Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore
Updated: January 21, 2020 07:38 AM GMT
Barriers are placed on the road leading to an Ahmadi mosque in Rabwah in Chiniot district in Punjab, Pakistan. (Photo: AFP)
Qamar Ahmad Tahir was out for lunch when workers in his factory claimed to have recovered pages of the Quran from the raw material near the furnace.
“Only the edges were scorched. We used to burn wood, paper and other raw material in the oil-fed furnaces that reach temperatures of 800 to 1,000 degrees. It is impossible that the thin pages survived near the inferno,” the 65-year-old factory owner told UCA News.
Thirty minutes later the police banged on the gates of the chipboard plant owned by the Ahmadi businessman in Jhelum, 106 kilometers southeast of Islamabad.
“I told them that a team is reviewing the incident and will share information with the authorities in the evening. They took it as a confirmation and immediately started beating me in front of my sons playing outside,” said the father of six.
Tahir was arrested on Nov. 20, 2015, and booked under section 295-B of the Pakistani Criminal Code, a blasphemy clause for alleged desecration of the Quran. His sons, kept in a separate lock-up, were released after a few hours. A driver at the factory lodged the first information report.
Meanwhile announcements were made on loudspeakers in nearby mosques about the desecration by “gustakh (insolent) Ahmadis.” The same evening, rioters surrounded the factory, lobbed stones and torched the place.
Ahmadis’ homes located inside the parameters of the factory, vehicles and the owner’s residence were all looted and set on fire. The family of Tahir and other community members fled from their homes and hid in the fields behind small hills and amid shrubs in deep canals for hours. They were rescued by volunteers from the community.
An anti-Ahmadi rally was organized in Kala Gujran, a nearby town, next day. The protesters attacked and burned the community’s place of worship, washed the building, inscribed it with the title of a mosque and offered afternoon prayers inside. The mosque was later locked by authorities
Tahir was acquitted after spending more than 21 months in prison. He is now living in hiding with his family.
“For two months they locked me up with mentally challenged prisoners. They were dirty and often had epileptic seizures. It really broke me. I was not allowed to meet my family,” he said.
“I cannot imagine returning. My family has become a walking target. We skip marriages or celebrating Eid with my relatives in Jhelum.”
Tahir is among five million Pakistani Ahmadis prohibited by law from identifying themselves as Muslims. Their freedom of worship remains curtailed by a series of ordinances and constitutional amendments. The community is often targeted by conservative Muslims who consider them heretics for believing that Muhammad was not the last prophet.
According to Pakistan’s constitution, blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad is punishable with death or life imprisonment and shall also be liable to a fine, while disrespecting the Quran is punishable by life imprisonment and disrespecting the family of the prophet or his companions is punishable by sentences of up to three years, a fine or both.
MostAhmadis have not participated in an election for over three decades as casting a vote would require them to explicitly declare themselves as non-Muslims. Their business deals would be cancelled on revelation of their faith. Shopkeepers in commercial areas of Lahore display stickers on their doors prohibiting the entrance of Ahmadis. Ahmadis find it difficult to get a job or do business in Pakistan.
Islamabad Bar Association issued a notice on Jan. 15 asking its members to sign an affidavit declaring their faith.
“In case they are Muslim members, the affidavit on Khatam-e-Nabuwat (Finality of Prophethood) doctrine must be submitted before Jan. 30 or else membership of defaulters will be cancelled and the list will be pasted on the noticeboard,” it stated.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly introduced separate oaths for Muslim and non-Muslim ombudspersons the day before. The government bill disqualified Ahmadis from becoming judges of superior courts.
Similarly, lawyers of the district bar association of Multan passed a resolution on Jan. 9 forbidding non-Muslim lawyers, including Ahmadis, from participating in bar council elections in the city. It stated that the contestants of bar elections will also need to submit an affidavit to prove they are Muslim.
Last month a group of university students in Attock, another Punjab city, forced the district assistant commissioner to apologize for relating Ahmadis with other Muslim sects. Speaking at a Human Rights Day event, the official had criticized religious divisions and supported equal human rights for non-Muslim Pakistanis.
According to Riaz Anjum, a Christian attorney, the resolutions by bar associations only target Muslim lawyers.
“I assure you there are no conditions on Christians or non-Muslim lawyers, it is only for Muslims. The propaganda must stop. Some newspapers published false news. Christian lawyers will never allow such restrictions in any bar in Pakistan. Your brothers know how to defend their rights,” he stated in a video posted on Facebook.
Punjab’s Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Ejaz Alam Augustine rejected the recent resolutions. “These are individual acts. The state will not accept this narrative. We are at war with extremists,” he said.
Rabwah, the sect’s headquarters in the country, has sent repeated requests to Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari for a meeting ever since the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan came into power in August 2018. So far it has received no reply.
“Perhaps they do not consider us worthy for a dialogue. For decades, Pakistan’s rulers have followed a policy of appeasement toward extremist forces. In most cases, this policy is followed as a tool for political gains,” said Saleem ud Din, spokesman of the Jama'at Ahmadiyya.
“The seed of religious intolerance was sowed when Ahmadis were declared as non-Muslim in 1974. The action of lawyers only hints at the widespread branding on a religious basis.
“The identity of our faith is followed by harassment and incitement to kill. The recent actions are an attempt to hit the livelihood of educated Ahamdis. Many have already left the country; they prefer a slow death in immigration detention centers abroad than being assassinated in their homeland.”
As per Rabwah records, 268 Ahmadis have been murdered in hate crimes and 820 were booked for preaching between 1984 and Dec. 12, 2019. A total of 24 Ahmadiyya places of worship were demolished, 23 were set on fire or damaged while 41 were sealed by authorities.