Pakistan’s political vandals

“I’ve never felt so humiliated in my life as that night, when I was pushed into a police vehicle and taken to a police lock-up as if I was a criminal,” said 40-year-old Fahim Shaukat, which isn’t his real name.

On the night of 14 July, Shaukat, along with a dozen other men from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, had gathered inside their place of worship in Kala Gujran, a town in the Jhelum district in the Punjab province of Pakistan, to stop desecration of their building after fears it may be attacked.

“Earlier that day, our community head met with the police with the latter demanding we demolish minarets [towers used for calls to prayer] or the police would be forced to do it themselves by midnight,” Shaukat told Index. “Our amir [religious head] refused and reasoned with him saying there was nothing in the law that barred us from having minarets.”

He recalled what happened that night: “Around 11:30 pm, we heard the doorbell, and at the same time the CCTV placed outside the door was destroyed. I opened the door, and was asked to step outside.”

Other people were hauled out, and Shaukat said there were around 20-25 policemen. He described how some of them went inside to look around, while a bearded man in a light blue shalwar kameez (a Pakistani outfit) took a ladder from one of the police vans and started hammering down the minaret.

While this was happening, men from the Ahmadiyya community were shoved into a police van and taken to the station and interrogated, before being released.

“This was an entirely illegal action, facilitated by the police themselves, and we suspect it was done at the behest of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan,” Amir Mahmood, the community’s spokesperson, told Index from the community’s headquarters in the Punjab city of Rabwah.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), founded by Khadim Hussain Rizvi in August 2015, is one of the largest political parties in Pakistan today. In the 2018 general elections it secured a huge vote bank, especially in Punjab. It proclaims itself to be the defender of the Prophet Muhammad’s honour and demands severe punishment for those who do not believe in the Prophet’s sanctity and finality. At one time outlawed following violent protests, the party is now back in force.

“Desecration of our places of worship is a violation of the Constitution of Pakistan,” Mahmood said, referring to a 2014 judgment which was set out to promote religious tolerance and protect minorities, by the former chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jillani. “Justice Jillani had ordered that a special police force be formed for the protection of that. It is ironic that instead of protecting and safeguarding them, the police are themselves carrying out these tasks specially in the province of Punjab.”

Deputy superintendent of police, Abdul Jabbar, denied that the police involvement was vandalism, saying: “That’s a complete lie!” He also denied that people from the community were manhandled or detained for hours in the police lock-up.

“Our job is to protect the people and their property irrespective of their religious beliefs. We cannot be party to such illegal activity as demolition of the minarets,” he said.

According to Shaukat, the deputy superintendent in fact “led the attack” that night.

“If that’s a lie, why did the station house officer at Kala Gujran police station return our licensed gun that the police had taken away during their raid?” Shaukat said.

“According to my information, it was the Ahmadis [people from the Ahmadiyya community] who pulled down the minaret,” said Asim Ashfaq Rizvi, former district president of the TLP.

Rizvi has announced, and confirmed to Index, that if the local administration does not ensure that minarets in all the three places of worship around the city have been demolished, “we will come forward and remove them ourselves on Muharram 10,” which is one of the holiest dates for Muslims and which falls on 29 July. “It’s my own proclamation and not that of the TLP leadership, and I will follow it through,” he said.

“Pamphlets have been distributed and leaflets plastered across Jhelum talking about Rizvi’s Muharram 10 plan,” confirmed Shaukat.

Rizvi said: “For the last two years, we have been pointing out this anti-state and anti-constitutional activity to the government and the police.”

He said the Pakistan Penal Code 298, also known as the blasphemy law, provided him the licence to carry out such acts against people who allegedly insult Islam. Under Section 298-C of the code, Ahmadis cannot claim to be Muslims or propagate their faith.

In 1984, military dictator General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq used a presidential ordinance to ban members of the community from the usage of epithets, descriptions and titles reserved for certain holy persons.

In the vandalism of minarets, Shaukat believes the TLP was “playing the religion card” to win over the sentiments of the general population, huge swathes of which look down on the Ahmadiyya community. This is all the more poignant now, with Pakistan’s 2023 general election on the horizon and the TLP looking for votes.

In Pakistan discussing religion is a punishable offense for Ahmadis

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.

Targeting of Ahmadis continues in Pakistan

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 killed and more than 120 were injured. (Photo: Aown Ali / Demotix)

As the Muslim festival of Eid ul Adha drew to a close last week, it left a bad taste in the mouth of several Pakistanis when they heard that those belonging to the Ahmadi community were stopped from performing the ritual of animal sacrifice because they are “non-Muslims”.

According to a news report by Express Tribune, police raided a house of an Ahmadi man in Lahore, Punjab, and took him into custody. Police released him only after Ahmadi community elders intervened, giving written assurances that the man will not perform a sacrifice.

“We have slid towards the deep,” said rights activist and filmmaker Feryal Gauhar, quoting Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, blaming the government for not taking action.

“The spiral is rapidly spinning out of control. We are reduced to being passive bystanders to the tragedy that is being played out by forces of obscurantism,” she said.

“I think it’s deplorable and yet another instance of official persecution of the Ahmadis,” said Zohra Yusuf. But she said it was unclear under which law the police took action. “This indicates that intolerance has seeped into the police force, particularly in the Punjab,” she said.

The spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya Jammat in Pakistan, Saleemuddin (who uses his first name) said: “The police should not have given into the pressure of a few hardliners; this only strengthens them further.”

While only two cases surfaced this year, last year, too, a couple of cases were reported. Many fear if not nipped in the bud, this could set precedence for the coming years.

To Pakistani journalist and rights activist Beena Sarwar the episode is reminiscent of Nazi Germany and the persecution the Jews faced. “It goes against the basic tenets of humanity and justice, and the Islamic principle of ‘to you your faith and to me, mine’.”

“Pakistan must, for its own sake, take a firm stand against any such vigilantism and witch-hunting and intrusion into citizens’ personal lives and faith,” Sarwar said.

Every year, Muslims from all over the world gather in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and perform Haj, between the 8th to the 12th day of the Islamic month of Zil Haj. Among a series of rituals performed that date to the time of Prophet Abraham, is the sacrifice of animals — usually a goat or a sheep (although cows and camels are also slaughtered) and the meat is distributed among relatives and the less fortunate.

“Offering animal sacrifices, particularly on the blessed days of Eid-ul-Adha, is a quintessential Muslim practice that all Muslims deeply cherish. For police to strip Ahmadis of this precious right is a callous and cruel act,” responded Amjad Mahmood Khan, president, Ahmadiyya Muslim Lawyers Association, which is based in the United States, through an email exchange.

“Yes, it is a ritual performed by Muslims, and Ahamdis are not Muslims,” Qari Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, a cleric who lives in Chenab Nagar, Punjab, where 95 percent of its population belong to the Ahmadi faith.

While the Ahmadis, consider themselves Muslims, they believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th century cleric, “was the messiah promised by God” which is unacceptable to all other Muslim sects.

In 1974, the state of Pakistan declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. According to Pakistan’s constitution, they cannot call themselves Muslims, are banned from referring to their places of worship as mosques and cannot sing hymns in praise of the Prophet Muhammad. There are between 2-5 million Ahamdis living in the country.

But Usman, who heads the International Kahtme Naboowat Momin, one of the several religious movements in Pakistan, that aims to protect the sanctity of Prophet Muhammad is not in favour of the banning Ahmadis from performing the sacrifice. “In Chenab Nagar, no Ahmadi was stopped carrying out the sacrifice,” he said.

This was confirmed by Aamer Mahmood, in charge of the press section of the Ahmadiyya Jammat, who lives in Chenab Nagar.

But strong armed tactics to scare the Ahmadis is not restricted to Punjab alone. In September, four Ahmadis were killed in Karachi for their faith, said Mahmood.

In addition, he said, over 60 Khatme-Naboowat Conferences were held on or around September 7 (the day Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims) across Pakistan. Mahmood said a hate campaign forms an integral part of the conferences. The followers are incited to kill Ahmadis as part of Muslim edict.

“Earlier a handful would be held, but this time there was a record number which shows state collusion in stoking anti-Ahmadi sentiment.” he said.

“They are lying,” said Usmani. “We are against every form of violence; they are badmouthing Islam. In fact, had that been the case, do you think there would have been a single Ahmadi still alive in Pakistan?” he said during a phone interview.

“I have before me scores of published press statements and edicts by various Khatme Naboowat leaders from various Urdu newspapers to kill us or openly threatening us to leave Pakistan,” Mahmood countered.

He said he has pamphlets listing the names and addresses of Ahmadi families alongside messages inciting murder.

According to Khan: “The extreme views of a certain militant segment of Pakistan have permeated state institutions and law enforcement. Until and unless the state of Pakistan recognizes that it is only Allah’s place to judge whether someone is a true and righteous Muslim, it will continue down a perilous path towards lawlessness and injustice.”

Gauhar said sadly: “Mohammad Ali Jinnah [the country’s founder] would not own this Pakistan.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, a Congressional-appointed bipartisan federal body yesterday urged President Obama to raise concerns about the “dire religious freedom situation” in Pakistan during their meeting.

“Given that President Obama and Sharif reportedly will be discussing how best to counter violent extremism, we urge the US to incorporate concern about freedom of religion into these conversations,” said Robert George, Chairman of the US Commission of International Religious Freedom.

“To successfully counter violent extremism, Pakistan must have a holistic approach that ensures that perpetrators of violence are jailed, and addresses laws that foster vigilante violence, such as the blasphemy law and anti-Ahmadi laws.

“For the sake of his country, the Prime Minister should be pressed to take concrete action,” George said.

Based on findings of United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Pakistan represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom, he noted.

“The violence extremists perpetuate threatens all Pakistanis, including Shias, Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus, as well as those members of the Sunni majority who dare to challenge extremists,” he said.

This article was originally posted on 22 Oct 2013 at