At around 8pm on 27 July 2014, anti-Ahmadi extremists gathered at a pre-lanned meeting point at Kachi-pump in Gujranwala in the Punjab in Pakistan. They had gathered on the pretext that an Ahmadi young person had defaced a picture of the Khana Ka'bah, (the Sacred mosque in Mecca), on Facebook. That the allegation was and remains unfounded seems a minor detail in a land where mob rule prevails. The scene had been set and like mobs in an old Boris Karloff movie, they were set to find the caricatured other. Instead of flaming torches, the mob carried what they could find and set off with a murderous rage.
I use the term 'caricatured other' since Pakistan was founded by Quaid-e-Azam, (the founder of the nation - Mohammed Ali Jinnah), on the basis that the country would be a refuge for the persecuted and for minorities who wanted to practice their faith in peace. That vision, (now twisted and manipulated for political reasons against a minority that is helpless in the country), saw the one time Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto amend the constitution of the country to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims.
This was followed by Pakistani politicians further muscling up and targeting this community on the basis of being lobbied by hard-line religious groups in the country who took it upon themselves to be religious judges, juries and executioners against their fellow co-religionists and citizens.
It is a well-known fact that General Zia Ul Haq, (given a wide berth internationally in the 1980s since he was seen as the hard man of Pakistan who could bleed the Russians in Afghanistan), systematically implemented criminal laws against Ahmadis during his tenure. Long lobbied by religious ultra-hard line groups, Zia Ul Haq knew that the future of covert action against the Russians and their proxy regime in Afghanistan could only be maintained by the steady flow of human personnel from these groups. The quid pro quo was simple. Their support was needed to fight the Russians in Afghanistan and measures against groups like Ahmadi communities was a small price to pay in his mind, for this support. Today, in Pakistan, being an Ahmadi Muslim is punishable by three years of imprisonment and is listed as a crime. The laws, depressingly, criminalise Ahmadi Muslims calling themselves Muslims.
So, coming back to 8pm on the 27 July. The anti-Ahmadi protest quickly descended into mob violence leading to eight homes being burnt and the belongings of Ahmadis were looted and taken from an already poor population. What was even more worrying was the fact that two police vehicles were present when the demonstration took place and police officers idly stood by as the attacks on Ahmadis continued leading to the murder of three members of the community, including an eight-month old baby and a seven-year old girl. So much for their Eid this year.
The arson against the home of Ahmadis led to the murder of Bushra Bibi and her 2 grand-daughters, Hira and Kainat, as they were left trapped in a burning building and subsequently died of smoke inhalation. They were, effectively, murdered by extremists on trumped up charges, hounded and persecuted because of their religious beliefs as Muslims and as Ahmadi Muslims.
To add insult to this whole murderous affair, witnesses at the scene stated that ambulances that came to collect the injured were pelted with stones and some of the demonstrators also blocked access to fire extinguishers and a further 8 women and children from the Ahmadi community were taken to hospital with fire related injuries. One Ahmadi woman who was 7 months pregnant lost her child due to severe smoke inhalation and she still remains critically ill.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan has become the soft target for politicians who seek to act tough for extreme hard line religious groups in order to garner political support and in some cases, through fear of their own lives if they are perceived as Ahmadi sympathisers. The brutal murder of women and children, whether in Gaza or in Pakistan is an affront to basic decency and morality, yet the attacks on this community are rarely reported and condemned. Pakistan was built on the basis of being a home for minority faiths, yet today, the mob culture still remains strong and wielded by those who show no mercy or care against minority Muslim groups. Such intra-faith hate must be tackled head on. An attack on Ahmadi Muslims is an attack on all of us as people of faith and an attack on basic decency and morality. As a British person of Sunni Muslim heritage, the more Ahmadi Muslims are attacked because of their faith, the louder people of Sunni heritage should shout out - 'Not in Our Name.' There are no ifs or buts and there are no alternatives to this, for we cannot allow such mob rule to take over and for injustice to prevail.
This is also why I support the campaign to Stop The Persecution and I call all those who seek a better, more just world to join me.