Religious Persecution: Displaced Ahmadi Muslims From Pakistan

Ahmadi Muslims have been stigmatized in the mainstream Muslim community. This can be evidently seen through many conventional clerics, politicians, and presidents who push for anti-Ahmadi propaganda. I will be discussing how the stigmatization of Ahmadi Muslims affects their lives and well-being in a negative way, with a particular emphasis on Ahmadis from Pakistan.

Ahmadi Muslims have been compelled to leave their home countries after experiencing displacement and trauma in Pakistan. The start of this was when Ahmadis had been declared non-Muslims in Pakistan in 1974 when the constitutional amendment was passed. This was the first time the world saw a Muslim majority country dictate who is not considered a Muslim. One would assume that from this day forward, the community would begin to experience great difficulty practicing their faith, but records show the persecution of the community started in 1953 and possibly even much before this. The community has faced nearly 67 years of recorded persecution and to this day, there has been little to no improvement for the community to be allowed to practice their faith openly. The president of Pakistan during the time when the constitutional amendment was passed, Zia-ul Haq, was the one to separate voter registration and push for the slurs and derogatory terms such as “Qadiani” to be used against the community. 

Pakistanis found unity with mainstream Sunni Islam leaders with an agreement on the ex-communication of Ahmadi Muslims. Despite this all, Zia-ul Haq led many anti-Ahmadis to push their propaganda against the community. When a president is in power, the nations expect this person to put all of his biases aside to lead a nation and see everyone as one. This was the complete opposite as to what happened in Pakistan — Ahmadi Muslims who had the financial means to leave the country to immigrate did just that, but many of those who were not able to do this stayed back and many still reside in Pakistan. “The economic implications of the insecurity have an immense bearing on the lives of the Ahmadi community as we understand after looking into their lives closely. They have to sell their property cheaply or have to leave it unattended, shattered or burnt. Saving their lives is the first priority in such circumstances” (Imtiaz & Sultana & Rana, 2015, pg. 13). One example of when several Ahmadis were forced to leave their land and seek refuge elsewhere is seen in the following: 

“In 2008, at least 15 Ahmadis were charged under various provisions of the blasphemy law. In addition to blasphemy charges, Ahmadis have sporadically come under physical attack. For example, in June 2006, a mob burned down Ahmadi shops and homes in Jhando Sahi village near the town of Daska in Punjab province, forcing more than 100 Ahmadis to flee. The police, though present at the scene, failed to intervene or arrest any of the culprits. However, the authorities charged seven Ahmadis under the Blasphemy Law” (Fisanick, 2011, pg. 224).

This example from 2006 shows exactly what happens when Ahmadis rely on the police force for safety when they are experiencing great difficulties. The exact opposite happens where they get charged themselves for simply being an Ahmadi under the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Ahmadis have been turned into criminals in Pakistan for practicing their faith, and there has been little to no interference by other nations to put a stop to such laws against minorities.

“According to a 2002 United States State Department report, since 1999, 316 Ahmadis have been formally charged in criminal cases (including blasphemy) owing to their religion. Between 1999 and 2001, at least twenty-four Ahmadis were charged with blasphemy; if convicted, they could be sentenced to life imprisonment or death” (Khan, 2003, pg. 218).

Ahmadis have been charged for “speaking of God offensively” for simply calling themselves Ahmadis — it is a crime for them to claim their religion in Pakistan. Ahmadis have been illegalized ever since the constitutional amendment was passed. “The word ‘illegalized’ draws attention to the institutional and political processes which can orient policies, legal decisions, as well as relations between affected migrants and broader civil society” (Pashang, & Gruner, 2015, pg. 7). Not only the constitution but the cultural and religious implications in the Pakistani culture also forced Ahmadi people to be ostracized in their home country. The illegalization of Ahmadis was through the constitution declaring them criminals for practicing their religion, but to add on to this the effects of this illegalization, and there have been implications of forced displacement the community has been facing for years now.  

Conflict-induced displacement is “when people are forced from their homes as a result of conflict, it is considered to be an unquestionable violation of international humanitarian law and human rights” (Pashang, & Gruner, 2015, pg. 9). Due to conflict-induced trauma, this has forced the community to leave their home countries. Ahmadi Muslims who had the financial means to be able to leave Pakistan and start a life elsewhere still find that the hatred against their community follows no matter where they go — whether they’re the first generation that moved here, or their children who also face the same discrimination. One would assume that Ahmadis who were able to leave Pakistan or any country that allows for the persecution of their community would not be treated differently in the West due to stricter laws. The exact opposite is happening: many first generations still face slurs and threats from others when they discover their beliefs. The children of the first generation, through subtle means,  notice changed behaviour among friends and peer groups when they discover their beliefs. An example of this can be seen in the following quotation:

“A young girl shared her experience of being discriminated against by her own classmates who paid a condolence visit to her house after her grandfather passed away. ‘They saw a picture of our caliph, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, hung on a wall in our drawing-room. A few days later, when I returned to school, I was shocked that none of them even greeted me. They just walked away. I never knew I could become a devil for them'” (Imtiaz & Sultana & Rana, 2015, pg. 10).

