By Yasser Latif Hamdani
June 08, 2015
Though there are some questions about the story but if Tahera Ahmad — the chaplain from North-western University — was subjected to anti-Muslim abuse on a United Airlines flight, it would underscore the growing intolerance towards Muslims in the US. There is, however, no doubt about the treatment meted out to the Rohingyas of Myanmar. The most sanctified saint of human rights and democracy alive, Aung San Suu Kyi, has remained completely silent over this incredible human tragedy. It seems that when it comes to Rohingyas, the discrimination is a very popular one indeed and has even managed to silence a great leader like Suu Kyi who either is unwilling to speak for the Rohingya Muslims or simply agrees with the treatment meted out to them. Shame.
The public opinion in Pakistan, however, is up in arms against this grave humanitarian tragedy. It is tragic that when it comes to discrimination Pakistanis are unable to put their own house in order. Consider the similarities in the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to the treatment of Ahmedis in Pakistan since 1984 and earlier. Since 1982, the Rohingyas have been denied citizenship in Myanmar and are called “Bengalis” despite the fact that there is ample evidence of Rohingyas living in Myanmar prior to 1948. They are isolated, marginalised and often subject to mass violence and pogroms in the name of religion and ethnicity.
Make no mistake; the Pakistani situation is worse. While we mercifully do not strip Ahmedis of citizenship, we pretty much ensure that their religious freedom is not only curtailed but they are presented as the embodiment of evil in the national imagination. Ordinance XX of 1984, promulgated by the military dictatorship, has an odious name: The Prohibition of Anti-Islamic Activities of Qadianis Ordinance. And while Ahmedis can get passports as citizens of Pakistan, the officially sanctioned Muslims of Pakistan have to certify on the passport application that they consider Ahmedis non-Muslims and the founder of their religious movement an imposter. This is ironic because after declaring Ahmedis to be outside the fold of Islam through the Second Amendment in 1974, Pakistan recognised Ahmedis as a distinct religious community separate from Islam under Article 260 of the Constitution. As such, the founders of all religions enjoy protection under the Pakistan Penal Code but Ahmedis are denied this. Nothing can be more ironic than this of course given that the contribution of Ahmedis to the creation of Pakistan and its progress is second to none. It bears repeating that, when asked, the founder of Pakistan, Jinnah, said that anyone who calls himself a Muslim is a Muslim and that there was no bar therefore on Ahmedis in the Muslim League.
Today, however, the Ahmedis live in absolute fear and are under siege even in the city of Rabwah, which they built from scratch. Right at the start of Rabwah, now named Chenab Nagar officially, is a Sunni Mosque called Majlis-e-Ahrar mosque, named after the Majlis-e-Ahrar, the rabidly anti-Ahmadi and anti-Shia group pre-partition, which had also called Pakistan Kafiristan and Jinnah Kafir-e-Azam. This just goes to show that in Pakistan you can abuse the country, its existence and its antecedents to your heart’s content so long as you also abuse Ahmedis. The loudspeakers of this mosque abuse Ahmedis and their families all day long; freedom of speech and expression indeed. The ironic part is that Ahmedis are not even allowed to give azaan (call to prayer) from their loudspeaker let alone counter hate speech. Like Aung San Suu Kyi, Pakistan’s politicians, the powerful army, the judiciary and the steel frame bureaucracy are all unable or unwilling to help Ahmedis.
Then there is the issue of the Hazaras, the most identifiable Shia group because of their ethnicity. This community is being mercilessly exterminated by sectarian terrorists. There can be no two opinions about the fact that there is a genocide under way and lately this genocide has been expanded. Aga Khani Ismailis and Bohra Ismailis are also being targeted.
So the point is that while we talk of Rohingyas and their plight, it would be a useful exercise to put our own house in order, to put an end to both official state discrimination against Ahmedis as well as the genocide that is being perpetrated against various Shia sects. The next time we point fingers at the west for their numerous failings and in particular the diet coke issue, we will do well to remember the hate speech, discrimination and abuse we mete out to our own citizens in the name of religion. Christians are abused as being unclean or dirty. Some shops and establishments have signs declaring that Ahmedis will not be served. A whole generation of Sunni children has been taught to hate Shias and see them as kaafirs (infidels). The state needs to play an active role in curbing these attitudes but where can it start? Since 1984, the state itself has been complicit in sectarian bigotry.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address firstname.lastname@example.org