On November 9 2020, an Ahmedi man was killed in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. The incident followed the killing of an Ahmedi professor in the same city in October. Incidents such as these targeting people from the Ahmaddiya sect of Islam are not new, and neither is the apotheosis of those executing such incidents. This demands an enquiry into the genesis and the politics surrounding the Ahmedi identity and its positioning in the Pakistani body-politic. This article, the first in the series of two particles tries to capture the hundred-year long trajectory of the Ahmaddiya movement from its founding in the late 19th century to its situation under the Zia ul Haq regime, which was infamously known for institutionalising extremism.
The Ahmadiyya are an Islamic messianic movement founded in Qadian, Punjab (then undivided India). Established in 1889 by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, they differ from other Muslims in their belief that divine revelation continues to descend, and that this revelation descended upon Ghulam Ahmad. Under this pretext Ghulam Ahmad claimed to have been divinely appointed as the promised Messiah and Promised Mahdi (Guided One), prophesised in Islam to appear in the latter days, to bring about the final triumph of Islam. The movement, in its early years was branded as blasphemous as Ahmad’s claims also tantamount to the rejection of the quintessential tenet of the finality of Prophet Muhammad. The following decades were to witness the emergence of widespread anti-Ahmadiyya sentiment after the creation of Pakistan.
Despite the consternation of some clerics that these claims of divine revelation tantamounted to blasphemy, Ghulam Ahmad did not claim to bring any new laws or scriptures, with his primary mission that to revive the true teachings of Islam and the Quran, which he believed had deviated from the right path and become a soulless body. Ahmadi’s, therefore, champion what is in their view Islam’s original precepts as practised by Muhammad, seeing themselves as leading the propagation and renaissance of Islam.
Opponents of this sect view it as a dangerous deviation from Islam and fall upon Ghulam Ahmad as a false profit and Messiah, who established his sect to serve the British. Many Muslims, therefore, consider the Ahmadiyya as either Kafirs (infidels) or Zindiqs (heretics). Nowhere is this more apparent than in Pakistan, where upwards of four million Ahmadi’s live, with the majority within Punjab. The Ahmadi populace, despite playing a key early role in Pakistan’s formation has experienced escalating prejudice and violence. This has been institutionally evident post 1974, following the anti-Ahmadi legislation, which in turn has exacerbated the risk of violence against the community. Notable instances of this violence are the 2005 Mong shootings or the 2010 Lahore massacre, which led to the deaths of 16 people. Despite this high level of violence, there has been an abject failure on part of the authorities to punish the perpetrators of these crimes, in effect providing carte blanche to those willing to pursue violence against the community. In analysing the history of the Ahmadiyya movement’s relationship with the Pakistani state we can better understand the basis behind the rampant prejudice which continues to this day.
Formation of Pakistan: Secular/Sharia duality
The Partition of India in 1947 and formation of Pakistan sparked a great debate over how this new home for the Muslims in the subcontinent was to be governed. On the one side stood Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who along with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community favoured a secular model of governance. Jinnah saw a Pakistan where civic and public affairs would be conducted for the betterment of all regardless of religion or culture, where, in theory, human rights would be protected, and all citizens would be empowered for the betterment of the nation. Against them stood the Majlis-e-Ahrar which called for a Sharia law-based system and fiercely opposed the Ahmedi faith. This was based upon a perception that a secular state would not allow Islam to be the driving force of the law.
Despite an overt opposition from the right-wing clerical base, the Ahmadiyya community gained prominence within Pakistan’s civil legislature playing a key role in the early Pakistani movement. Notable examples included Imam Abdur Raheem Dard, who, as Iman of the London Mosque under the instructions of Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad, the second Caliph, famously took Jinnah to task in the 1930s over his abandonment of the Muslim cause. On his return to India, Jinnah acknowledged Dard, stating that “the eloquent persuasion of the Imam left me no escape.” Other notable figures included Sir Zafarullah Khan who was named Pakistan’s first foreign minister, who later on became the President of the UN General Assembly in 1961-62. His incredible intellect and judicial sensibilities won him global praise, however, it also led him to become a target for the religious right. Sir Zafarullah became the scapegoat of attacks by the religious right, placing him and other Ahmadi civil servants as a direct threat to the purity of the Islamic republic.