Even those who had the means to establish a career find themselves stuck in a position with constant harassment from co-workers in the West. Another example from an adult is seen as followed:

“One woman, who worked in a human rights organization and now lives in the USA, shared her experience of harassment by some members of the support staff who were involved in swearing and jeering at her after they learned she was Ahmadi. She chose not to complain to the higher management for fear of backlash as well as reluctance to see the workers lose their jobs if they were fired. Instead, she quit her job and left the country along with her husband” (Imtiaz & Sultana & Rana, 2015, pg. 11).

Fearing the repercussions of what would happen to her co-workers, the woman decided leaving her job would be better than continuing to face verbal abuse and even went on to leave the country due to this issue. It would be an absurd claim that Ahmadis in the West do not face stigmatization in their day to do life. Even if they were able to leave Pakistan, many other non-Ahmadis also left the country for a better life in the West. Along with themselves, they brought the inter-generational hatred for the Ahmadi community which gets picked up by their children and affects different generations — not only the first generation who had moved to the West from Pakistan, but also their offspring. These repercussions affect Ahmadi Muslims drastically among the dislocated population. The influence of anti-Ahmadi bigotry has a direct effect on their lives, from school to professional work environments, which have made it hard for Ahmadis in the West to be able to practice and even claim their faith in public without facing negative outcomes. 

The effects on women’s and children’s experiences during displacement and trauma has been a focus for many researchers. Many researchers have taken a focus on the experiences of women from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community on the effects of displacement. Women’s rights and children’s rights are interlinked — when women have rights so do their children. Moving on, Ahmadi women are in fear even in their homes, having to hide any religious symbols, pictures of the caliphate and even jewelry that can distinguish Ahmadis from the mainstream Muslims. An Ahmadi woman during an interview stated: “We have to pack up and lock certain things that might expose our identity before the maids arrive at our homes to clean the house and do the washing. Sometimes we feel it is not even our home because of the fear we continuously face” (Imtiaz & Sultana & Rana, 2015, pg. 11). Many women have experienced PTSD, including other serious mental health issues, that have gone untreated because of the stigma around mental health in different communities. This is an underlying issue especially within many cultures from the South that experience stigmatization of mental health which results in severe inter-generational trauma that not only affects them but their future children. An example of untreated mental health issues can be seen in the following quotation:

“A young Ahmadi girl, who now is in the UK for higher studies told the WRN interviewers that her uncle was killed in 2010 at his own home, in front of the family. Some fanatics barged into the house, instigated by a local imam who had given a spiteful sermon during Friday prayers. “My mother locks herself in the bathroom whenever she is alone at home. She can’t bear to be alone at home. She says she looks at her children as if they are tiny sparrows, who grow in my nest but will have to leave it never to return.” The mother walks a tightrope of hope and threat whenever her children visit her from abroad” (Imtiaz & Sultana & Rana, 2015, pg. 11).

It is clear from this case that these women have experienced serious trauma from the incidents they had endured from back home. Many women share similar experiences in terms of being scared for their children, husbands, and brothers being persecuted. The fear of losing another person from your community is a pain that many Ahmadis carry in their hearts. The government lacks resources to help those who immigrated for persecution reasons, nor do they provide any sort of outreach to help the community. This would be greatly beneficial to the community, to be able to get support from healthcare professionals to work through issues they are facing mentally from what they had faced in Pakistan, as the effects of this are interfering with their day-to-day lives even after immigration.

The stigmatization of Ahmadi Muslims affects their lives and well-being in a negative way — the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been stigmatized and ostracized in Pakistan. Ahmadi Muslims have been forced to leave their home countries experiencing displacement and trauma. The negative effects on Ahmadi Muslims as a dislocated population can be seen through the influence on their lives and well-being from those of other Muslim communities, specifically mainstream Muslims. The effects on women and children during displacement, particularly the subsequent trauma, has been a focus for many researchers. The start of a solution to the stigmatization of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is by educating the youth about inclusivity and diversity from a young age. Other countries who have a relationship with Pakistan should step in and encourage Pakistan to get rid of the laws against minorities that allow for the persecution of not only Ahmadis, but also other minorities. It is not until more people are educated on this topic that the public will realize the human rights violations being committed by Pakistan. 

 

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Featured Image: Owais Raza for The Express Tribune, September 4, 2011

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References:

Fisanick, C. (2011). Discrimination. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press.

Imtiaz, Nadia & Sultana, Kishwar & Rana, M. (2015). Exploring Ahmadi Womens Voices – Pakistan. 

Khan, A. (2003). Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan: An Analysis Under International Law and International Relations. Harvard Human Rights Journal, 16, 217-244. 

Kirkham, D. M. (2017). State Responses to Minority Religions. Milton: Taylor and Francis.

Pashang, S., & Gruner, S. (2015). Roots and routes of displacement and trauma: from analysis to advocacy and policy to practice. Oakville, Ontario: Rocks Mills Press.

Siddiq, M. (1995). Enforced Apostasy: Zaheeruddin v. State and the official persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. Law and Inequality: Journal of Theory and Practice, 14(1), 275-338.