The religious group identifies as Muslim but has been targeted for years because of beliefs which conflict with the more orthodox sects. Earlier this week, a mob attacked an Ahmadiyya place of worship in the populous province of Punjab.
Who are the Ahmadiyyas?
Ahmadiyyas, or Ahmadis, are followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the 19th century religious movement in what is now India and Pakistan.
While they consider themselves a sect of Islam, most clerics from the larger schools of thought in Pakistan believe Ahmadiyyas are not Muslim.
Ahmadiyyas say Mirza Ahmad was a messiah. This directly contradicts one of Islam’s main principles – Muhammad is the last prophet to be associated with the religion. He died in the 7th century.
More than 260 Ahmadiyyas have been killed in Pakistan in the last 30 years, a spokesperson for Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, their representative organisation in Pakistan, told TRT World. Their houses are routinely burnt down, property looted, and mosques razed to the ground.
Distrust against the group runs so deep that it took Islamabad decades to name a physics department after Pakistan’s sole Nobel Laureate, the late Professor Abdus Salam, who was an Ahmadiyya.
Are they allowed to freely practice their faith?
Ahmadiyyas have run into trouble in several countries for identifying themselves as Muslims, including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. However, in Pakistan, Ahmadiyyas by law are not free to practice their faith and are often persecuted with impunity.
They were constitutionally declared non-Muslims in by the Pakistani parliament in September 1974, after violent riots and concentrated efforts by orthodox clerics and religious parties swayed the otherwise secular Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Ten years later, the government of military dictator General Ziaul Haq introduced harsh laws which made it a criminal offence for Ahmadiyyas to call themselves Muslims or their religion Islam. They are not allowed to use the word “mosque” for their place of worship or preach their faith.
“We can’t refer to our book as the Quran, we can’t use (our) mosque to give a call to prayer, we can’t use Islamic inscriptions on wedding cards,” said a spokesman for Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, Amir Mehmood.
“There is so much that we cannot do in our daily life.”
Why was the Ahmadiyya place of worship attacked?
Between 1984 and 2016, about 97 Ahmadiyya mosques were demolished and sealed by authorities. Some of these were forcibly occupied by followers of other Muslim sects. Vigilante justice is common.
On December 12, when Muslims around the world were celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, a one-thousand-strong mob barged into an Ahmadiyya mosque in Dulmial, a village in Punjab.
“There are 500 Ahmadiyya people who have been living in this village for decades without any issues with their neighbours,” said Mehmood.
He said things have changed in the past few months after fiery hate speech by clerics incited people from other villages to forcibly take over the mosque.
— Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) December 12, 2016
Some of the village clerics filed a case with the police to force Ahmadiyyas to vacate the premises.The attack occurred after authorities refused to give in to the demands of the clerics.
The violent crowd forced its way into the mosque and vandalised it.
While no one died as a direct result of mob violence, 65-year-old Khalid Javed, who was among 40 Ahmadiyya men seeking shelter inside the mosque, died of a heart attack.
Is the Pakistani government doing anything to stop Ahmadiyya victimisation?
Just days before the attack on the mosque, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif renamed the physics department of a large public university after Abdus Salam, the Nobel Laureate.
Many welcomed the long overdue decision but a top religious body was quick to condemn it. There has not been any actionable effort to change the constitution or criminal law to accommodate Ahmadiyyas.
Continuous violation of minority rights has pushed the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to recommend that Pakistan be declared a “country of particular concern” under the US International Religious Freedom Act. This could lead to possible foreign sanctions against Islamabad.