The central role of many people from the community in Jinnah’s early administration exacerbated tensions with supporters of Ahrar’s conservative doctrine. Upon Jinnah’s untimely death in 1948, Ahrar and its supporters were provided with an opportunity to reopen the debate and reinvigorate their political aspirations leading to the first Ahmadi riot in Pakistani Punjab in 1953.
The 1953 Anti-Ahmadi Riot
From 1951-53, the Ahrar maintained pressure on the government with rallies across Pakistan. They were joined by Tahaffuz-e-Khatme Nabuwwat (“The Assembly to Protect the End of Prophethood”), who along with other orthodox religious classes launched an anti-Ahmadiyya movement. The movement gained momentum during the 1953 riots against Ahmadi Muslims. The riots led to several deaths of members from the Ahmadi community along with wanton destruction of their homes, shops and mosques. The rationale behind the violent uprising was based on three major demands:
- Removal of Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan from the foreign ministry
- Removal of Ahmadi Muslims from top government offices;
- Declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims.
To contain the situation, the government imposed martial law under General Azam and in response, Sir Zafarullah Khan resigned and embarked on a self-exile in 1954
In the wake of these riots, an inquiry committee was established, leading to the publication of the Munir Report, considered the most balanced and comprehensive indictment of religious parties produced in Pakistan to date. Its findings revealed the extent to which Ahmadis were persecuted and led to the disbanding of the Ahrar. However, despite being quelled, the riots marked the beginning of a trend of prejudice which was to take hold within Pakistan .
No right to be called Muslim
In 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became the Pakistani Prime Minister and in an attempt to consolidate his power internally, and to bolster his standing across the Muslim world he began to pander to the clerical establishment in an view to protect Muslim interests both home and abroad. The result of this was to turn the anti-Ahmadi movement into fully-fledged state-sponsored persecution. The enaction of a 1974 Constitutional Amendment specifically targeting Ahmadi Muslims, declaring them ‘not Muslims for purposes of law and constitution’ and represented the proverbial nail in the coffin of Jinnah’s vision of a secular and religiously free Pakistan. Pakistan became the first and only country in the world to use their constitution to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims.
This state-sanctioned persecution was to be intensified ten years later, when the then military ruler, General Zia-ulHaq, enacted Pakistan’s infamous anti-Ahmadi laws and amended its blasphemy laws under the Ordinance XX on 26 April 1984. These laws made it a criminal offence, punishable by three years imprisonment (or death under the blasphemy laws), for an Ahmadi to call themselves Muslim or practice Islam. Under General Zia-ul-Haq’s promise to “ensure that the cancer of Qadianism (a derogatory term for the Community) is exterminated”, thousands of Ahmadi Muslims were charged under these laws, and Pakistan developed a culture of anti-Ahmadi harassment, violence and murder.
Thirty-six years on, these laws remain on Pakistan’s statute books, leading Pakistani Ahmadis to be plagued by institutional discrimination, harassment and persecution. Openly declared as ‘Wajibul Qatl’ (deserving to be killed) the community is vilified throughout civil society, with corruption, judicial failings and the fear of mob violence ever-present within their lives. It has been reported that between 1984 and July 2020, 269 Ahmadi Muslims have been killed on grounds of faith. Without a democratic voice, the Community continues to suffer in silence with no action taken to redress the situation and protect further innocent Ahmadis from being killed.
A result of this state-sanctioned persecution has been a wide-scale exodus of Ahmadis from Pakistan. Ordinance XX in effect led the position of the community’s leader Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad to become untenable in Pakistan, thus on 29 April 1984, the Fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, migrated to London, which subsequently became the official headquarters of the Ahmadis.
As of now, the Community has been established in 209 countries and territories of the world, becoming the most widely spread Muslim group. This is reflective of the Ahmadi mission, whereby they believe that no single place can constitute as a homeland site as in the Ahmadi eschatological vision, the eventual conversion of the planet to Ahmadi Islam is the future. This has led to the wide-scale sponsored diaspora of the Ahmadi populace, from west to east. However, a conflict that remains amongst many ethnically Punjabi Ahmadi is of a deep love for their homeland and the risks that return would constitute. This will be explored in an upcoming article; The dilemmas of Ahmadi identity: between a love of the homeland and persecution.