Ahmadiyas, Shias, Sufis
where does it stop?
VIEW POINT Esam Sohail, Kansas, USA
Our regions history would advise us to be extra careful in watching the increasing anti-Ahmadiya agitation in Bangladesh. After being largely limited to the southwestern part of the country, the problem came last month, as most of them eventually do, to Dhaka. The gory scenes of mayhem in Nakhalpara for the last few Fridays should be seen as a warning signal for a disaster waiting to happen. The choice to heed that warning or not is ours.
Pakistans degeneration into military rule and ethnic subjugation did not start with her action against Bengalis or Sindhis or even Baluchis. Long before any of that was the rioting in central Punjab in the early 1950s when the late Maulana Maududis followers went on a rampage against Ahmadiya Muslims, a small minority sect. The killings, burnings, loot, and chaos that followed invective-filled Friday sermons week after week, prompted the then government of Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan to call out the army to restore a semblance of peace. The army never went back, in a manner of speaking. Years later, as the army perfected its skill of sorting out the bloody civilians, one of Pakistans few elected leaders finally succumbed to extremist pressure and declared Ahmadis non-Muslims (as if Mr. Bhutto was the divinely appointed vice-regent who had the authority to decide on the Muslim-ness of people!). Even so, this act of utter bigotry could not save the Pakistani premier and he was judicially murdered by the same elements that he tried to appease. His military successors went further in their prejudice and made it a felony for a Ahmadiya Muslim to say the kalima, utter the phrase salaam alaikum, or vote for general candidates during elections. Being a very small minority, many of the victims of this apartheid left Pakistan, including her best known mind, Nobel Laureate Dr. Abdus Salam. There is a bitter irony here. As Indian forces amassed in Kashmir to overwhelm an almost stillborn Pakistan in 1947-49, it was the latters Ahmadiya Muslim Foreign Minister Sir Zafarullah Khan who eloquently pleaded his nations case to the world. Were they alive today, it would have been a criminal offence for Sir Zafarullah to exchange Eid greetings with his boss Mohammad Ali Jinnah. For that matter, Mr. Jinnah could have been in jail already since he too was from a minority sect.
The same Maulana Maudoodi, who devoted his life to wrecking the life of Ahmadiyas, was also fond of calling Mr. Jinnah the Kafir-e-Azam, in a not too subtle reference to the fact that the founder of Pakistan was a Shia Muslim. It is hardly surprising that after almost decimating Ahmadiyas, Sunni extremists have gone after the Shias in Pakistan; not a week goes by in Karachi that a Shia physician or attorney or banker is not killed by Sunni militants. With Shias already cowering, the attention has now been turned to the mystical Sufis of rural Sindh province and northern Punjab whose brand of Islam offends the puritanical sensibilities of the extremists. Herein lies the enormity of fearful imagination. Who next?
The people who attacked the mosque in Nakhalpara were demanding that Ahmadiyas be declared non-Muslims. Such demands have been heard, with increasing ferocity, since the days of our last dictators dalliance with certain clerical chieftains. It is quite tempting to buy off the agitation by succumbing to their demands –– I mean, how many Ahmadiyas are there in Bangladesh? It is folly, however, to blissfully assume that Ahmadiyas will be the last target of the zealots. As their history in Pakistan shows, and indeed many such zealots are direct spiritual descendants of Pakistani religious groups, bigots have insatiable appetites. Today we declare Ahmadiyas non-Muslim, tomorrow they will ask for the heads of Shias, and the day after, of the Sufis. Then perhaps it will be the turn of Shafis and Malikis, two of the relatively smaller sub-sects of Sunni Islam. Soon the only Muslims left will be those duly certified as such by shadowy organisations funded by foreign patrons who have had nothing but contempt for the richly diverse and historically tolerant Islam practised in Bengal for a thousand years.
Morally, of course, there is only one Entity who can decide on who is a Muslim and who is not and, for that matter, who is a believer and who is not. That Entity has made His Prerogative crystal clear in His Book which says lakum deenukum waliadeen (To you your religion, to me mine, Sura Al-Kafiroon).
The recent anti-Ahmadiya agitation is a challenge to Gods prerogative and mans peace. History teaches us that unless we crush this phenomenon at its inception, we are looking at a spiral of chaos that points steeply downwards. Intolerance cannot and should not be tolerated.
A banker, Esam Sohail is a former college lecturer of international affairs. His writings are regularly featured in North America, South Asia, and the Middle East.