On May 28th this year, we observed Memorial Day, a day to remember and honor those who have died in service to our nation. But on this year’s Memorial Day, I also reflected on other brave souls who died in another service: to their faith. May 28th has a special significance not just for me and the tens of millions of members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community worldwide. It is also a day of significance for all peace-loving and just people who desire equal human rights and a world that is free from religious and other persecution.
May 28th, 2012, marks the two-year anniversary of the vicious attack in Pakistan on innocent souls as they peacefully worshipped their creator. During the weekly Friday Prayer service, armed militants – strapped with suicide vests and automatic weapons – marched into two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan, belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and indiscriminately opened fire on the worshippers. People of all ages began dropping as the terrorists made their way through the mosques, firing their weapons every direction they turned and killing 86 people, while injuring over 100 more. I lost family that day as well. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack and indicated a willingness to continue the aggression.
There was no consideration for the innocent loss of life. No consideration for the humanity of those being brutally massacred. Driven by a raging hatred, these terrorists took the lives of those they didn’t even know. As recently noted by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, two men were captured during the attack, but instead of making any progress on their trial, the government – as well as the defense – has repeatedly sought adjournments from the court.
The Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, had strong words this week about the way Pakistan has handled this case. “It’s obscene that two years after the worst massacre in Lahore since the partition of India, the government has still not brought the suspects apprehended at the scene to trial,” said Adams. “By pandering to extremists who foment violence against the Ahmadis, the government emboldens militants who target the beleaguered community, and reinforces fear and insecurity for all religious minorities.”
What many human rights and religious freedom advocates find so appalling is what the New York Times characterized as Pakistan’s “state policy to nurture extremism.”
The government does not protect its own citizens. Rather, its legal system not only remains silent to such attacks but also provide fuel to radical organizations to justify these attacks.
Two years later, instead of providing extra security to this highly persecuted community, the government looks the other way. Amnesty International recently noted that in the city of Rawalpindi, Pakistani authorities succumbed to the demands of extremist clerics and forbade members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from using their own mosque. Earlier this month, Los Angeles Times reported from Lahore that Pakistani police took hammers and chisels and began destroying sections of an Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mosque because they claimed the dome and Koranic inscriptions made the building appear too much like a mosque.
May 28th, thus, is a significant day because it serves as the shining example of the injustice, intolerance and inequality that is choking Pakistan. The government must structurally change and allow all people to freely practice their faith. The state’s policies should not be set by religious clerics, especially those who harbor a violent, malicious misunderstanding of our faith.
Such religious leaders not only are the cause of the eruption of an extremist mindset and terrorist activity in Pakistan, they also defame Islam by claiming to be serving the faith. Islam has no need for those who resort to violence in a so-called defense of their faith. Islam condemns violence and the taking of innocent lives, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim community rejects any claims from extremists that they are following Islamic principles.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s worldwide spiritual leader (Khalifa), Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has exhorted members of his community to follow peace in their life. So the best way we can honor those who lost their life in the service of their faith and nation is to ensure their lives were not lost in vain. Let their life – and death – serve as an inspiration towards eradicating violence, war, bloodshed and injustice throughout the world. What better way to remember and honor those who have died while serving their nation or faith than to dedicate their memory to saving the lives of others?
Harris Zafar is National Spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and a frequent lecturer about Islam around the country. He can be contacted at [email protected]