On 28th May 2010, two mosques belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Lahore became the target of a terrorist siege that took 86 lives – the worst-ever attack endured by the Community in its history. State television and news pundits referred to the two mosques as ‘places of worship’ instead of mosques, part required by law (the Pakistan Supreme Court providing that Islamic terminology is a trademark of the Islamic faith and may not be appropriated by minorities) and part in fear of the radical clergy who routinely fans hatred against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in a country where the Community faces sustained persecution.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a revivalist movement in Islam, was founded by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas in a small village in the Indian Punjab at the end of the 19th century. The Community rejects terrorism in all its forms and promotes the cause of peace and loyalty to one’s homeland, calls for a separation between mosque and state and advocates the safeguarding of religious freedoms. Today, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is spread across more than 200 countries worldwide. Yet mainstream Muslims regard Ahmadi Muslims as heretics for their belief that the founder of their faith, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas is the Messiah.
It is unsurprising therefore that in a country where the religious right adheres to a stubborn dogmatism when it comes to allegedly protecting the reputation of the Holy Prophetsa that the situation of Ahmadi Muslims is particularly precarious. In 1974 under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in an unprecedented move, Pakistan’s constitution was amended to cast Ahmadis out of the fold of Islam and they have systematically faced state-sponsored persecution since.
Eight years on, while the threatening clouds of armed gunmen opening indiscriminate fire on worshippers may have receded, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to face on-going and consistent persecution. On 9th March this year, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) came out with a judgment1 declaring that a faith affidavit was compulsory for anyone applying for a government or semi-government position, including the judiciary, armed forces and civil services. Moreover, the IHC’s Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui directed that parliament pass all necessary legislation to ensure that terms specifically used for ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslims’ are not appropriated by minorities for concealing their identity or for any other purpose. Justice Siddiqui also made it mandatory for all educational institutions to engage Muslim teachers in order to teach Islamic studies.
Weighed against both general human rights principles and international norms on religious freedom, the IHC’s judgment falls far short in meeting the requirements of fulfilling either of them. Notably, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Pakistan ratified on 23rd June 2010, guarantees under Article 18 the freedom of thought, conscience and religion.2 However, while Pakistan ratified the ICCPR, it also entered wide-reaching reservations, including to Article 18, stating that these provisions will be so applied to the extent they do not conflict with the provisions of the Pakistani Constitution and Sharia laws. In effect, this means that Pakistan will not be bound by the expectations to ensure the freedom of thought, conscience and religion as required by the ICCPR. Thus, so far as such reservations are in place, it is hard to imagine any traction under international law in order to ensure that the rights of Ahmadis are protected.
As a consequence, Ahmadi Muslims continue to face targeted persecution so much so that even their graves are not spared. This includes the tombstone of the first Pakistani and Muslim Nobel Laureate the late Professor Abdus Salam who won the Nobel Prize for his work in particle physics in 1979. While lauded around the world, Salam was shunned by his homeland for his religious beliefs, the epitaph of his tombstone being defaced on the orders of a local magistrate. With the state doubling down on its persecution of Ahmadis, the stage is set for even more human rights abuses.
1. See, https://democracy-reporting.org/newdri/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/dri_briefing_paper_4_-gop_reservations_on_iccpr.pdf
2. For more, see: https://democracy-reporting.org/newdri/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/dri_briefing_paper_4_-gop_reservations_on_iccpr.pdf