The politicisation of the Ahmadi issue

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The Shahada being erased from an Ahmadi place of worship by Pakistani police. 

Source: The Express Tribune

By Raza Habib Raja, who is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University.

This is the second part of a two part series. Read part one here.

On September 7, 1974, Pakistan’s parliament by an overwhelming majority passed what is known as the second amendment stripping Ahmadis off their Muslim status and declaring them to be non-Muslims for “legal and constitutional purposes”. This move was and to this date remains unprecedented as Pakistan remains the only country to do so. But why did it happen? Once again, the matter was politicised by the religious right, but the state response was different. The immediate stimulus for the agitation came from a skirmish between Ahmadis and some medical students at Rabwah railway station.

Once the news broke out, the religious right was able to frame it as rebellion by Ahmadis against the state, thus starting their violent agitation to compel the state to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Just like in 1953, the agitation was extremely violent resulting in damage to Ahmadi properties and even loss of lives.

Initially the state tried to curb it through force and in fact it was able to control the situation in one week. However, later on the then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto decided to take the matter to the parliament where his own party had absolute majority and which voted Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Why did Bhutto do that?

There were several reasons. At a more tactical level, Bhutto, since the matter was already getting politicised, wanted to take advantage by outflanking the religious right. Punjab was his base and he did not want to cede any political space to them. In fact after passing of the second amendment, he boasted in big rallies that he had finally solved a 90-year-old problem.

Secondly it is claimed by some quarters that to a certain extent there was also some pressure from Gulf States particularly Saudi Arabia and King Faisal, who did not want Ahmadis to come for Hajj. But at a broader and contextual level, there was another reason: break up of Pakistan in 1971.

Given that East Pakistan had separated due to ethnic grievances, the questions about identity and nation building resurfaced. Since Pakistan’s remaining wing was also ethnically diverse, the chief concern was to build civic nationalism and national identity in such a way that further fragmentation on ethnic lines could be avoided. The state chose to cultivate a more religion-based identity as Islam was a common factor amongst all the major ethnicities in Pakistan.

The 1973 Constitution made Islam a state religion and also contained explicit clauses stipulating that both president and prime minister were to be Muslims. Since the constitution envisioned an Islamic direction for the country this automatically elevated religious issues, of which the Ahamdi issue was a major one, in the public discourse and also put pressure on the state to define a ‘Muslim’ accordingly. In fact, religious groups that were demanding that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslim were also anchoring it in the 1973 constitution and its Islamic provisions.

When parliament was debating the issue, a campaign in the media was ongoing that not only called Ahmadis non-Muslims but also labelled them as traitors by constantly referring to their founder’s alleged links to the British. Moreover, the Bhutto government had also constituted a high court tribunal to investigate rioting and its proceedings were sensationalised and reported by the press daily.

Read further

shah_zia

Dr. Zia H Shah, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

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