Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
Recommend UsEmail this PagePersecution News RSS Blog
Introduction & Updates
<< ... Worldwide ... >>
Monthly Newsreports
Media Reports
Press Releases
Facts & Figures
Individual Case Reports
Pakistan and Ahmadis
Critical Analysis/Archives
Persecution - In Pictures
United Nations, HCHR
Amnesty International
US States Department
Urdu Section
Feedback/Site Tools
Related Links

Home U.S CIRF CIRF Report May, 2001
Int’l Religious Freedom Report - May, 2001


A. Introduction

Although the government of Pakistan does not appear to be engaged in a systematic effort to persecute religious minorities, it is clearly not doing enough to adequately protect the religious freedom of all of its citizens. Members of the Ahmadi religious community are prevented by law from engaging in the full practice of their faith. Religious minority groups (including Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus) complain that they are politically marginalized by a system of separate electorates, and that this system exacerbates other religious-freedom problems. The criminal laws against blasphemy are abused, resulting in detention of and sometimes violence against religious minorities as well as the targeting of numerous Muslims on account of their religious beliefs. Finally, there is a substantial amount of sectarian violence, largely targeting Shiite Muslims, committed by organized groups of religious extremists. [ 1 ]

General Pervaiz Musharraf, who took power in a military coup in October 1999, made some announcements early in his tenure that appeared to indicate that his government was going to begin to address some of these problems. Unfortunately, his government has, so far, failed to live up to many of the expectations that it had raised. Moreover, it has been criticized in Pakistan for capitulating to, and thus emboldening, political and other societal forces that advocate policies that are antagonistic to the protection of religious freedom for all Pakistanis and the equal citizenship of all religious communities. [ 2 ]

B. Religious Demography

The population of Pakistan is approximately 138 million. Official population statistics are based on the last completed census from 1981. A new census was conducted in 1998, but, as of the date of this report, the government has not released the results as they relate to the religious composition of Pakistan's population. Estimates place Muslims at approximately 97% of the population. Sunni Muslims predominate at 77%, while Shiite Muslims make up about 20% of the population. According to the State Department, current estimates of the number of Ahmadis in Pakistan are between 3 and 4 million. Christians and Hindus each constitute about 1.5 percent of the population. There are small numbers of Buddhists, Parsis (Zoroastrians), Sikhs, and followers of traditional tribal religions. [ 4 ]

C. Ahmadis

Ahmadis are followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded a religious community in the late nineteenth century in what was then British India. Although Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslim, some Muslims in Pakistan hold the opposite view because of the Ahmadis' claim that their founder was a recipient of divine revelation and a prophet of God. This claim is believed by some Muslims to violate a basic Islamic tenet regarding the finality of the prophet Muhammad. (1) This religious difference has been used in the past by certain Pakistani governments to justify a number of legal restrictions on the Ahmadis' practice of their faith. [ 5 ]

In 1974, during the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime and after a number of days of debate in the National Assembly, a constitutional amendment was passed that declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims for purposes of the Constitution and law. Beginning in 1984, a number of criminal provisions were promulgated that specifically targeted Ahmadis, essentially punishing any Ahmadi who “poses” as a Muslim. (2) [ 6 ]

Because the religious practices of the Ahmadis apparently are essentially the same as those of most Sunni Muslims, these legal prohibitions have the effect of a far-reaching ban on the public practice of their faith. As these laws have been interpreted and applied, it is illegal for Ahmadis to call their places of worship "mosques," to worship in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms (otherwise open to all Muslims), to perform the Muslim call to prayer, to publicly quote from the Quran, to wear on their person the medallion carrying the Kalima which states the basic affirmation of the Muslim faith, to preach in public, to seek converts, to use the traditional Islamic greeting in public, and to produce, publish, and disseminate religious materials. Ahmadis have reportedly been arrested for all of these acts. [ 7 ]

The Ahmadis report that since 1984, approximately 3,000 individuals, including their current religious leader who lives in London, have been charged under anti-Ahmadi laws and/or with blasphemy or other religious offenses. As of December 2000, 11 Ahmadis were reportedly being detained under such charges, while approximately 20 others have been charged but are not in detention. The major Ahmadi religious organization has not been able to hold an official meeting since 1974. Ahmadis also report that they are prevented from advancing to high posts in the government and the military, and that they are unable to obtain government scholarships to, or sometimes even admission into, colleges and universities. In addition, Pakistani Muslims who apply for a passport must declare that they consider the Ahmadi founder to be an "imposter" and that his followers are non-Muslims. This means that Ahmadis are unable to obtain a passport or to travel abroad without violating their conscience, i.e. declaring themselves to be non-Muslim. (3) [ 8 ]

