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‘Shock and Grief’ – Britain’s Ahmadi Muslims in the face of murder in Pakistan
By Meliha Hayat
The picture above shows Muhammad Ashraf Bilal, the British citizen killed in Lahore.
As members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community try to come to terms with their grief, they have been left in absolute shock after they discovered that the terrorists have now targeted Lahore’s Jinnah hospital where many victims from the mosque attacks are recovering.
Panicked scenes from Pakistani television stations show worried families and confused police crowding around the hospital gates. It was just a few hours ago today that the same channels were showing sombre scenes of families carrying the bodies of their loved ones as they buried them amongst a sea of open graves.
For many Ahmadi Muslims in the UK the next few days will involve frantic calls home to their loved ones as they relive the fear and horror of Friday’s events. Many will now be desperately watching TV in hopes of catching images of their loved ones out of harm’s way.
On Friday followers flocked to Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden to console each other through their grief. As their Spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmed, came to the podium to deliver his speech, many found it hard to believe that their loved ones had been killed during a Friday sermon not too dissimilar to one that was being conducted before them.
For UK resident Lutfur Rehman, pictured left, just coming back to England alive is a blessing.
He took shelter behind a pillar in the Gharhi Shahu mosque as he began desperately calling emergency services for help. As he sat in the Baitul Futuh Mosque he described how he saw men around him shot down by bullets, young, old, all sitting waiting for prayers to begin.
As he went on to describe images of blood and severed body parts many found his descriptions almost unbearable to listen to.
‘I saw a man who had wrapped himself up in one of the prayer mats, as one of the boys walked past he saw the man’s foot move, and he shot his foot. I heard them say spare no one as they walked around looking for survivors.’
The most poignant parts of his account involved the bravery of the worshippers inside the mosque, as young boys took the militants on with no weapons or protection.
‘Without their help there may have been even more bloodshed.’
He ended his story with a prayer for the dead and bereaved.
Although Lutfur Rehman was able to return to his family safely in Kingston, others were not so lucky.
Muhammad Ashraf Bilal, 58, of Southfields, London was one of the 98 worshippers killed during attacks in Ghari Shahu’s Darl Zikr mosque.
Eye witness reports revealed that Mr Ashraf was shot in the shoulder and foot. His colleague, Muhammad Nisar Ahmed, was escorting a wounded Mr Ashraf out of the mosque before he shot multiple times by Taliban militants.
They both took refuge behind pillars before eventually losing their lives in a grenade attack.
Sardar Fareed, Mr Ashraf’s nephew, spoke fondly of his uncle saying, ‘His loss will not only be felt by his direct family members but also by many more. He was a true servant of humanity.’
Mr Ashraf has left behind a widow and three young children. Hussain Khan from Sutton believes the threats were still a shock despite the previous threats that forced the community to discourage women and children from attending Friday prayers at both mosques.
He said: ‘I had family who were trapped in both mosques in Model Town and Ghari Shahu. Some people were locked in the basement some had been taken hostage. My brother in law, Dr Tariq Bashir Khan, was a radiologist for Meo hospital in Lahore. He was killed in the cross fire. His son, who is also a doctor, went to prayers with him but he survived. Tariq died when he reached the hospital.
‘His family eventually found his body after reading his name on the lists that they had posted in the hospitals. People were crowded around these lists hoping that their family and friends were not on them. This is a difficult time for us all. But we will never retaliate, our philosophy is Love for all Hatred for none, and I know those who were killed practiced that belief until the end. Even after these events I do not think the Pakistani government will help. They know our situation well and I think international governments including the UK should put pressure on their governments to inspire change.’
Aftab Nasir Bajwa from Southfields is another follower in mourning after he heard news of his brother in laws death. He believes the UK and other international governments should urge Pakistani diplomats to take action for minority factions like the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
‘So many people like my uncle, Masood Ahmed Bajwa, were killed in the attacks. I found out later that one body belonged to a retired general another, a Judge, doctors, and members of the high court, so many members who have contributed positively to Pakistan. Words cannot describe how I feel some people have lost more than three family members in one go- this is an indescribable tragedy.’
The religious community has faced similar attacks in the past, but none to this magnitude. It is thought that some Islamic clerics have classified the community as ‘Wajib-ul-Qatil’ (obligatory to be killed), after the religious faction was classified non-Muslim in 1974. They may not be called Wajib-ul-Qatil here, but the community’s relationship with mainstream Muslim groups in the UK is still fragile different. The community has freedom to express their beliefs but are still not accepted by Britain’s mainstream Muslims with the Muslim Council of Britain yet to acknowledge the community as an Islamic sect.
In a statement on MTA (Muslim Television Ahmadiyya) International Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmed has told his followers not to retaliate in any way stating that ‘no government or terrorist can stop the progress of our Jamaat [Community].’
Meliha Hayat is one of Ruth Gledhill’s journalism students at City University.