious rights are Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan, which blatantly oppresses Ahmadi Muslims. According to Amnesty International, Ahmadis, who adhere to a unique interpretation of Islam, are viewed by orthodox Muslims as heretics.
The Ahmadi consider themselves to be Muslim, explains Knox Thames, a policy analyst with the nonpartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. However, a despicable amendment to Pakistan’s constitution in 1974 deemed the Ahmadi to be “non- Muslims.”
“It is inappropriate for governments to be speaking to the question of what faith is or is not true,” Thames says. But that is precisely what is happening in Pakistan.
“The constitution basically bans them [from participating in society],” Thames explains. “They can’t vote. They have difficulty attending public schools. They have great difficulty worshipping openly.”
Amnesty International has repeatedly called for the abolition of Pakistan’s laws that “effectively criminalize any exercise of the right to freedom of religion by Ahmadis.” Members of the minority sect, estimated to have three to four million adherents in Pakistan, are prohibited by law from referring to their houses of worship as mosques. In addition, Ahmadis are banned from preaching in public, proselytizing or producing religious literature.
Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws “really force them into the margins of society and leave them very vulnerable to extremist attacks,” Thames says. And over the years, reports Amnesty International, there have been “numerous targeted killings of Ahmadis, usually carried out with impunity.”
According to Human Rights Watch’s 2009 annual report, two Ahmadis were murdered last year after “a popular talk-show host … declared Ahmadis appropriate targets for murder under Islamic law.” The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom alleges that Sunni Muslim extremists are often responsible for attacks on Ahmadis. It also alleges that the government sometimes collaborates with the attackers.
When the central government isn’t turning a blind eye to religiously motivated murder, it is actively harassing the Ahmadi. For instance, the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports that in May of 2008, Ahmadis in the town of Rabwah openly “celebrated their faith through distinctive clothing, badges with religious slogans, lighting displays, and fireworks.” The police responded by charging the whole community under the anti-Ahmadi laws.
Curiously, the Muslim world has remained silent about the oppression of the Ahmadi. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, has publicly acknowledged and condemned the persecution of the Ahmadi in central and south Asia.
In the summer of 2008, the prime minister travelled to Calgary to take part in the opening of the Baitun Nur mosque, built by the city’s Ahmadi community, which numbers an estimated 5,000 people. In his address, he noted that the Ahmadis are renowned for their devotion to “peacefully co-existing with people of all faiths, languages and cultures.” And in the Ahmadis, said Harper, Canadians will see “the moderate, benevolent face of Islam.”
As long as Muslim countries like Pakistan persecute the Ahmadis, Canada should attempt to rescue as many as possible by fast-tracking their immigration and refugee applications. And in return for sanctuary, Ahmadi newcomers could provide a much-needed antidote to radical Islamist ideology that is poisoning the minds of some Canadian Muslims and colouring the country’s perception of Islam.
Defending the individual’s right to freedom of religion is one of the hallmarks of Canadian democracy, ensuring that Kingston’s Rotary Park and other parks like it across Canada are open to different faith groups whose members only wish to enjoy fellowship in a green space. After all, what could be more Canadian than dreaming of a summer picnic in the dead of winter?
Geoffrey P. Johnston is a local writer.