Where Is Home When You Are an Ahmadi Muslim? An Analysis on the Persecution Against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

Featured Image: The Guardian

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The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is a sect within Islam. The community in various countries is targeted, persecuted, and declared non-Muslim. Countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, and many more have a history of mistreatment towards Ahmadi Muslims. The persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is a clear human rights violation that has been ignored for many years. In this article, I will argue that Muslim-dominated countries which have a history of persecuting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community lack the recognition of religious freedom for their citizens. This has resulted in numerous brutal deaths as many are unable to practice their religion without the fear of persecution and retaliation from those around them. This has forced the community to resettle elsewhere. Many members of the community have sought refuge in Canada, but I will argue that Canada needs to do a better job at helping Ahmadi immigrants to integrate into society. It is also necessary for Canada to have a community-based approach to discuss mental health with the community as many of the members have experienced traumatic and life-altering events.

Firstly, several Muslim-dominated countries have a long history of persecuting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community due to claims that the community is not Muslim (Khan, 2003. p. 218). Due to the lack of recognition of religious freedom in their countries, many members of the community experience difficult living conditions. Many of these countries claim to be ambassadors of human rights at the forefront, despite such violations occurring in their countries with their knowledge. The right to religious freedom has been a right not many have had the chance to experience for those who belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. The community members who live in Muslim-dominated countries have had to live a double life for the safety of their own and their family. While most can practice their religion in the comfort of their own home, when they go to school, work, or outside in general any determining factor that can give away that they are an Ahmadi Muslim is covered or hidden for their safety. Many children growing up in these countries have been taught from a young age to not let anyone know that they are Ahmadi Muslims. This includes my family too — both my parents were born in Pakistan and shared similar experiences, and despite the fact that they tried to keep their identity hidden, word got out and everyone in their community was aware of their religious standing. The anti-blasphemy law is what declared Ahmadis as “non-Muslims” (Khan, 2003. p. 218). This means that there are several restrictions put in place for those who are Ahmadi Muslims and they can be jailed or fined if they are seen practicing or preaching their beliefs (Khan, 2003. p. 227).

In 1974, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community was excluded from being part of the Islamic community in Pakistan (Khan, 2003. p. 240). This is due to a new amendment passed to the constitution due to allegations of the community opposing Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) as the last prophet (Khan, 2003. p. 218). In 1984, the president of the time, Zia ul-Haq, passed an order which refused Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims. (Khan, 2003. p. 225). This fueled more fire for those who were opposed to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community when the state declared that they are not Muslims. Many Ahmadi Muslims have experienced and dealt with horrific living conditions. My mother told us when we got older the story of when her house was nearly burned down in the ’70s. Those who lived around her found out about my mothers’ family being “Mirzai” (a derogatory term to refer to Ahmadi Muslims). Many other Ahmadi Muslims’ houses were being burned down at the same time due to political tension around the talk of religious freedom. My mother’s family was informed that the mob’s next target would be her house. A family friend who knew about this situation told my mother’s family to bring the women of the house over so they would not get hurt. My mother recalls those weeks where they were separated from her family and stuck in the unknown of what would happen to them. If their house would be burned? If anyone would get hurt or even die? One sleepless night after another, they would have several scenarios running through their minds for all the unforeseeable circumstances that could occur.

The men in the family stayed back home and prepared for the mob with buckets of water ready and put chili in the water to throw at them. When the mob came with the fire and batons, the neighbors protested and stated that this is a good family, they are Ahmadi Muslims but they do not deserve this. They were able to persuade them to leave my mother’s family alone. While my mother’s house was saved, they later got the news that her aunt’s house was looted and then burned to the floor. They sought refuge in Rabwah and lived in tents for months until they were able to move into another house. My mom would recall how they were unable to access any groceries as they were denied service at every store for being an Ahmadi Muslim. They would have to ask family friends to buy groceries and drop them at their house. When my mom would go to school, she would be treated differently by her teachers and classmates for being an Ahmadi. From a young age, girls were taught by their parents to not become friends with any Ahmadi Muslim. This resulted in any Ahmadi student being ostracised in their school. This means that wherever they would go, they were not welcomed there and this has, in turn, has a detrimental impact on their mental well-being.

