By Kashif Chaudhry:
Religious freedom (or the lack thereof) in Pakistan cannot be emphasized enough. Due to the preposterous demeanor of Pakistan’s self-righteous right-wing, many in the world today are aware of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy problem. Much frustration has been expressed on liberal Pakistani blogs — especially after the heartless murders of Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti — on the abuse of these laws. Even though nothing is expected to change anytime soon, at least the first vital step towards that goal has been taken – raising awareness.
Unlike the general blasphemy laws, however, the specific anti-Ahmadi laws of Pakistan have not found even this much of luck. They have been conveniently forced out of the visual field and few are aware of the existence and continuous abuse of these draconian laws. The silence of the liberal Pakistani blogosphere in this regard has always been disappointing. Tired of waiting, I attempt to break the ice – once again.
In April of 1984, President Zia-ul-Haq issued the shameful anti-Ahmadi Ordinance XX. Zia was a military dictator who had taken over the country after a coup in 1977. To legitimize his autocracy, Zia leaned towards the extreme right. He became the de facto champion of Pakistan’s extremist cause. As if the hatred radical clerics spread and the consequent violence was not enough, it was decided that the State would intervene to “discipline” the Ahmadi Muslims.
Hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims, including three of my maternal uncles, were rounded up from various parts of the country. Some were guilty of saying the Islamic Creed, the Kalima, which is a proclamation of the oneness of God and the truth of Prophet Muhammad. Others were jailed for using Islamic epithets on wedding and business cards. Such epithets had become a copyright of the state and only state-defined Muslims were permitted to use them. The law, for instance, forbade the use of words such as “InshAllah” (God willing) and “Bismillah” (In the Name of Allah). To say the “Salaam” (greeting of peace) was also declared a crime. Each of these “crimes” was punishable by three years of imprisonment and a fine. All this in the name of “Islamization” – how ironic!
Thousands of Ahmadi Muslims filled jails across the country. The “Adhan” or call to prayer was banned. Police erased the Kalima and otherQuranic verses from Ahmadi Muslim mosques. To refer to these places of worship as “mosques” or to refer to any Ahmadi as a Muslim was declared an offence under the law. Reciting the Quran or praying in public or carrying out any other act that could be seen as imitating a Muslim were declared punishable. On one side of prison sat rapists and murderers and on the other sat those who had proclaimed the oneness of God or invoked peace on a passer-by.
Not happy with the lenient three-year imprisonment prescribed for the heinous crimes mentioned, the rightist brigade suggested the death penalty. Ahmadi Muslims were already being regularly declared “worthy of being killed” or “wajib-ul-qatal ” in sermons and religious conferences. Zia inscribed that declaration into law. He went on to introduce the death penalty for propagation of Ahmadiyya Islam and distribution of Ahmadiyya literature.
Jinnah’s Pakistan had already been dealt a severe blow in 1974 when the State declared Ahmadi Muslims to be non-Muslim. A second major blow came with the institution of these ruthless laws. These laws exist to date and continue to tarnish Pakistan’s image in the international arena. Hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims remain behind bars in Pakistan – and hundreds have been killed.
To my fellow Pakistanis, I make a humble plea. I do not ask you to accept me as a Muslim because I know I will be wrong to take God’s position of being the ultimate Judge of faith and give it to you: my faith is personal between God and me. I do not ask you to believe in my interpretation of Islam. I do not ask you to stop thinking of me as heretic: you are free to hold whatever belief you want about me.
What I ask you to do is stop being silent witness to the systematic oppression my Community endures. Stand up for me. Be my voice and fight the injustice and bigotry in the anti-Ahmadi Muslim laws of our land. Speak up against diabolical decrees written in the name of righteousness. Charity, I believe, should always begin at home. You are my home. Ipso facto, do not turn a blind eye. End the apathy.
Lately, I have lost all hope with the ultra-conservatives of Pakistan. My plea is to the so-called moderate faction of Pakistan. What are you waiting for? How could you possibly ignore the absurdity of the anti-Ahmadi Muslim laws that harass millions in the name of Islam? If not for me, if not for the absurdity of these laws, speak up for the honor of Jinnah and the sanctity of the Pakistan that he dreamt of – a land where all would be free and equal.
The very least you can do, my friends, is take that first step towards change – raise awareness. This is essential for a prosperous and progressive Pakistan.