In the Ahmadis' view, the enforcement of criminal laws and other discriminatory measures against them is not primarily the result of a direct campaign of the current government or of widespread social enmity, but results from pressure by small groups of religious extremists on local government officials to initiate and prosecute cases against Ahmadis. However, the current government is criticized for not opposing the activities of these extremists or adequately supporting local officials in their efforts to resist such pressures. Recent incidents of violence against Ahmadis in October 2000 (discussed below) were attributed to the activities of these extremist groups, and to the atmosphere of intolerance that their activities - and the government's acquiescence - had created. In addition, given the alleged endemic corruption in the Pakistani legal system, the threat of prosecution under the anti-Ahmadi laws, like the blasphemy and many other laws, can be used to settle personal disputes that have nothing to do with religion. [ 9 ]

D. The Separate Electorate System for Religious Minorities

The representatives of Ahmadi, Christian, and Hindu religious communities that testified before the Commission and with whom the Commission delegation met in Pakistan were virtually unanimous in stating that this “separate electorate” system for religious minorities was the most significant problem that they faced, one that was at the root of many of their other religious-freedom problems, and thus eliminating the separate electorate was a necessary step in addressing those problems. Many asserted that this electoral system rendered religious minorities “second-class citizens” and placed them outside the mainstream of Pakistani political life; some termed it “religious apartheid.” Moreover, it has the effect of completely disenfranchising the Ahmadis, as they reportedly do not participate at all in elections because they believe that to vote under the separate system is an explicit declaration that they are non-Muslims. [ 11 ]

Minority representatives consistently stated that they believed they would be better represented by Assembly members elected by the total voting population of a particular locality, even if the numerical strength of religious minorities prevented the direct election of Christian, Hindu, or Ahmadi legislators. (5) Under the separate electorate system, it is alleged that local Muslim legislators do not respond to the concerns of religious minorities in their districts, but would do so if they identified minorities as part of their constituency and had to rely on their votes. Also, religious minority representatives elected under the separate electorate are typically based in major urban centers, far away from the dynamics of local problems. Because many religious-freedom problems are asserted to be essentially local ones, such as the abusive enforcement of the blasphemy (see below) and anti-Ahmadi laws, and local intolerance, violence and discrimination, it is believed that having local representatives (regardless of their religion) who were responsive to local concerns would help prevent abuses and defuse tensions. Many minority representatives also believed that moving to a joint electorate might help set in motion a long-term political process that would ultimately reduce the enforcement of discriminatory laws and incidents of religious intolerance and violent extremism. [ 12 ]

One measure of the strength of the dissatisfaction of religious minorities with the separate electorate system is their conscious boycott of the recent phase of local elections held in December 2000. Notwithstanding what is alleged to be a promise made by General Musharraf to representatives of religious minorities to hold local elections with a joint electorate, the first round of elections for local governing councils employed a scheme of representation based on separate electorates. Acknowledging that minority communities had generally boycotted the local elections in protest against the separate electorate system, federal Minister for Local Government and Rural Development Omer Asghar Khan has reportedly asked the government and policymaking institutions to give serious consideration to introducing the joint electorate system in general elections (6). [ 13 ]

E. Abuses of the Blasphemy Laws

There appears to be widespread agreement among government officials, legal advocates, and leaders of many religious communities in Pakistan that the criminal provisions against blasphemy are being abused. The Pakistani Penal Code contains provisions dating from the British colonial period that punish words and acts intended to be injurious to religious feelings (of followers of any religion). During military rule under Zia ul-Haq, provisions were added that penalize defamation of the Prophet Muhammad (punishable by death), persons associated with the Prophet, and the Quran (7). [ 14 ]

Those who testified before the Commission and with whom the Commission delegation met in Pakistan describe the nature of these abuses in the following way. To initiate a blasphemy case, any person can file a First Information Report (FIR) at the local police station. By doing so in a public way, a crowd of angry persons can be assembled and the police will take the accused into custody, ostensibly (and at times sensibly) for his or her own safety. Once local feelings have been aroused, local officials are reluctant to release the accused before trial. The instigators of such charges (alleged to be almost always false) are reported to fall into three categories: (1) those who have a personal dispute with the accused that is unrelated to religion (but the blasphemy law is a convenient way to attack them); (2) representatives of small but active organizations characterized as "fundamentalists" and “extremists” that operate throughout the country that target “deviant” Muslims, Ahmadis, Christians, and other religious minorities for prosecution; and (3) local Muslim religious leaders who are either ideologically or organizationally aligned with or sympathetic to the aforementioned groups. [ 15 ]

