In Pakistan discussing religion is a punishable offense for Ahmadis
The arrest of an Ahmadi doctor highlights the religious apartheid practised in Pakistan. Zofeen Ebrahim reports.
23 Dec 13

In May 2010, terrorists attacked two mosques belonging to the Ahmadi community. Ninety-four people were killes and more than 120 were injured. (Photo: Aown Ali / Demotix)

In May 2010, terrorists attacked two mosques belonging to the Ahmadi community. Ninety-four people were killes and more than 120 were injured. (Photo: Aown Ali / Demotix)

In May 2010, terrorists attacked two mosques belonging to the Ahmadi community. Ninety-four people were killes and more than 120 were injured. (Photo: Aown Ali / Demotix)

“It was staged and pre-planned,” said Shahid Attaullah, referring to the arrest of a homeopath Dr Masood Ahmed on charges of blasphemy.

Narrating the details of the events preceding the arrest of a 72-year old doctor, who is also a British national,  Attaullah, the spokesperson for the Ahmaddiya Jamaat, said: “Two men posing as patients, came to his clinic in the Anarkali, an older part of Lahore, on November 25. After a few minutes they started discussing religion. Supposedly the doctor responded to their questions about Islam and then they left. Within minutes, a mob gathered around the clinic. A complaint was lodged and the police arrested him for preaching. He is in lock-up and his bail denied.”

According to news reports, the doctor was arrested for ‘posing’ as a Muslim.

Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims but in 1974, the government promulgated an ordinance, declaring them non-Muslims. According to Pakistan’s constitution, this community cannot call themselves Muslims; are banned from referring to their places of worship as mosques and cannot recite the Kalima, which is the first tenet of Islam, whereby a Muslim proclaims that he is a Muslim. The Ahmadis are banned from even singing hymns in praise of Prophet Muhammad. Of late there have been incidents where they have been harassed for keeping Muslim names.

Attaullah sees this to be a long-drawn case now that a first information report (FIR) has been lodged. “It is now gone into the court.” Last year 20 trumped up charges were registered, while this year as many as 33 people have so far been booked including the doctor.

According to Attaullah while there are some judges who are themselves prejudiced towards the community, those who are not are pressured by religious hardliners.

“There was a case where the judge of the Lahore High Court refused to take decision and sent the application back to the lower court. This is quite unprecedented. Two months ago in another case, after the judge granted bail to the accused, a group of clerics went to the judge’s chamber. I don’t know what transpired inside, but a little later, the judge changed the written order stating ‘no bail’”.

This does not surprise Zohra Yusuf, the chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “I can understand the judge’s predicament because a lot of power has been ceded to the clerics and most people buckle under their threats,” she said.

Since 1984, 299 people belonging to the community have been charged under the blasphemy law, 764 booked for displaying the Kalima; 38 for the Azan (calling to prayer); 447 ‘posing’ as Muslims; 93 for offering prayers, 770 for preaching and hundreds others for many such offences.

Little wonder then that Attaullah says: “There is always the sword of Damocles hanging over all of us and the mental anguish is permanent”.

“Many of our youngsters are migrating to other countries,” he said. “They do not see a future in Pakistan and the elderly members don’t want to leave the country they think is theirs,” he pointed out the social quandary they find themselves in.

The religious apartheid has become overt with the oppressors having declared an all out war. “In the last few years, I find the persecution has escalated and the attacks on us are pre-meditated and carried out in a planned manner,” said Attaullah. He further added: “And they always pick on the weaker elements of our community.”

In addition, said Yusuf: “The persecution of Ahmadis knows no bounds and, regrettably, there’s not enough condemnation from society or the media.”

According to Attaullah, the space for Ahmadis in Pakistan is getting narrower by the day.

Talking about the doctor’s arrest, he said: “The complainants had filmed the unsuspecting man reading aloud the translation of a verse from the Quran through the hidden camera.”

A Lahore-based journalist, requesting his name be withheld, (as he has received threats by an Islamic group for covering faith-based issues) has seen the video clip: “It was clear the doctor was trapped into saying what he said, but he was not preaching,” he said.

Further, said the journalist: “Ahmadis don’t talk about religion publicly and never to strangers; these people must be known to him and from the video it seemed they were asking him questions and he was responding to them.”

Attaullah, said they regularly circulate directives telling their people not to participate in any religious discussions with anyone and if the opposite sides wants to pull them in, they should simply disclose they are Ahmadis and the law does not allow them to speak on Islam.

This article was posted on 23 Dec 2013 at

This article was updated to correct an error. Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in 1974, not 1984 as previously stated.

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim

Zofeen Ebrahim is a freelance journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan