British followers of a minority Islamic sect have expressed fears of violent persecution after cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan announced victory in Pakistan’s general election.
The Ahmadiyya community is considered heretical by orthodox Muslims because its followers do not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet.
Their stance means they are not recognised as Muslims and its adherents can be put to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Khan, 65, has been accused of risking bloodshed for electoral gain after he offered a defence of the strict laws in the run-up to the country’s general election this week.
“We are standing with Article 295c and will defend it,” said the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party at a gathering of Muslim leaders in Islamabad, referring to a clause of the constitution that mandates the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation or innuendo” against the prophet Muhammad.
Now Britain’s 30,000 strong Ahmadis say they fear Khan’s election victory will embolden Islamic extremists in this country to target them for attacks.
Last year British Ahmadi mosques were forced to introduce airport-style security to screen worshippers for knives and firearms after receiving death threats from other Muslims around the country.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK (AMC) brought in walk-through metal detectors, identity checks and bag searches at its prayer centres after threats were made on the life of its leader, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, and other group members.
The severe security measures came just months after an Ahmadi shopkeeper Ahmad Shah was murdered by an orthodox muslim in Glasgow.
His killer Tanveer Ahmed, 32, from Bradford, later said he murdered the 40-year-old as he had falsely claimed to be a prophet.
Mahmood Rafiq, spokesman for the AMC said: “We are hopeful that Mr Khan will withdraw his support for the anti-Ahmadi laws but his rhetoric so far has not been convincing..
“Ahmadis are literally outlawed in Pakistan and even in the UK we have had incidents where orthodox muslims serving as local councillors have refused to sit alongside Ahmadis on interfaith committees.”
Rafiq explained how in 1974 Pakistan’s military dictator further targeted Ahmadi Muslims by making it a criminal offence, punishable by three years imprisonment (or by death under the Blasphemy Laws), for any Ahmadi who “directly or indirectly poses himself as Muslim.”
This meant that Ahmadis could no longer profess or practice their Islamic faith in any way without facing prosecution.
Rafiq said: “Consequently, thousands of Ahmadis have been charged under these laws and have continued to face harassment, intimidation and persecution on a daily basis.
“Ahmadis are routinely referred to as infidels and apostates with open calls for them to be killed. The persecution is institutionalised with harassment and intimidation rife in education, public services, the judiciary and Ahmadi graves have also been vandalised and bodies exhumed.”
He added: “The effects of such persecution is not limited to Pakistan alone as anti-Ahmadi hate has also surfaced in the UK as well. The most extreme example of this was the brutal murder in Glasgow of Ahmadi shopkeeper Asad Shah in 2016, who was killed on grounds of faith.
“There has also been a worrying development of hate preachers coming to the UK and a stream of hate speech on satellite television, the internet and social media and that is promoting intolerance and extremism.”