Secondly, along with this, the immigration of the members of the community holds great significance in their journey towards religious freedom. Many have sought refuge in Canada, but let’s look at what the government should be doing to help the community. Canada should have programs and initiatives to help Ahmadi Muslim immigrants to integrate into society. This can be done in a lot of ways to encourage the community members to socialize and make relations with others. An example of Canada helping communities with issues pertaining to community members can be seen in McCann and Coyne’s writing. Ferial McCann and Kathy Coyne highlight the issues that have taken place in Vancouver regarding the Aboriginal community, Latino community, etc. The increased drug use caused several health issues which many communities have been affected by (McCann and Coyne, 2004, p. 195-196). A new project was implemented to find a solution to different problems various communities were facing (McCann and Coyne, 2004, p. 195-196).  After the new project was implemented, there was a lot of change seen in different communities of increased understanding concerning drug use (McCann and Coyne, 2004, p. 195-196). The project created programs for different communities to be able to focus on one community at a time (McCann and Coyne, 2004, p. 195-196). The reason why this is relevant is due to the community-based approach which we can see here. In Vancouver, a community-based approach was a more effective solution to helping a community that requires healing, as they are coming from a place where mental health was never recognized. The same should be done for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, but there is no proof showing any efforts on the countries behalf to help the community. 

Moving on, another issue that is causing several problems to arise for newcomer women is that women’s work is always seen as less important than men’s work. When women come to Canada, if they can go to English classes the level of English only goes up to a certain point (Rockhill & Tomic, 1994, p. 91-94). Women who learn English learn just enough to do daily tasks for their day-to-day life. The English that is taught in ESL classes is not enough for women to attain a higher-paying job (Rockhill & Tomic, 1994, p. 91-94). This does not give them enough knowledge and capability to live a life beyond a certain level. This forces them to work jobs that are minimum wage, jobs that don’t require English skills, etc. The government is more concerned about the men of the family as they are the ones who will be working and essentially contributing to the economy (Rockhill & Tomic, 1994, p. 91-94). 

Women have to go through more barriers compared to men during this process, and they have the added pressure of taking care of the family and completing traditional wife and female roles. They do this while navigating this new life of theirs in a new country after prolonged hardships. This has a large impact on mental and physical health. There are minimum resources for immigrant women and their mental health. The immigration process is long and tedious enough, but women are most often caught in the middle of it with no help from government assistance (Rockhill & Tomic, 1994, p. 91-94). Many immigrants are unable to get work experience in Canada because of discrimination and this extends to a long cycle of immigrants being forced to work minimum wage jobs because of their education from back home not being recognized in Canada.

Thirdly, there is a great need for mental health trauma services for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Not only this, but these services should be easily available for those who are newcomers. The following personal experience is one of the many reasons why there need to be better mental health services for the community. In 2010, there was an Ahmadiyya mosque massacre in Lahore, Pakistan where 94 people were killed and hundreds were injured. 2 mosques were attacked at the same time, and my uncle was one of the individuals who got up early that morning to attend Friday prayers just like many other men in the community. His wife on the morning of the attack told him that she did not have a good feeling and asked him to stay home. He insisted and went to the mosque to pray until the prayer had started and he heard gunshots. Like the other men in the mosque, they fled the scene when the gunshots were fired. He hid behind a satellite in an attempt to not be found by any of the gunmen. After the satellite moved, which resulted in making noise, the gunmen heard him and killed him on the spot. Across the world, in Mississauga, Ontario was our family. We were 10 people crammed together in a small 3 bedroom apartment. 6 of us were sleeping in one room and were all awakened at the same time when my dad’s phone was ringing. He was informed that an attack took place and his beloved cousin was one of the many who did not make it out alive. My parents never told us, but their faces told us everything we needed to know at the time. Something terrible had happened and we were not sure what it was as our parents did not want us to hear the gruesome details of the murder that took place. 

