The hate and propaganda against Ahmadis have become so potent that they have shaped themselves into a new force, parallel to the writ of the state
The Ahmadia issue has, yet again, come in to the limelight within the political arena. But this time the victims are not just the Ahmadis alone.
The current dispute seems to have been triggered by the so-called change in the oath regarding the clause of Khatam-e-Nabuwat in the voters list, which was followed by the Faizabad sit-in that gave birth to a new religious political party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). Some say that it was a tit-for-tat reaction against the propaganda carried out against the current Chief of Army Staff (COAS) before his appointment. But the fact is that the fire has always been flaming, ever since we attempted to douse it in 1974. That year, the parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims by passing the 2nd amendment in the 1973 constitution, a move that was a direct result of a similar conspiracy that had been orchestrated back in 1953.
Each time we were told that the solution to this problem is 1) to declare them as non-Muslim and 2) relieve all Ahmadis from the key posts of the country. Otherwise all hell would break loose in our country or the heavens would fall. These demands were rejected by the states in 1953 quite forcefully and the consequences turned out to be far from dire; even rather, constructive for the country. Pakistan progressed and became an emerging state on the globe.
The era of 60s was the height of our progress in every field. But in 1974 the state surrendered before the same elements and accepted their demands. The result was quite the opposite. The progress and peace within our society ebbed away, and this act of parliament only strengthened those elements who exploit religion for political gains, but at the cost of the stability of our state. The very same elements were later employed against the same Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had surrendered to their demands in 1974 and they made him pay dearly for his earlier support.
Then in 1984 Zia promulgated the Anti Ahmadia Ordinance, whereby Ahmadis were barred from acting like Muslims, performing any Muslim rituals or even calling themselves Muslim. Since then, our de facto state policy has always been to sweep this issue under the carpet whenever it has surfaced. While the issue itself has surfaced time and again, the one-sided and discriminatory attitude of the state has done nothing to solve it and in fact has only caused a gradual increase in the hate against the Ahmadia community in Pakistan.
Anyone can spread hate against Ahmadis without any check, and this abhorrence has been fuelled by the people on the pulpit, whose powerful influence over the minds of the public is surprisingly disregarded by our state establishment. Even the media, chiefly the print media, plays a key role in promoting hate speech against this disenfranchised community. As if declaring them non-Muslim in the constitution, denying them their fundamental human rights and persecuting for years on end isn’t enough; how much more do they have to suffer? Even if some brave voice raises their concerns over the rights of Ahmadis in this country, or says anything remotely in their favour, the authorities suddenly jump in to action, stifling the debate and referring back to the controversial decision to pass the 2nd amendment as justification for their actions.
Our political elite must learn this lesson as well and realise that ignoring the immense persecution directed at the Ahmadis will only cultivate hate within the different communities of Pakistan, which could then be exploited by external nefarious forces to destabilise the country
In recent years, religious extremism has been on the rise, and increasing polarisation between the different communities in the country, especially with regard to religion, has led to even more instances of violence, a situation the state has as yet failed to control. While some progress has been made in recent years, the intolerance and hatred directed at the community still goes largely unchecked. Ahmadis were, and still are, the favourite punching bag for hard-line extremists, and our state needs to understand that allowing discrimination against even one community will not eliminate the overall bigotry and intolerance rife in the country. As Martin Luther King Jr once said ‘injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere’.
There are two ways to exploit the religion card for vested interests in Pakistan. The blasphemy card is often exploited to blackmail and extort individuals, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. But to blackmail or extort any state institution, authority or politician, the Ahmadia card is considered the best solution. The hate and propaganda against Ahmadis has become so commanding that it is shaping itself as a new force, parallel to the writ of the state. The Faizabad sit-in was just a start. Even the people in the highest echelons of power were found appeasing these elements, by either ensuring them of their support, or by convening ‘Meelad’ conferences at their homes.
The rhetoric against the Ahmadis has dominated the political arena before the elections, and many myopic politicians, either populists or opportunists, are exploiting this issue as a trump card to attack their political opponents. This has become their official narrative. Unfortunately, only by attacking the Ahmadi community, can politicians defend themselves against accusations of supporting them or supporting Khatam-e-Nabuwat, and this has now become a widely accepted norm in our politics.
In the current climate, there is only the courageous Muhammad Jibran Nasir, a political candidate who has shown an unprecedented resolve to fight against the religious bigotry and hate directed at the Ahmadis. He and his supporters were threatened, manhandled and silenced just for talking positively about the community, yet they persevered undeterred.
Our attitude towards this matter is far from reasonable. Everyone, including the people in power, is merely hiding their head in the sand. Such a timid response towards this grim issue only makes the situation worse for the Ahmadi community, and it is time something must be done to rectify their status in the country. Muhammad Jibran Nasir got the ball rolling by contesting the elections on the mandate of fighting against bigotry, intolerance and extremism and he is paving the way for other politicians to follow in the future.
Our political elite must learn this lesson as well and realise that ignoring the immense persecution directed at the Ahmadis will only cultivate hate within the different communities of Pakistan, which could then be exploited by nefarious forces out to destabilise the country. The fight is not just for the Ahmadis anymore, it is for the very survival of our society.
The writer is a law graduate. He tweets @Obaidullahkhan
Published in Daily Times, July 26th 2018.