Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
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Home  Worldwide  Bangladesh  2003  Merchants of hate: Following Pakistan’s deadly example
Merchants of hate: Following Pakistan’s deadly example

The Daily Star
Vol. 4 Num 192Tue. December 09, 2003


Merchants of hate: Following Pakistan’s deadly example
Naeem Mohaiemen

“We don’t want to take the law into our own hands, but we don’t know what will happen to [Ahmadiyyas],” warned Mamtaji, imam of Rahim Metal Mosque. This was his latest salvo in the recent anti-Ahmadiyya campaign.

I grew up saying jumma prayers at Dhanmondi’ Baitul Aman mosque. We had a tolerant, educated imam whose khutbas encouraged Muslims to educate themselves and uplift the community. If we wonder why the Muslim world is in crisis, we only have to look at frauds and illiterates like Mamtaji, busy distorting the true message of Islam and preaching fanaticism, hatred and backwardness.

If the anti-Ahmadiyya groups are allowed to continue their agitations and threats, Bangladesh will soon slide down the treacherous path Pakistan took with the forced resignation of Zafrullah Khan in 1952. Starting with Ahmadiyya persecution, it is very easy to see that these groups’ eventual demand will be Shari’a law.

By preaching hatred of Ahmadiyyas, we are following a blueprint carried out to deadly effect in Pakistan since the 1950s. With so many nations to emulate, why are we copying Pakistan — a textbook case of failed state and banana republic?

On August 11, 1947, Jinnah gave a speech at Karachi Club where he said, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” Following this spirit, Pakistan’s first foreign minister was Sir Zafrullah Khan, an Ahmadiyya. The 1956 constitution also gave citizens the right to practice, and propagate their religion (Article 20).

The Islamic parties had always been suspicious of Jinnah’s motives in creating Pakistan, and now they were disappointed. This was not to be a theocratic state at all! In 1948, during a drafting session of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, representatives from Saudi Arabia clashed with Pakistan over Articles 19: Freedom to change one’s religion. The furious Saudi delegate had to listen to Zafrullah Khan describe the Article as consistent with Islam’s denunciation of compulsion in religion.

This Saudi anger (and possibly money) soon found its way into Pakistan’s domestic politics. One year after Zafrullah Khan’s clash with the Saudis at the UN, a new group called Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam issued a demand that Khan be removed from the cabinet, and all Ahmadiyyas be declared non-Muslim. These agitations peaked in 1952 with riots in Punjab, and on May 18 Khan resigned from the Basic Principles Committee.

The campaign was then intensified by Maulana Maududi’s Jama’at-i-Islami, which launched a project to declare Ahmadiyyas non-Muslim, linked to a larger demand for Shari’a law. Prior to the 1958 military coup, the Muslim League and other ruling forces strongly opposed creating a theocratic state. The government therefore fought back aggressively against the anti-Ahmadiyya campaigns, arresting many Jama’at activists.

Following the 1958 coup, the “Islamization” of Pakistan’s constitution began. The process often focused on anti-Ahmadiyya laws. In 1962, the Advisory Council for Islamic Ideology added a clause to the constitution: “No law shall be repugnant to the teachings and requirements of Islam.” The East Pakistan politicians always acted as a brake on overt Islamicization, as the Bengali population was not (at that time) interested in passing Shari’a laws. However, following the independence of Bangladesh, Pakistan approved a new constitution in 1973, parts of which began implementing the legal machinery of the Shari’a.

Following a new wave of anti-Ahmadiyya protests inn 1974, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto introduced Articles 260(3)(a) and (b) into the Constitution, which defined who was a “Muslim” and listed groups that were legally non-Muslim. Ahmadiyyas were now listed in this second group. The process of disenfranchising Ahmadiyyas now had a solid legal basis. Just as Islam was codified as “state religion” in Bangladesh during two military regimes (Zia & Ershad), the anti-Ahmadiyya legislation was solidified in Pakistan during the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq. In 1978, Haq passed laws creating separate electorate systems for Ahmadiyyas and other “non-Muslims.” He then followed this by creating Federal Shari’a Court which helped legalize criminal ordinances targeting religious minorities -- specifically two laws restricting Ahmadiyya activities (Martial Law Ordinance XX, 1984). The final death-knell for Ahmadiyyas came with the Criminal Law Act of 1986 (“Blasphemy Law”), which raised the penalty for blasphemy from imprisonment to death. Because the Ahmadiyya belief in prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad can be defined as “blasphemous” by a Shari’a Court, this law legalized persecution and even execution of the entire Ahmadiyya population.

Khan’s position as first foreign minister of Pakistan is now a distant memory. Today Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan cannot announce their faith, pray, build mosques, or give azaan. Even in death, there is no escape from the state — the law prohibits putting the kolema on an Ahmadiyya’s gravestone. Pakistan’s only nobel prize winner, Professor Abdus Salam, was persecuted because of his Ahmadiyya faith. Ahmadiyyas are only 3% of Pakistan’s population, but 20% of its literate population. In an age when Muslim nations are incredibly backwards in science, technology and education, the peresecution of Ahmadiyyas accelerates our intellectual bankruptcy. In the Prophet (PBUH)’s time, in cities that the Muslim armies took over, non-Muslim populations (including Jews) were treated humanely. How far we have traveled from that tolerant ideal can be seen in the Daily Star report (Dec 6): “They threatened the Ahmadiyyas with arson in symbolic imitation of the burning of the newspaper [Prothom Alo].”

If the anti-Ahmadiyya groups are allowed to continue their agitations and threats, Bangladesh will soon slide down the treacherous path Pakistan took with the forced resignation of Zafrullah Khan in 1952. Starting with Ahmadiyya persecution, it is very easy to see that these groups’ eventual demand will be Shari’a law.

In the last two years, I have been to many rallies in America protesting the unfair targeting of Muslim immigrants in the post 9/11 anti-terrorist campaign. At these rallies, I have seen many signs carrying the famous quote from anti-Nazi activist pastor Martin Niemoller:

“In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me -
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

If we protest the scapegoating of immigrants in America, we must also protest the persecution of minorities in Bangladesh. Otherwise, when the shadowy merchants of hate come for all of us, it will be too late. Pay attention to Pakistan’s tragic path, and fight to protect Bangladesh from a similar fate!

Naeem Mohaiemen is Editor of and Associate Editor of

Acknowledgment: This article made extensive use of research done by Amjad Mahmood Khan, a J.D. Candidate at Harvard Law School, Class of '04.

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