Pak­istan’s Ah­madis bat­tle mob and state for iden­tity

Vic­tims claim it is state-spon­sored per­se­cu­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

IS­LAM­ABAD: “Are th­ese the peo­ple with bul­lets who took my papa away?” two-year-old Sabiha Ah­mad asked her mother anx­iously when AFP vis­ited her fam­ily, mem­bers of Pak­istan’s per­se­cuted Ah­madi mi­nor­ity, who are cur­rently liv­ing in hid­ing.

The tod­dler’s fam­ily have had lit­tle con­tact with any­one since they were forced to flee for their lives on Novem­ber 20 when hun­dreds of peo­ple torched a fac­tory in the east­ern city of Jhelum af­ter ru­mors spread work­ers were burn­ing copies of the Holy Qu­ran.

The work­ers in ques­tion were Ah­madis, a mi­nor­ity eth­nic group legally de­clared nonMus­lims in Pak­istan for their be­lief in a prophet af­ter Mo­ham­mad (PBUH), and long per­se­cuted in the deeply con­ser­va­tive coun­try.

Sabiha’s fa­ther Asif Shahzad was an Ah­madi em­ployee at the fac­tory, and that night the mob took him away. “I begged them for the life of my wife and chil­dren and they freed them only af­ter tak­ing me to burn in the fac­tory’s boiler,” he told AFP this week from where his fam­ily are hid­ing. “It was my good luck that some kind­hearted Mus­lims helped me to es­cape,” he said. His wife Hafsa said she had al­most ac­cepted him dead. “I never wanted to leave him but he said that he would join us if he sur­vived, and I must save mine and our daugh­ters’ lives,” the 24-yearold told AFP tear­fully.

Along with other Ah­madi fam­i­lies flee­ing Jhelum that night, Hafsa man­aged to es­cape in a car her hus­band had ar­ranged be­fore he was torn away by the mob. The driver, she said, was Mus­lim. “(He) treated me and the other ladies... as his daugh­ters,” she said, nav­i­gat­ing them through the mob to safety.

‘Hated for our re­li­gion’

Hard­line Is­lamic schol­ars de­nounce Ah­madis as heretics, de­scrib­ing their be­lief in a prophet af­ter Mo­ham­mad (PBUH) as blas­phemy-a hugely sen­si­tive is­sue in Pak­istan, where even un­proven al­le­ga­tions stir mob lynch­ing and violence. The largest Ah­madi com­mu­nity in the world is in Pak­istan, where they num­ber about 500,000, and fol­low­ers are fre­quently the tar­get of blas­phemy al­le­ga­tions by hard­lin­ers tac­itly sup­ported by what the com­mu­nity says are dis­crim­i­na­tory laws.

Leg­is­la­tion framed in 1974 and 1984 un­der pres­sure from hard­lin­ers, bans Ah­madis from call­ing them­selves Mus­lims and prac­tic­ing the rit­u­als of Is­lam.

Even voic­ing the Mus­lim greet­ing “Peace be upon you” could see an Ah­madi thrown in prison for three years. “Ah­madi Mus­lims in Pak­istan face daily ha­rass­ment, in­tim­i­da­tion and per­se­cu­tion on the ba­sis of their re­li­gion,” Den­nis Jong, the co-chair of a Euro­pean Par­lia­ment body on re­li­gious tol­er­ance, said in a press release this week slam­ming the fac­tory at­tack.

The at­tacks, he said, “show the con­tin­ued lack of pro­tec­tion of the hu­man rights and fun­da­men­tal free­doms of­fered by the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment to the Ah­madis”.

In July 2014, an mob, in echoes of the at­tack in Jhelum, burnt three Ah­madis alive and torched their homes in an­other east­ern city, Gu­jran­wala in Pun­jab prov­ince. “Lo­cals hated us for our re­li­gion,” said Mubashira Jarri Al­lah, who was caught up in the violence.

“(They) torched our house af­ter a false al­le­ga­tion of blas­phemy. I lost my mother, two nieces and my un­born child,” she said. She was eight months preg­nant at the time.

In May, ten­sions rose in the dis­trict of Chak­wal, some 200 kilo­me­ters (125 miles) from the cap­i­tal Is­lam­abad, when the minarets and dome of an Ah­madi place of wor­ship were de­mol­ished af­ter a court ruled that it looked too much like a Mus­lim mosque.

Friends into foes

Of­fi­cials at the Ja­mat-e-Ah­madiya, an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion of Ah­madi groups, say the state it­self spon­sors their per­se­cu­tion. “We don’t even vote in elec­tions be­cause if we de­clare our­selves Mus­lims, we will be pros­e­cuted,” said Saleem ud Din, a spokesman for Ja­mate-Ah­maidya.

The state, for its part, says Ah­madis-like all mi­nori­ties in Pak­istan-are “con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected”. “When leg­is­la­tion was formed about the Ah­madis, the law was passed af­ter com­plete de­bate in the na­tional as­sem­bly,” Sar­dar Muham­mad Yousaf, fed­eral re­li­gious af­fairs min­is­ter, told AFP.

“The Ah­madis were given full chance to raise their point of view... If the Ah­madi com­mu­nity has some con­cerns and fears, they must come and dis­cuss that with us and we will ad­dress them.” In Jhelum on Novem­ber 20, the Ah­madi fam­i­lies be­lieved they would be shown no mercy.

Wit­nesses said hun­dreds of peo­ple-mostly young men and fol­low­ers of lo­cal Mus­lim cler­ics who ral­lied them with loud­speak­ers-torched the chip­board fac­tory, which was owned by an Ah­madi.

They also burnt sev­eral houses and ran­sacked an Ah­madi place of wor­ship. Eigh­teen Ah­madi fam­i­lies are be­lieved to have fled that night. “Even the best friends turned into the worst foes,” said Asif Shahzad. —AFP

A Pak­istani Ah­madi sect woman Hafsa and mother of a young girl Sabiha Ah­mad, wipes away her tears as she speaks with AFP at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in Pak­istan. —AFP

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