Two years ago, gunmen shot dead Farooq Kahloun’s newly married son Saad Farooq, 26, in an attack that severely injured Kahloun, his younger son Ummad, and Saad’s father-in-law, Choudhry Nusrat.
Saad died on the spot. In Pakistan after travelling from his home in New York for the wedding, Nusrat died in hospital later. Four bullets remain in Kahloun’s chest and arm. A bullet lodged behind the right eye of Ummad, a student in the UK, was surgically removed months later.
As an Ahmadi leader in his locality, Kahloun knew he was a target for hired assassins in the bustling but lawless metropolis of Karachi. General insecurity in Pakistan is multiplied manifold if you are, like Kahloun, an Ahmadi – a sect of Islam that many orthodox Muslims abhor as heretic.
“I never thought they would target my family,” says Kahloun, 57, a successful businessman who left everything behind, obtained political asylum and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and daughter.
In 1974, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim (similarly pressured, the newly independent Bangladesh refused). A decade later, a military dictator made it a criminal offence for them to “pretend” to be Muslims.
These changes, say lawyers and human rights advocates, violate Pakistan’s own Constitutional provisions, specifically Articles 8-27 that are comparable to the U.S. Bill of Rights.
“These are shameful laws,” says Kahloun. “If we have no other Prophet or Quran, what can we do?”
‘Takfiri’ ideology (declaring someone a non-Muslim) led to Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdus Salam (Physics, 1979), an Ahmadi, being hounded out of the country, and to the attack on Swat schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, now Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate, also forced into exile.
Assailants behind such attacks are rarely caught, tried and punished, creating a culture of impunity that only encourages more attacks, say analysts.
Assailants whom Ahmadi survivors captured and handed over to the police in May 2010 following one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks are yet to be punished. The attack targeted an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, killing over 90 worshippers and injuring many more.
“We could not live in Pakistan anymore. No one would leave if he had a choice, but now, any Ahmadi will go out if given the opportunity,” Kahloun told IPS by telephone.
“In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.”
Takfiri militants also term Shias as ‘Kafir’ or infidel and have been targeting them in huge numbers.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that 687 people were killed in over 200 sectarian attacks in 2013, 22 per cent more than in 2012, while 1,319 people were injured, 46 per cent more in 2012.
“The number of Ahmadis and religious communities seeking asylum abroad is steadily increasing,” says Qasim Rashid, a Pakistani-born, Virginia-based Ahmadi lawyer and author of ‘The Wrong Kind of Muslim’ (2013) that documents the Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan.
“This goes to show the importance of maintaining freedom of religion and conscience worldwide. It is the failure to uphold these rights that empowers and emboldens groups like Taliban and ISIS,” Rashid told IPS.
Some Pakistani Ahmadis are protected by their prominence, like Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 83, a senior Supreme Court advocate who lives in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad, and has no intention of leaving the country.
“The Thurgood Marshall of Pakistan”, he is currently in the U.S., invited by the newly organised 52-member Ahmadi Muslim Lawyers Association (AMLA) to address their inaugural conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, last month and “pass on the torch”.
“All participants came at their own expense because they have a deep love and admiration for Mr. Rahman’s extraordinary career and advocacy,” says AMLA President Amjad Mahmood Khan, a Pakistani-origin American born in California.
AMLA has organised talks by Rahman at various universities, starting with Khan’s alma mater Harvard Law School. He spoke at Princeton University Oct. 17, and will appear at Columbia University, Oct. 23; New York University Law School, Oct. 27; University of California, Irvine, Oct. 30; and Stanford University, Nov. 4.
A lively and humorous speaker despite his age, Rahman peppers his talks with references to U.S. case law and pioneers like Martin Luther King — “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” — besides Pakistan’s Constitution and legal cases.
He began his Harvard talk with the Muslim greeting “As-Salam-Alaikum” (peace be with you) — “almost a reflex greeting for any Pakistani, whether Christian or Muslim or from any religion”.
In Pakistan, the greeting could send him to jail for three years, he reminded the audience. So could saying the ‘Kalima’, the first prayer of Islam, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”
“The first departure from the secular concept of Pakistan,” says Rahman, was Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly’s passage of the 1949 Objectives Resolution. Overriding the strong objections by some members, it declared Islam to be the state religion. “The clerics gained an inch”.
The Second Constitutional Amendment of 1974 that termed Ahmadis as non-Muslim is a “usurpation of constitutional authority, not a valid piece of law,” said Rahman. “The state cannot call into question anyone’s faith.”
In 1993, he argued a landmark case against restrictions on the Ahmadis’ right to freely practice their faith, consolidating eight appeals by Ahmadis, imprisoned for saying the ‘kalima’.
Zaheeruddin v. State is also known as the “trademark” or the “Coca Cola judgement” because the Supreme Court dismissed it on the grounds that Ahmadis by professing to be Muslims were violating the “trademarks” of Islam.
“As if religion is a merchandise, saleable commodity with financial interests attached,” scoffs Rahman, who carries with him two books that he adheres to: the Quran and Pakistan’s Constitution.
Lawyers in Pakistani courts cite hundreds of U.S. cases, but in the Zaheeruddin case, “American laws were wrongly cited and misapplied to give the colour of fairness to the case,” asserts Rahman.
Legal experts elsewhere have taken apart the Zaheeruddin judgement, like Martin Lau in a report for the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and Karen Parker, J.D. in a study for the Humanitarian Law Project of the International Educational Development, USA.
Rahman pins his hopes on “intelligence of a future day” along the lines of what the U.S. witnessed when a U.S. Supreme Court bench overturned a case that earlier restricted the right of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to propagate their faith.
“The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] was active in overturning the case,” says Rahman, noting that one of the judges who had been on the earlier bench admitted to having been wrong the first time.
Pakistan is the only country where it is a criminal offense for Ahmadis to profess and practice their faith as Muslims, but state-sanctioned discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis elsewhere are increasing.
“Pakistani laws are the most aggressive,” notes the advocate Qasim Rashid. “But other countries have started following Pakistan’s example. The onslaught is led not by locals but by Pakistani mullahs.”
Bangladesh has banned Ahmadi books on religion, Ahmadis are under attack in Malaysia, and Indonesia has started sealing Ahmadi mosques.
Khalida Jamilah, 21, lived in West Java in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. She says Ahmadi families like hers were free to practice their faith as Muslims until 2005 when hard-line Muslims attacked an Ahmadi convention in West Java that her family was attending.
In 2008, they sought political asylum in the U.S., and moved to Los Angeles, where Jamilah’s father drives a cab.
“Here [in America] we can express our faith freely,” says Jamilah, now a journalism student at the University of California, Berkeley. “The U.S. government values freedom of religion and there is separation of church and state. I hope the Indonesian government does that too.”