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July 08, 2010
Pakistan’s Religious Minorities Face Persecution by the State
Just a month ago, at least 95 members of the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect were killed and nearly 100 injured in attacks on their places of worship in Lahore, in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The attacks were part of a campaign against Ahmadis by Islamist groups openly sympathetic to terrorist groups, including the Taliban.
Politicians have been strangely silent on the attacks. Punjab’s chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, has not shown his face at either Ahmadi mosque targeted in the attacks, despite living down the road from them.
Mohammed Hanif, a journalist, wrote: “When the funerals of the massacred Ahmadis took place there were no officials, no politicians present.”
Several days after the attack, former Pakistani Prime Minister and Pakistan Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif said the members of the Ahmadi sect were his brothers and sisters and that militants should be flushed out wherever they were active.
His comments drew sharp criticism from religious parties like the Khatm-e-Nabuwat Movement, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami.
Maulana Ilyas Chinioti, the head of KNM, a member of the PML-N and the Punjab provincial assembly, also condemned Sharif’s statement.
Maulana seems to be openly preaching that non-Muslims are lesser humans, despite the fact that Ahmadis profess that they are Muslims.
Those who dare to defend the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan are usually labeled as being “anti-Islam.”
Ahmadis have been under widespread attack by increasingly violent Islamic fundamentalists across the planet.
The movement was founded in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908 and who claimed to have succeeded the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the religion and who would bring about the final triumph of Islam as per Islamic prophecy.
According to a June 4 story in The News, a surviving attacker of the Lahore carnage, Abdullah, alias Muhammad, said he was misled into believing that Ahmadis were involved in drawing blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, so their bloodshed was a great service to Islam.
The campaign against the sect began a decade ago in Pakistan. Before the 1947 partition of Pakistan and India, anti-Ahmadiyah agitation was instigated by the Majlis-i-Ahrar, a lower-middle-class party.
In 1934, Ahrar set up an anti-Ahmadi movement after the Ahmadi community supported a demand for a Pakistan. In 1953, six Ahmadis lost their lives when an anti-Ahmadiyah wave swept the newly founded country.
According to Waqar Gilani, in 1973 the then president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Abdul Qayyum, declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. In the same year, a Saudi Arabian conference also agreed to oust Ahmadis from the circle of Islam.
In 1974 they were declared non-Muslims by the Pakistani Parliament. In 1984, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq promulgated a martial law ordinance containing blasphemy laws that undercut the activities of religious minorities generally, but struck at Ahmadis in particular.
Since then, they have been arrested frequently for greeting someone with the traditional Islamic Assalam-o-Alaikum, reciting Muslim prayers or reading the Holy Koran.
In the period 1984-2009, 105 Ahmadis were killed in Pakistan, according to two authors writing in Viewpoint, a Pakistani online magazine.
“During the same period, 22 Ahmadiyah mosques were demolished, 28 were sealed by authorities, 11 were set on fire and 14 were occupied, while construction of 41 was banned. In at least 47 cases, burials were denied in common graveyards while 28 bodies were exhumed,” the two wrote.
Since 2000, an estimated 400 Ahmadis have been formally charged in criminal cases, including blasphemy. Many remain imprisoned.
Both printed and electronic Pakistani media have played a scandalous role in spreading hatred against the community.
Recently, the Muslim Canadian Congress blamed major media outlets in Pakistan for inflaming rhetoric against Ahmadiyah, Ismaili and Shia Muslims.
In particular, the MCC pointed out that GEO Television had become the voice of Al Qaeda and the Taliban and had spread hatred against these communities as well as against non-Muslims.
Religious minorities in general and Ahmadis in particular are not treated by the Pakistani state as equal citizens. They are routinely intimidated and persecuted because of their faith.
Unless the state changes its mind-set about minorities, they will live under constant threat, which is against international human rights laws and the constitution of Pakistan.
Aftab Alexander Mughal is the editor for a Pakistan-based nongovernmental organization, Minorities Concern of Pakistan.