For Pakistan’s Ahmadis, a depressing tale of two gatherings

The Independent: By

A fortnight ago, tens of thousands of members of the Ahmadi Muslim community gathered in the historic English market town of Alton. They were there for an annual conference. This year, the community was also marking the centenary of its presence in Britain. As far back as 1926, the Ahmadis established London’s first mosque.

In countries as diverse as Canada and South Africa, there are similar events that take place throughout the year. But the one country where Ahmadis aren’t allowed to gather is where the roots of their faith lie: Pakistan. “We haven’t been able to hold a peace conference in Pakistan for the past 30 years,” says Qasim Rashid, the author of The Wrong Kind of Muslim: An Untold Story of Persecution and Perseverance. “They are banned by the Pakistani government, citing the country’s blasphemy laws.”

Each year, the Ahmadi community puts in a request to hold an event and are always denied. And yet, a few days after the Alton event, a very different kind of gathering was allowed to take place in Pakistan. To mark the 39th anniversary of the passing of the second amendment of the Pakistani constitution, which declared Ahmadis non-Muslims, a coalition of anti-Ahmadi religious groups met at a vast conference of their own. The event, held in Lahore, was marked by incendiary speeches that called for further economic and social isolation of the Ahmadi community. Some speakers even hinted at violence.

Mufti Muneebur Rehman, a prominent cleric who heads a committee responsible for sighting the moon at the start and end of the holy month of Ramadan, likened Ahmadis to fifth columnists. He alleged that members of the Ahmadi community were involved in “suspicious activities” and ominously added that “serious measures” should be taken against them.

The days leading up to September 7th are a source of much dread for Pakistan’s Ahmadi community. This year, three members of the Ahmadi community were killed in Karachi. The volatile southern port city is the site of much daily urban violence, including targeted killings, but members of the Ahmadi community aver that all three men were killed because of their faith and not for political reasons.

On August 21st, Zahood Ahmad Kayani – a 40 year old resident of Karachi – was gunned down outside his house by two unidentified motorcyclists. Ten days later, an Ahmadi doctor was murdered in his clinic. The attackers had pretended to be patients, before opening fire on Dr. Syed Tahir Ahmad as he was seeing them. And just three days before the September 7th conference, another Ahmadi man who shot dead in Karachi.

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