09/23/2022MASSIMO INTROVIGNEA+ | A-
The government accuses former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party, which is ahead in the polls, to be “pro-Ahmadi.” It is not, but hate continues to be spread.
by Massimo Introvigne
In April this year, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted from power by a no-confidence vote, after the opposition managed to persuade some of his own party’s members to defect and vote against him. He did not take it graciously, and immediately started to plan his comeback. In July, his party won a record majority in the provincial elections in Punjab. One of its members, Pervaiz Elahi, was elected Chief Minister, after a maneuver by the government to deny his victory was defeated by the Supreme Court.
General political elections are expected in 2023, but by-elections in 13 constituencies were scheduled for this month, although they have been postponed due to the devastating floods that hit the country. According to most polls, Khan is expected to win. He is conducting a campaign accusing the United States of having conspired to destroy him because of his pro-Chinese attitudes, although the present government appears to be equally favorable to Beijing.
The Ahmadis are a persecuted religious minority founded within Islam by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908). Conservative Muslims accuse Ahmad of having considered himself a “prophet,” in breach of the Islamic doctrine of the Finality of Prophethood, which maintains that there can be no prophet after Muhammad.
The Ahmadi formula for Ahmad, “at the same time a prophet and a follower of the Holy Prophet [ Muhammad],” is not enough to establish their orthodoxy in the eyes of Muslim clerics. For them, the Ahmadis deny the Finality of Prophethood and are non-Muslim heretics. They are severely persecuted in Pakistan through specific laws that make them second class citizens, prevented from voting and holding office. Their places of worship and cemeteries are attacked, and their devotees routinely killed by thugs who can count on the leniency of Pakistani courts.
In the present heated political situation, the Ahmadi issue is being used for courting the vote of radical Islamic movements, a powerful political constituency that is vehemently anti-Ahmadi. On September 14, Mian Javed Latif, a Federal Minister in the present anti-Imran-Khan government and a leader of the party Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) called a press conference where he exposed Imran Khan as pro-Ahmadi. Latif told the media that Imran “betrayed the basic principles of Islam” by promising Western governments that Ahmadis “will be given religious freedom,” which is anathema to Latif’s party.
The ousted Prime Minister’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), answered through another press conference where Noorul Haq Qadri, who had been the Minister of Religious Affairs in the government of Imran Khan, accused Latif and the government of “using religion to instill and spread hatred,” and hailed Imran’s unimpeachable Islamic credentials. Latif’s party retaliated by accusing Imran of “blasphemy,” a crime punished with the death penalty in Pakistan.
Whatever Imran may or may not have promised to Western leaders, the accusation that he made life better for Ahmadis is false. In 2021, The Diplomat assessed Imran’s attitude to freedom of religion and religious minorities. It concluded that the PTI Prime Minister had, if anything, “aggravated the problem.” In 2019, when Islamic fundamentalists started accusing Imran of being soft on the Ahmadis, his Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati said in television that “both I and Imran Khan send Lanat (curses) on Ahmadis.”
There was no improvement for the situation of Ahmadis under Imran, nor are there signs that his position is changing. His newly elected Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi has already enacted new anti-Ahmadi regulations.
What this controversy proves is that Pakistani politicians are persuaded that anti-Ahmadi bigotry and hate speech sell. A sizable part of the voters would support candidates promising to make the persecution of the Ahmadis (and other religious minorities) worse.
Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio. From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.