Imran Khan has been elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan and taken charge of the government. He has invoked inspirational sentiments among everyday Pakistanis both inside the country and outside. As an Ahmadi of Pakistani origin, I welcome his government and expect improved progress of the nation during his tenure. He has appointed his cabinet and has finally started to govern this great nation of 220 million people. Dr Shireen Mazari has been given the portfolio of Human Rights ministry.
In ordinary circumstances, this may sound strange for a government to establish such a ministry. But in Pakistani context it is necessary. We, Ahmadis, have been at the receiving end of intimidation, mob violence, demolition of worship places, destruction of businesses, societal discrimination and murders in Pakistan. It is always convenient by our leaders and Ministers to talk about the track record of foreign nations of their human rights issues and ignore in-house state of affairs. Though I do share the same concerns, such as the provocative Dutch cartoons inciting Muslims across Europe, the cruelties meted out by Indian Armed forces against people of Kashmir, the plight of Palestinians, difficulty of Burmese Rohingyas, conflict in Yemen and Syria. However, Pakistan can only be an exemplary global citizen if it brings its own house in order especially on the matters of human rights of weaker and minority communities within its geography and area of governance in particular us – the Ahmadis.
Dr Mazari is a subject matter expert of political science and perhaps history too. I respectfully remind her that on analysis of history we find that usurpation of human rights is always linked with violence and injustices committed by a section of society against another through acts of persecutions or wars. This thought conjures up before us a vision of various phases of human past. For instance, during medieval ages Christianity has been purportedly involved in ugly acts of oppression and torture, and some Christian monarchs have indulged in brutal acts of violence and persecution under the misguided notion that they were serving the religion of Christ.
During the years of the Black Death, 1348–9, we know well that Jews were burnt alive in their homes. In the age of the Spanish Inquisition, a long reign of terror prevailed under the guidance and direction of some Christian priests. The instruments of torture shown at Madame Tussaud tell the tragic story of the Spanish and French Inquisitions. The popes, prelates, cardinals and canons, and the elders of the Church—wrote a chapter of terror into the history books. St Augustine called it ‘righteous persecution which the Church of Christ inflicts upon the impious’. This statement has striking parallels with the rhetoric Ahmadis face in their day to day lives in Pakistan.
Today’s Christian historians admit that this ‘righteous persecution’, inflicted in Christ’s name, was a disgrace to the Church. Numerous helpless women at various times, were put to death because they were said to be witches and there was a distorted notion that this was the Christian way of dealing with witchcraft. We all know well that humanity in Europe for several centuries did sunk to the depths of dark ages for events like questioning Joan of Arc about her visions of angels and later putting her to a torturous death. Innocent people were tormented for their so-called apostasy; they were forced to confess that they had recanted from the true religion. It was a bloody tale which Europeans did not want to revisit any more, but they did in World War I and II.
Last century was even more bloody compared to all the previous millennia. Both World Wars had a toll of more than 60 million. This included the systematic and brutal mass murders of 6 million Jews, Romas and other minorities in Europe. This occurred only 75 years ago. There was not a single year in the last century empty of violent wars across the globe. These acts of bloodshed had deep impact on human societies across the globe. Pakistan is no exception. We have had seen the mass migration of Muslim communities from partitioned India into Pakistan in 1947. This resulted in communal violence where hundreds and thousands were killed. We eventually managed to establish a beacon of light for the Muslim minority community of India in the shape of Pakistan after all that suffering. Thanks to the great leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his colleagues including Liaqat Ali Khan and Sir Zafarullah Khan. This accomplishment alone was never good enough for our success as a nation. Now the Khan led government has all the opportunity in its power to take lessons and avoid the ugly consequences of injustices. It can draw lessons from history and adopt a better direction for the Pakistani society.
I urge Dr Mazari to visit Rabwah at her first chance and meet the Ahmadi leadership and members of the Ahmadi community. There are many members who migrated from other parts of the country and took refuge in Rabwah at various times when they faced enormous levels of persecution. She can interview them and form her own rational opinions. As an Ahmadi, I am confident that Dr Mazari will find Ahmadi leadership cooperative, loyal and thoughtful if she approaches them.
The oppression against Ahmadis is not an imaginative phenomenon. The hateful incitements by religious clergy and the anti-Ahmadi laws create an atmosphere of coercion against Ahmadis. The society has been radicalised in the past four decades. There is hate spewed against Ahmadis day in and day out without giving any occasion for them to counter it or provide a rational rebuttal on media. The leaders from all persuasions use religion for their political gains. Ahmadis are singled out by many leaders who utter vile and hateful statements against the community and implore animosity. This environment has a very serious impact on the day to day lives of Ahmadis in Pakistan who are otherwise as ordinary citizens of the country as anyone else could be; working hard across all professions to put daily bread and butter on their tables.
These hateful incitements rile up sections of society who take law in to their own hands and try to enforce vigilante justice by burning Ahmadi worship places, businesses and houses. During past few days, Pakistanis celebrated Eid ul Azha with religious fervour. It is worth noting here that at many parts of the country, particularly in Punjab, Ahmadis were barred from sacrificing animals on the pretext of violating Pakistan Penal Code 298 B and 298 C. Trivial disputes are used as excuse to invoke vigilantism. I must remind the readers the text of PPC 298 C, it states:
“Any person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name), who directly or indirectly, poses himself as a Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”
The last line sums up the intent of these laws. It provides an unhindered provocation and access to religious clergy to unleash their ferocity against Ahmadis with or without the assistance of law enforcement agencies. More often the Police would side with the perpetrators committing such hostilities against Ahmadis. There is a long list of cases, punishments, jail terms, murders and migrations from Pakistan due to these laws. I urge Dr Mazari to reconsider this law, persuade her colleagues and the Prime Minister to repeal it. I believe the good will garnered by the Prime Minister can create a momentum for positive change. I hope the PTI government will pay heed. I hope pursuit of a just society will enable such debate.
Ahmadis as individuals and as a community have a lot to offer this nation due to their loyalty, commitment, higher literacy rate and collective pursuit of professional education. It will be Pakistan’s gain to re-think the hateful religiosity and rather engage in quest for a fairer society for all sections of the nation.