It was not until many years later that I found out through my mom what happened that day. Both my mother and father were directly impacted by the persecution against the Ahmadiyya Muslim community even after leaving the country. After my dad was relocated to the United Arab of Emirates, he left Pakistan with my mom. Myself and my 5 siblings were all born in the U.A.E. Unfortunately, the move to a new country did not change much as U.A.E is a Muslim-dominated country as well. The same laws declaring Ahmadi Muslims were alive and well in the U.A.E. There were only a few Ahmadi Muslims and they met weekly in a small room where no one would be able to find them to read their Friday prayers. The reason why I bring this up is because of the impact this had on myself and my family. This has an impact on our relationship with religion and causes trust issues because we have been told from the start to not trust anyone as they might be someone opposed to our community.

As someone who struggled with mental health issues for quite some time, it was not until 2021 until I came to learn that trauma can be passed down intergenerationally and affect us in ways we may not realize.

These traumatic events that parents have gone through can also be seen in their children (Wolynn, 2017, p. 19). The topic of mental health is already taboo in our society, and we can only assume that the same applies to those who are immigrating here. They may have experienced trauma, depression, and/or other disorders and not be aware of it. That is why Canada needs to step up and offer these services to those who are coming to this country under these circumstances. Rather than going to someone of another community and attempting to help in a way you have been taught, it is important to learn about different cultures and communities to find the best approach to help others (Simich, Andermann, Rummens and Lo, 2008, p. 48). The author has brought up the point of how a community-based approach was used for Tamil and Sri Lankans in Canada to offer help after the tsunami that they were affected by (Simich, Andermann, Rummens and Lo, 2008, p. 48-49). This has a higher rate of success and makes it easier for those of the community to feel safe in the environment they are in when talking about these difficult matters (Simich, Andermann, Rummens and Lo, 2008, p. 48). 

Moreover, the question remains: where is home for these individuals who are not accepted in their own country? Once they immigrate to other countries, the integration process makes it only harder for them. This has a large impact on their integration process as they feel that they do not belong to any country due to the generational trauma of displacement. After overcoming challenging life circumstances, not getting the help they need can cause even more issues. This ongoing issue of not feeling accepted in the country they live in can have detrimental effects, and this can be passed down intergenerationally, which puts their children at risk. Home is where one feels comfortable enough to practice anything they wish — when someone has never experienced that belonging, they might struggle with their whole life. Mental health intervention can help with this feeling of being lost, but this is only possible once mental health services are more accessible, especially for immigrants.

The persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is a clear human rights issue that has been ignored for several years now. Many Muslim-dominated countries which persecute the Ahmadiyya Muslim community lack the recognition of religious freedom which has resulted in many not being able to practice their religion openly. This in turn has resulted in numerous brutal deaths as many are unable to practice their religion without the fear of persecution. Along with the immigration of the members of the community, many sought refuge in Canada, but have had a difficult time integrating within society. There are several issues many face when they immigrate to another country, but with this, if they are experiencing mental health issues it can become very dangerous for their mental well-being. This has a detrimental impact on the mental health of the community. Canada must have a community-based approach to discuss mental health with the community. This can look like many things, including using a community-based approach to help the community in a setting where they feel comfortable. Home is where one can exercise their human rights and feel safe, and this is something not many from the community can experience. Despite this, there are still a lot of things that can be done to help the community towards healing.

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References:

  • Ferial McCann and Kathy Coyne. (2004). Fostering change from within Building capacity for change in the Ethnocultural community of Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Our Diverse Cities, 1 (Spring), 195-196. The Metropolis Project.
  • 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.
  • Laaroussi, M. V., Quimper, É., & Drainville, I. (2006). Sherbrooke: A Team Approach to Intercultural Understanding. Our Diverse Cities. Spring. Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 73-77. The Metropolis Project.
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  • Simich, L., Andermann, L., Rummens, J. A., & Lo, T. E. D. (2008). Post-disaster mental distress relief: health promotion and knowledge exchange in partnership with a refugee diaspora community. Refuge:18 Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 44-54. York Libraries.
  • Taylor, L. (2008, July 19). Degrees don’t ensure jobs for female immigrants.
  • Wolynn, M. (2017). It didn’t start with you: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. Penguin.