Ahmadi Killings in Lahore

In view of two major attacks on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore on March 28, 2010, in which 90 people were killed and more than one hundred injured, a Pakistani American perspective…

In 2003 when Benazir Bhutto was invited to speak at St John Fisher’s College here in Rochester about racial, religious and ethnic tolerance, my husband made it a point to attend the event. He sat patiently through all her vapid rhetoric in order to ask her one single question. In 1974 her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, had bowed to political pressure and declared Ahmadis1 to be non-Muslims, triggering a wave of persecution and discrimination which is still alive and well today. Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and then again from 1993 to 1996. My husband’s question was simple: what had she or her administration done during those two shots at governing Pakistan to eliminate this religious intolerance? Bhutto fumbled for words and launched into a generic speech on the importance of co-existence but she had no answer. Her administration had done nothing to address this injustice.

In a country where the army has penetrated every facet of society to the detriment of civic institutions, where that same military has mounted devastating attacks on its own civilians creating millions of refugees, where the Police Act of 1861 which was drafted by the British to facilitate their rule over the Indian subcontinent still defines the relationship (with minor amendments) between the police and the citizenry, where a small group of venal elite continue to colonize 170 million people, most of whom can hardly scrape a living, what protection can we expect for religious minorities?

When I called an Ahmadi friend of mine to inquire about her family following the horrible attacks in Lahore, she was pragmatic about the state of affairs in Pakistan. “Don’t they kill Shias in mosques all the time?” she said. True. Such mass killings are not limited to religious minorities either – their motivation can be ethnic or political as well. But the fact is that when a religious minority is targeted, it exposes a disturbing truth about the level of intolerance in a society and its inability to use legal safeguards and adequate law enforcement to protect all its citizens.

In a country like Pakistan, which is already torn by sectarian strife, there is no room for blasphemy laws2 which are open to abuse or a constitutional clause that requires Pakistan’s head of state to be a Muslim. Such laws succeed only in exacerbating existing tensions and designating religious minorities as second-class citizens. Pakistan’s government needs to take a stand. Half-hearted condolences will not do, neither will hypocritical platitudes. The perpetrators of the violence must be brought to justice. Discriminatory laws must be repealed. The police force must be trained to protect Pakistani citizens irrespective of socio-economic status, ethnicity or religion. Religious freedom and tolerance must be treated as a national priority.

With Islamophobia being as rampant as it is in the Western world today, who could be in a better position than Muslims to understand the vulnerability of religious minorities? Let’s remember that human rights are universal and not the prerogative of any one select group. We can only be safe when all of us, each and everyone of us is safe.

[1] The Ahmadiyya movement was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889. His followers, the Ahmadis, believe him to be the promised messiah whose return is prophesized by all Abrahamic religions. Mainstream Muslims consider Muhammad to be the last prophet. This creates a divergence of views on the finality of prophethood, one of the central tenets of mainstream Islam. There are 3-4 million Ahmadis in Pakistan but their worldwide population might be as high as 200 million.

[2] Blasphemy laws were introduced by General Zia ul Haq in the 1980s. Under these laws, defaming the Prophet Muhammad or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object can be punished with a fine, imprisonment, even a death sentence.

ahmadi family