Pakistani film and television actor, Hamza Ali Abbasi has landed himself in hot waters after calling for equal rights for the country’s minority Ahmadiyya Muslims during his Live show on AAJ TV and is facing death threats after questioning Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadiyya laws.
During his Ramadhan show on Pakistan’s AAJ TV, Hamza Ali Abbasi said “I want to say on Live TV that I will be discussing two things on the last day of Ramadhan; One will be the Ahmadi community and the other will be the Blasphemy Law”
He went on to say:
“When you speak up for a suppressed community’s rights you are labelled as someone who is from that community, I said do not kill Ahmadis and the people said I am an Ahmadi….I am not an Ahmadi but a Sunni Muslim”
Abbasi continued the discussion and asked a panel of Islamic clerics whether an Islamic state has the right to declare a group of people Muslim or non-Muslim.
In 1974 the Government of Pakistan amended the constitution to declare the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and its’ followers non-Muslim. Similarly in 1984 more changes were made to the law once again and it became criminal for Ahmadis to even ‘pose as muslims’, like greeting someone with Assalamoalaikum, refer to their mosques as actual mosques and the like.
Soon after the show a fire storm erupted on the Pakistani social media. Pakistan’s Jammat-e-Islami political party released a statement saying the following:
“We will protect these [anti-ahmadiyya] laws and will not tolerate any changes to these“
Another Islamist political party, Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam released a similar statement saying:
“The liberals are attacking the Islamic core of the country. People are doing this to appease the West and these same people are being funded by foreign countries”
— Rabwah Times (@RabwahTimes) June 13, 2016
On 13th June, Hamza Abbasi reacted to the social media firestorm and published a video message on his Facebook page. In the video he questioned why is it such a taboo to talk about about Ahmadis. Abbasi asked
“Why is it that I can come and talk about other non-Muslim communities including Christians and Hindus on the media but why can I not discuss about Ahmadis ? Is it a sin ? Is it acceptable to give out death threats for making such remarks ? Why is it that when a Christian is persecuted I can talk about it but why is it that I can not talk about persecution of Ahmadis on the media ?”
On 14th June the actor continued his discussion on Ahmadiyya rights on his TV Show and looked visibly upset as he detailed the death threats directed towards him. In the program Abbasi asked a new panel of Islamic clerics why there had been such a backlash against him for just asking a question.
He urged the Islamic clerics to invite the Ahmadis to come and discuss their beliefs with them instead of hating them.
Next day, an Islamic cleric Maulana Kaukab Noorani Okarvi publicly issued death threats against Abbasi during a live broadcast. During the 15th June broadcast of TV ONE Noorani said:
“The honor of this nation is very much alive. If the law won’t take action, the Muslims are ready to [do so]…….anyone who commits treason is to be shot dead at that very spot. How dare he (Abbasi) speak about the [Ahmadiyya] issue…… We are a very peaceful people, but if someone dares to say such things about the finality of prophethood, then remember that we are all soldiers…..and we will not hesitate in this matter.”
In response to the Clerics comments, Pakistan for All, a citizens Resistance Forum which aims to fight religious intolerance started a petition urging Pakistan’s media regulatory authority to ban the clerics show.
On Friday, June 17th PEMRA banned both Abbasi and Okarvi’s show and released a statement saying that: “… provocative conversations took place during the shows which has led to much anger and sadness”.
Reacting to the ban Abbasi once again reached out to his fans through Facebook and said
“Today speaking up for the rights of Qadianis [Ahmadis] has become a sin, Jinnah made Zafrullah Khan [who was an Ahmadi] the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan. Persecuting people in the name of Islam and thinking it is right to do so is disrespectful to both God and his last Prophet Muhammad”
The whole scenario grabbed the attention of Kashif Chaudhry, a U.S based writer and Ahmadi Rights activist. Since no representative of the Ahmadiyya Community was invited to Abbasi’s shows, Chaudhry did a live program in partnership with Rabwah Times to help start a dialogue for better understanding of minority issues.
Several other media personalities also spoke out in support of the Pyaray Afzaal actor, Human Rights activist Jibran Nasir praised Abbasi for speaking out on a very important issue.
Another Pakistani TV actress, Nadia Jamil published a Facebook post revealed how she was thrown out of a TV show for speaking up for the Ahmadiyya Community and their rights. She urged more people to speak up and commenting on the issue she said:
“People have spoken for the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan before, I was thrown off a TV channel for doing it, I really admire and respect his [Hamza Abbasi’s] courage, his calm in the face on all the hysteria and his moral resolve!”