1400 years ago in the city of Medina, the political ruler of the time whose name was Muhammad ordered a census. My guess is that it was because he wanted to figure out the total number of the residents living in that area and the demographic makeup of the society. This would then help him to lead that polity in the best and most just way possible (because administering justice is what he was famous for). Therefore, He gave the following order to the people conducting the census:
“Write down for me the name of every such individual who claims to be a Muslim by the word of his own mouth” (SahihBukhari, Kitabul Jihadi Wassiyar, BabuKitabatilImaminnasa, Hadith no. 3060. This hadith is also found in Sahih Muslim).
Even though this man was the founder of the religion of Islam and knew the teachings of Islam better than anyone can ever claim to know, He didn’t delve into any specific conditions of defining what constitutes a Muslim, particularly in the matter of a census which includes identification of all residents of a particular political entity. You can notice that even the uttering of Kalima is not present. The only criterion for you to be considered a Muslim in the eyes of the ruler/state is that you yourself say that you are one.
The condition of minorities in Pakistan is no secret. Even though some brave souls do raise voices about their dire state but society at large is apathetic regarding the severity of situation. Even though all minorities in Pakistan have legitimate grievances that needed to be addressed and there are some common factors that affect them all, the issue of Ahmadis however, is not just a minority issue. It has implications that extend far and beyond the discrimination faced by this particular community. This issue defines Pakistan’s identity as a nation, betrays the ideals of its founders, introduces the concept of exclusionary citizenship and legalizes discrimination. Let me demonstrate.
First of all, whenever you talk against the state sanctioned persecution of Ahmadis, the most common argument that you would face is the comparison with other countries. Well-educated analysts and journalists who should be on the forefront to change the mindset of the people have given the following examples to justify state persecution of Ahmadis. “ Look at India, even though its secular, you can’t sacrifice a cow; Or France, how it bans the niqab but is still considered liberal and democratic or US where you can hurt Muslim sentiments as freedom of speech but say anything about holocaust and its anti-Semitism. Every country makes laws according to its values and in an “Islamic” state, we should be able to define who is and is not a Muslim.” Dear Friends, first of all, it is Pakistan; not India, not France and not US. Secondly, I don’t want Pakistan to be like India or France or US. Remember how when we were younger and if we wanted to do something that everyone was doing, our parents or grandparents would always reply by saying “if everybody wants to jump off a cliff, would you do that too?” Pakistan needs to be Pakistan, a country that has its own diverse history and its own founding principles. Penalizing Ahmadis from defining their religious identity goes against Pakistan’s identity, whether that identity is supposed to be Islamic (as demonstrated by the hadith above) or secular (where all citizens are supposed to be equal regardless of religion). It has nothing to do with what any other country does.
Secondly, the name “Pakistan” defines this country as a ‘land of pure,’ but a very impure mindset resides here. Even though majority of the people of Pakistan’s 180 million population are not militants or terrorists that will go around on killing sprees hunting down every one they see, but the silence of the majority particularly in case of state discrimination of Ahmadis speaks volumes about what they feel. The truth is that even if a lot of people will condemn the physical violence or bloodshed against Ahmadis, they are still not comfortable with the idea that Ahmadis should be allowed to call themselves Muslims. The best answer I have heard is that “they should be allowed to practice their own religion,” and that is exactly the problem that people fail to see. It’s not a separate religion; it’s a sect that has originated within Islam and from Islam. They identify themselves as Muslims yet its other people who want to take authority to define their identity.
Another argument that is made from a religious perspective is that Ahmadis consider other Muslims as incomplete Muslims or that they only consider themselves ‘true Muslims,’ so it not us but them who discriminate. Now, let’s accept for the sake of the argument that this statement is true, even then Ahmadis don’t go around making laws at the state level prohibiting other Muslims to identify as a Muslim. Even if an Ahmadi, or a Shia or a Sunni for that matter consider the person of another sect non-Muslim, the problem in case of Ahmadis is that they are not allowed to identify themselves as Muslims, a privilege that other sects of Muslims have. I hope people understand the difference here. That is why I say that it is not a minority issue because even minorities in Pakistan can at least identify themselves as they want, e.g. as a Hindu or a Christian or a Parsi or a Sikh. They don’t have to go to jail just for making these claims whereas Ahmadis do.
Moreover, when I say that this issue has implications beyond Pakistan, here is what I mean. It is a well-known fact and I don’t dispute it that internationally Islamophobia is on the rise and at several instances in various western/secular countries Muslims are discriminated brutally just on the basis of faith. However you will never be able to raise strong voice in support of Muslims in those countries where they are a minority and are persecuted because people can always point back at you and say, well you do the same thing yourself. Not to mention that actions of Muslim majority countries towards their minorities do increase anti-Islamic sentiment in the West which in turn affects Muslims living in those countries, even though majority of them are law-abiding and peace-loving citizens of western countries.
To be honest, I do agree that majority of the Muslims are not exactly fans of Ahmadis and they have been branded as heretics by different ulemas at different times since the time of their foundation. Even in Pakistan, changing laws is not going to change the discriminatory mindset that they have to face on the daily basis. However, considering the problems that these laws pose, not just for Ahmadis, but for Pakistan’s identity and Muslims all around the world, a very serious debate is needed to consider their practical implication. We can start with 1984 blasphemy laws because even the most anti-Ahmadi people today admit that Zia’s rule was autocratic, un-Islamic and it is the result of legacies of Zia era that Pakistan is in such a mess today. So, when people are ready to admit that policies of Zia era have harmed the whole Pakistan and we need to root them out, then why not talk about this particular law as well? This law was made by an undemocratic dictator and should have no legitimacy. Therefore, even if religiously it is sensitive to talk against blasphemy laws, we can challenge their legitimacy from a constitutional/judicial perspective to see if a loophole can be found which will make it easier to amend/abolish these laws.
In case of the second amendment of the constitution in 1974, it is true that it was done by a democratically elected parliament (which at least makes it clear that its humans who discriminate, not God), but it can also be changed by a democratically elected parliament. The generation that has grown up after 1974 has this mindset that somehow Ahmadis have always been non-Muslim as they have not seen an era where their discrimination was not state sanctioned. However, before 1974 and even today in other Muslim countries, state doesn’t stop Ahmadis from calling themselves as Muslims, no matter what the religious scholars say. Therefore, second amendment also needs to be debated in the light of the responsibilities of state as opposed to just a religious matter. Do we really want to exclude people from having full benefits of citizenship rights just on the basis of doctrinal differences? If one sect, then why not others? Why just faith, why not also exclude on the basis of gender or class or ethnicity or language? If we want to practice exclusionary citizenship, why should Pakistanis who immigrate to other non-Muslim countries should enjoy full citizenship benefits of those countries? Mindboggling, isn’t it? So while you are pondering these questions, please do not call these laws ‘Islamic’ and destroy the teachings of this beautiful religion, because as mentioned in the hadith in the beginning, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) didn’t discriminate, our ulemas do; and of course ulemas always know better! (not to mention that when ulemas go against the teachings of our Prophet, that’s not blasphemous at all).