Numerous Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims have been charged under the blasphemy laws. There has reportedly been an increase in recent years in abuses of the blasphemy laws against Muslim religious targets, including Sufis and Muslim religious scholars. (8) Blasphemy cases continue to be filed under the Musharraf government, and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that a total of 38 blasphemy cases were filed in the first 10 months of 2000 against 40 Ahmadis, 26 Muslims, and six Christians. [ 16 ]

Many of those with whom the Commission consulted believed that abuses of the blasphemy law could be mitigated with a change in the procedure for registering, investigating, and prosecuting cases. Many believed that the proposal announced by General Musharraf in April 2000 to require an investigation and approval by the local Deputy Commissioner prior to allowing the filing of an FIR (and taking the accused into custody) would have been effective in curbing at least some of the abuses. (10) Others believed that the decision to move forward with a blasphemy arrest should rest with a central authority in Islamabad, because, as a local official, the Deputy Commissioner would still be subject to local pressures. Nevertheless, the government's reform proposal was withdrawn soon after it was announced, reportedly as a result of pressure from some Muslim religious groups. An additional meaningful reform that was suggested to the Commission was that the most commonly-used blasphemy provision (i.e. Pakistan Penal Code sec. 295-A) should be removed from the list of crimes that are tried by the special anti-terrorist courts, where the accused has fewer procedural protections, and more restricted rights to appeal, than in normal criminal courts (11). [ 18 ]

F. Religious Violence

In September and October 2000, there were two instances of deadly violence against Ahmadis. In both instances, Ahmadi groups were attacked at prayer and a total of 10 people were killed. In one case, the perpetrator was a local person who had a history of harassing Ahmadis - a possibly deranged individual who was known to, but not restrained by, the local authorities. He was reported to have incited an angry group of local people who subsequently destroyed the Ahmadi mosque. In the second case, the attack was carried out by a group of men unknown to the local community. Arrests have been made in at least one case. [ 22 ]

G. Commission Recommendations

3. The U.S. government in its bilateral relations with the Pakistani government should take the position that the existence and enforcement of laws targeting Ahmadis that effectively criminalize the public practice of their faith violates the right to freedom of religion guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The State Department should closely monitor the application and enforcement of laws targeting Ahmadis. The U.S. government should also urge the Pakistani government to effectively prevent discrimination against Ahmadis in government and military employment, and education. [ 27 ]

As described in detail above, laws targeting Ahmadis in effect criminalize the public practice of their faith. The existence and enforcement of these laws is a denial of religious freedom. Government officials that the Commission delegation met with in Pakistan expressed the view that the Ahmadis were free to practice their faith, as long as they did not claim to be Muslims. Without regard to the veracity of that view, such a condition is not consistent with the freedom to manifest one's religion or belief. Few question that Ahmadis sincerely consider themselves to be Muslim. When individuals sincerely refuse, as a matter of conscience, to accept a government determination of the character of their faith, it is a violation of religious freedom to expose those individuals to criminal penalties or to withhold important government benefits (such as a passport) from them. The U.S. government should express this concern to the Pakistani government and, in that connection, closely monitor the application and enforcement of laws targeting Ahmadis. In addition, regardless of the Ahmadis' status as Muslims or non-Muslims as far as the Constitution of Pakistan is concerned, or that community's acceptance of that decision, there can be no legitimate justification for the official discrimination to which they are reportedly subject. The U.S. government should therefore urge the Pakistani government to take effective steps to prevent discrimination against Ahmadis. [ 28 ]

4. The U.S. government should urge the Pakistani government to implement procedural changes to the blasphemy laws that will reduce and aim at ultimately. eliminating their abuse. The State Department should monitor the application and enforcement of the blasphemy laws. [ 29 ]

Abuse of the blasphemy laws is a problem that successive Pakistani governments have identified as such, but have yet to address in an effective manner. (14) As a result of this failure, Muslims (particularly non-Sunni Muslims), Christians, Ahmadis, and others have been charged as criminals, tried in special anti-terrorist courts, and punished for the public expression of their religious beliefs and because of their religious identity. In addition, private citizens are using the Pakistani legal system as a weapon of intolerance and discrimination, and to settle personal disputes - a problem not limited to the blasphemy laws. The U.S. government should urge the Pakistani government to take effective steps to reduce abuses of the blasphemy laws, including procedural reforms that will limit, and eventually eliminate, those abuses. In order to draw the attention of the Pakistani government to particular instances or patterns of abuse, the State Department should continue to actively monitor the application and enforcement of the blasphemy laws. Some representatives of religious minorities in Pakistan have expressed the view that public, international attention given to individual blasphemy cases can be counter-productive and potentially lead to violence. The State Department should take this concern into consideration in choosing the most effective way to advocate with the Pakistani government on this issue. [ 30 ]


