Welcome, to the beautiful land of the pure. Here, we are blessed with four wondrous seasons and the geographical features are aplenty.
This is a land hard won through the sacrifices of many and now, you too, are a part of this nation of the free.
There is only one small hitch. You are Ahmadi, and life will be slightly more difficult for you than it is for the rest of the citizens of this country.
Though, if we are being honest, it’s not exactly a joy ride for everyone else either.
But never fear, this handy guide will tell you how to navigate through the typically awkward moments of a minority life. Let us begin:
Before your first day, your parents will have a serious talk with you which, at the time, may seem a bit odd. They will tell you that people are not nice to Ahmadis, so don’t go about telling everyone you are one. If anyone asks, tell them the truth, but don’t advertise it.
This is for your own good, unless you have been admitted to one of those posh schools in the country. Odds are that some, or many or the children around you are already receiving some kind of training at home to identify minorities and treat them differently. You will find out soon enough.
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One day you will hear that the girl in section 2B is telling everyone that her father says you are not a Muslim and that no one should be friends with you.
Being gregarious will help you here; since you have a large circle of friends, you can ignore her even though you are trembling inside with fear of the fact that everyone will take her word for it and turn you into a social pariah.
Luckily, seven-year-olds don’t really care that much and you survive with nothing but the belief that your parents were right.
As you grow older, you must learn to dodge specific questions and never express opinions about religion. Just don’t. People might take offence and turn against you, so fly under the radar.
You will hear more and more news about Ahmadis being killed, your family will recount the history of violence against your community and your sense of identity will become slightly distorted. Don’t worry too much about this, it just comes with the territory.
Sometime, around the age of 13, you will disclose your religious identity to your best friend for the first time because it just feels right. And so, you wisely pick a friend who is a non-Muslim, hence reducing the chance of being judged; you are both in it together and you feel less alone now. Things will trundle along nicely for the rest of your school life.
Occasionally, some kid will make an insulting remark about your community and you will quietly stop being friends with them. No need to tell anyone why — keep the anger and hurt inside.
You will consider yourself lucky because you are enrolled in a private school. Things are different for Ahmadi kids in other places. There is one boy whose teachers make fun of him in class and whose schoolmates beat him up during recess; there are yet others who have altogether been excluded from their schools.
So you have turned 18 and it’s a brave new world out there. Time to get your ID card and passport.
At the passport office you find a sign stating that “Ahmadis must disclose their religion themselves”. This will be confusing until your father explains that unless you clearly mention that you are Ahmadi and double check the form afterwards, sometimes the officials will write you down as a Muslim and later refuse to change it.
So, you double and triple check the form before signing it.
Then there is the declaration. In every official form, for university admissions, ID documents, bank accounts, you will encounter the said declaration.
This, you will discover, has been put there especially because of the law which makes it illegal for you to ‘pose’ as a Muslim. All these important documents had to be modified particularly for you; here, you can’t help but feel a bit special.
You live in a small town so everyone at your university knows that you are an Ahmadi. But, they never really come up and tell you about it so it is a little confusing when one of your friends suddenly decides to end the friendship.
You finally figure it all out when one of your classmates asks you to confirm your faith and tells you that everyone else has been talking about it. The way he looks at you the rest of the day is a look you will encounter a lot starting here on out. It’s the look your Muslim friends and acquaintances will give you when they discover your faith and accordingly, remove you from the “Us” box and place you in the “Them” box. Get used to this look.
You start to become a bit paranoid wondering if the person treating you so inconsiderately is doing it because they don’t like you or because they have problems with your faith. It is probably, a bit of both.
The news of more killings and threats just keep coming in and you become worried every time your father leaves the house. Whenever a group of people goes by your house chanting religious slogans you become scared and pray that they are not headed to your door. Get used to this fear too.
Congratulations! You have landed a job.
You happily head off to work but over the next few days, a funny thing happens.
No one will respond when you greet them. Often times, colleagues will insist on questioning your beliefs, trying to draw you into conversations about religion. Do not fall into this trap.
People will ask you if your family is really rich whenever they find out that you are an Ahmadi. They will also ask about other stereotypes about your community. They will ask you about the growing reports of Ahmadis and other minorities being locked up for ‘hurting religious sentiments’.
You will get tired of the looks when they switch you over from the “Us” to “Them” box. But slowly, you will become less afraid to disclose your faith.
You will also be less afraid of the verbal diatribes as well. You will realise that bigots who stop being friends with you are not friends worth having.
What you will not lose, however, is the fear that grips your heart ever so tightly every time your father or any other member of your family steps out of the house.
—The name of the writer has been changed for security reasons.