The Permeation of Religious Intolerance in South Asia

On May 28, 2010, the largest massacre of Ahmadi Muslims in history took place when, in broad daylight in Lahore, the Taliban attacked two mosques during Friday prayer, killing 86 Ahmadi Muslims. Such persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan is nothing new, and in contemporary discourse on the subject, what is missing is the recognition of the religious intolerance that has permeated South Asia, and indeed too many Muslim-majority nations, for too long.

For instance, Dr. Atif Mian resigned from Pakistan’s Economic Advisory Council due to his faith as an Ahmadi Muslim. Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate Dr. Abdus Salam was also denied religious freedom on account of his faith as an Ahmadi Muslim; his grave even desecrated because it had the word “Muslim” written on it. After leaving Pakistan, Salam went on to win the Nobel in physics in 1979. Prior to that, another prominent Ahmadi Muslim, MM Ahmad, was financial advisor to President Ayub Khan. An attack on his life in 1971 forced him to leave the country; Ahmad later became Executive Director of the World Bank. Prior to him, Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, another prominent Ahmadi Muslim, was Pakistan’s first foreign minister and the only Pakistani to serve as both President of the United Nations and of the International Court of Justice. He, too, was denied basic religious freedom in Pakistan and denied his place in Pakistan’s history books. Major General Iftikhar Janjua Shaheed, an Ahmadi Muslim, was martyred in the Pakistan-Indian war defending Pakistan’s sovereignty in 1971; like Sir Khan, he is forgotten in the history books.

And while you speak of one economist denied a federal position, let us speak of those who are not world famous. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of combined doctors, lawyers, engineers, venture capitalists, teachers, journalists, Islamic scholars, and upright citizens belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have fled under threat of death or otherwise denied basic human rights in apartheid conditions. How much longer can this brain drain continue?

This systemic issue is catastrophic and has a domino effect.

For example, what of the Ahmadi Muslim child in a Pakistani school, harassed for her faith and ridiculed by everyone from her classmates, to the teacher, to the school principal? What of the Ahmadi Muslim woman who has been denied attending the mosque for more than a decade due to threat of terrorist violence? What of the aspiring civil servant who cannot run for office, much less vote freely, without first signing a declaration that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad — the Messiah and Mahdi and Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community — was a liar? What of Farooq Ahmed, who fled after extremists lodged six bullets in him and killed his son and his son’s father-in-law just three days after his son’s marriage? What of Abdul Shukoor, an 82 year-old Ahmadi Muslim languishing in prison for the crime of selling a book published by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community?

Perhaps most frightening of all, what about the Sunni Muslim child who grows up in an environment of apartheid and extremism, believing it is justified to kill someone who disagrees with you on matters of personal faith? Now imagine this sentiment permeating the discourse about Ahmadi Muslims for generations — because that is the reality. This is why, as we speak, Ahmadi Muslims are facing state sanctioned persecution in Algeria, Indonesia, numerous Arab states, and overt discrimination in Western nations like the United Kingdom. Critics of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will receive this statement of fact as an attack on “all Muslims,” but those with nuance in their understanding will recognize this as a failure of Muslim leadership. Those with nuance will recognize that it is bad enough for Muslim leadership to perpetuate worldwide persecution and discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims. It is yet worse to then remain silent on that persecution — and it is further unfathomable to then criticize Ahmadi Muslims for speaking up for ourselves when no one else will.

Ahmadi Muslims, for our part, continue to live our faith by serving humanity. Whether it is running a state of the art cardiac and OBGYN hospital in Pakistan — free to all people regardless of faith or no faith — or building schools and wells in Africa, or raising millions for charity in the UK, or opening another state of the art hospital in Guatemala, we will not relent for our faith is not defined by constitutional amendments, nor is it defined by economic advisory councils.

As the Khalifa of Islam and head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, eloquently put it last weekend before 41,000 Ahmadi Muslims at Jalsa Germany: “We should be there to give a helping hand to those whose lives have been broken, who have been tormented and who are utterly helpless, vulnerable and defenseless. Let us prove our humanity. Let us show our compassion. Let us be there to shoulder the burdens of those who are in desperate need.”

This episode is not about one person: This is about a decision of Muslim clerics to cut their nose to spite their face. Where a government or parliament does not let a person call himself what he wants — after all, Ahmadi Muslims cannot call ourselves Muslims in Pakistan — then it leads to harm for not only that persecuted group, but also society itself. That is what we are seeing in Pakistan, and one consequence is that Pakistan has lost the use of a very respected economist. Withdrawing the right of self-identification clearly has massive and harmful ramifications for society. Only when the desire to serve all humanity regardless of faith supersedes the desire to serve personal egos will we finally see progress.

Until then, to paraphrase Dr. Mian, I can only pray that one day this discrimination is merely an account of history, rather than a description of present day reality.

Qasim Rashid, Esq. is the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a Security Fellow with Truman National Security Project, and host of the @ReSightIslam podcast. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimIQ.

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