There are two separate groups of Ahmadis: the Qadiani group (Qadian, in India, was the place where Ahmadis were concentrated before partition) and the Lahori group. The Qadianis believe that the founder of the movement was essentially a prophet of God. The Qadianis are by far the larger of the two groups, and they have adherents all over the world. Their spiritual leader is currently in London. The Lahori group, smaller in number and generally living in the area around Lahore, do not consider the founder of the Ahmadis to be a “prophet (nabi)” as such, but a “reformer (mujaddid).” Despite this distinction, the Lahori group is subject to the same legal restraints as the Qadianis and they report the same problems.

Back to Article


In 1984, Sections 298-B and 298-C were added to the Pakistan Penal Code. Section 298-B prohibits Ahmadis from using certain descriptions and titles that are references reserved to the Prophet Muhammad in either spoken or written form, with any other person. It also prohibits Ahmadis from calling their place of worship masjid or their call to prayer an azan. Section 298-C prohibits Ahmadis “from calling themselves Muslims or posing as Muslims; from referring to their faith as Islam; from preaching or propagating their faith; from inviting others to their fold and from insulting the religious feelings of Muslims.”

Back to Article


One of the declarations on the passport application in the case of Muslims reads: “I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Quadiani to be an imposter nabi [i.e. prophet] and also consider his followers whether belonging to the Lahori or Quadiani group to be non-Muslim.

Back to Article


Some in Pakistan argue that if the joint electorate fails to produce adequate representation for religious minorities, additional Assembly members can be selected or appointed; however, in their view, the principle of the joint electorate should not be sacrificed to achieve this result.

Back to Article


The Dawn, January 2, 2001. As a result of the “conscious boycott” of minorities in Pakistan all the non-Muslims who filed their nominations for the contest were returned unopposed in 16 to 18 districts. The number of those returning to these councils without contest is 383 in the Punjab, 96 in Sindh, 31 in (NWFP) North West Frontier Province and three in Baluchistan Provinces. The total number of seats in these provinces is 550, 205, 135, and 67, respectively. Electronic correspondence from Father James Channan, Lahore.

Back to Article


Offenses in the Pakistan Penal Code touching on blasphemy include performing acts or uttering words intended to outrage or wound the religious feelings of others (secs.295-A and 298); blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad (sec. 295-C); defiling a copy of the Quran (sec.295-B); and making derogatory statements concerning other Muslim holy personages (298-A).

Back to Article


Sufi figures arrested under the blasphemy laws include Shaykh Muhammad Yusuf Ali and Ahmed Gohar Shahi. Shaykh Yusuf Ali was convicted of defiling the name of Prophet Muhammad. In January 2001, the Supreme Court of Pakistan refused on technical grounds to hear his bail petition. Ahmed Gohar Shahi is the leader of a Sufi sect called Anjuman Sarfrosh-e-Islam. He was convicted in absentia because in one of his publications he claims that his face appeared on the Kaaba of Mecca. Gohar Shahi fled to England, allegedly because of the blasphemy accusation against him. Several of his followers are currently in jail for or charged with blasphemy law violations. Dr. Yunus Shaykh, an Islamic scholar was arrested in October 2000 because of statements he made about the Prophet Muhammad and his early wives. Pakistani government officials with whom the Commission delegation met cited Dr. Shaykh's case as an example of abuse of the blasphemy laws.

Back to Article


Some hoped that if effective procedural reforms were implemented, enforcement attempts would dwindle and the laws would fall into disuse, as they have in certain European countries that still have blasphemy laws on the books.

Back to Article


In its meeting with the minister for Religious Affairs, the Commission delegation was told that the official Council on Islamic Ideology was considering a proposal to amend the blasphemy laws to include a specific punishment for intentionally filing false charges because filing such charges is contrary to the injunction of Islam. Apparently, there is already a similar provision that applies to all offenses in the Penal Code. This existing provision has reportedly not helped to reduce the types of abuses described above.

Back to Article


The Dawn, 14 January 2001.

Back to Article
[ End of Document]

Top of Page