Not All Muslims Welcome in Pakistan

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari championed a “moderate, modern and loving Islam” in a stirring speech at the United Nations … Continued

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari championed a “moderate, modern and loving Islam” in a stirring speech at the United Nations on Thursday. “Islam is tolerant of other religions and cultures and internally tolerant of dissent,” he told a packed audience of world leaders attending the interfaith conference. And he forcefully asserted that he, like his late wife former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, believes that the basic dignity of human beings “must be universally recognized and respected”–that, indeed, “There is nothing more un-Islamic than discrimination … [and] terrorism.”

It’s a lovely picture, and one that accurately represents the Muslim faith I profess. Unfortunately, it does not represent the Pakistan that Mr. Zardari now leads.

It’s not Mr. Zardari’s words that are the problem; rather, it’s the actions of his government that for decades has institutionally discriminated against religious minorities. This discrimination has, at best, led to disenfranchisement and religious persecution; at worst, to violence of the ugliest kind. If Americans expect Pakistan to be an ally in our war against religious extremism and terror, we need better.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which numbers in the tens of millions, has suffered the brunt of this persecution in Pakistan. While Ahmadi Muslims believe in all the tenets of Islam, there is one major difference between us and mainstream Muslims: Our belief that God sent a messenger in the 19th Century to reform Islam for the modern age. And that singular point is what has made our community the subject of something so “un-Islamic” as discrimination.

I don’t believe the “basic dignity” of my paternal uncle, an attorney and prominent advocate of our faith community, was recognized when he was gunned down inside his home in Sargodha, Pakistan, in August 2004. His death was a result of his affiliation with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, but his assassins were never brought to justice. And I don’t believe the basic dignity of Dr. Abdul Mannan Sidiqqui, an American citizen and Ahmadi Muslim who returned to Pakistan to run a clinic serving needy patients in his native Sindh province, was recognized when he was murdered this September, just two days after a prominent Pakistani television host declared Ahmadi Muslims “worthy of death” on national television.

These indignities would perhaps be easier to stomach if they could be swept aside as the actions of a few extremists beyond the fray. Unfortunately, the institutionalized persecution of Ahmadi Muslims dates back to 1974, when, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Pakistani constitution was amended to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Four years later, Ahmadis were “for all practical purposes barred from voting,” according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, when a series of laws created a separate electorate system for non-Muslims. In 1984, the Pakistani constitution was amended once again, prohibiting Ahmadi Muslims from professing their faith publicly, building mosques, making the call for Muslim prayers, using Islamic language and more–effectively turning any public act of worship by Ahmadis into a criminal offense punishable by death. Officially, Ahmadi Muslims cannot name their children Muhammad or utter the word “Salam.”

For years, organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the U.S. Department of State have documented these injustices and have called upon Pakistan to reverse its ugly discrimination. In fact, the State department’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report stated the Ahmadiyya community continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and legal bars to the practice of its religious beliefs. But nothing has changed. Today, as the United States continues to work with Pakistan in the war on terror, it’s hard to believe that such a country can serve as a credible partner. Until such persecution–gleefully championed by the mullahs who seek to destroy the United States and its allies–is unambiguously stamped out at the federal level in Pakistan, how can we expect the country to rein in its extremist factions?

During Ms. Bhutto’s two stints in office, she was unable to stand up to religious extremists in Pakistan and did nothing to repeal the discriminatory laws against Ahmadi Muslims. While her husband’s rhetoric on Thursday was a step in the right direction, it rings hollow. If Mr. Zardari really wants to be an example of Muslim tolerance, he needs to repeal the amendments and ordinances in the Pakistani constitution that disenfranchise millions of voters and ban religious freedom for an entire population. Ironically, at the end of his speech, Mr. Zardari said “Injustice and discrimination on the mere basis of one’s faith must be discouraged–not only in words but through meaningful actions.” Here’s hoping he finds the courage to follow his own advice.

Ismat Sarah Mangla is a reporter at Money magazine, where she writes about banking and credit. She is also the founder of Nirali, an online magazine for South Asians in the West. A graduate of the University of Michigan and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Ismat lives in New York City.

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  • avp_65

    MR Spark1, Jews and Christians also believe in finality of their prophets.You and I believe in finality of prophet Mohammed.Ismath believes in finality of Ahmed. If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all. – Noam Chomsky

  • quidditchworldcup

    Ms. Mangla gives us a staunch, strong, and passionate call for social justice, in a country which, while established as “the land of the pure,” has found itself increasingly tainted with religious extremism and a distorted interpretation of Islam. It is high time for Pakistan to return to the moderate path of tolerance and acceptance of other faiths that was highlighted by its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It is time for us to reclaim the dream of Pakistan, the dream of advancement and of love, that was best exemplified by such prominent Pakistanis as Chaudhry Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, M.M. Ahmad, and Dr. Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate. Pakistan was founded as a secular state for Muslims, and it is time that it reclaims its true identity. The only true Islamic government is one that retains a separation of church and state, for only then can we be truly free. Pakistan Zindabad (long live Pakistan), and may it return to guidance and light.

  • Anees1

    Excellent choice! The “On Faith” department did a wonderful job selecting this piece. We need more articles on highlighting the difference between extremists and the ideologies they claim justify their actions.

  • vivaciousvibe03

    Ms. Mangla makes an excellent argument favoring basic human rights which undoubtedly include freedom of religion and self expression. Unfortunately, some of the commentators on this piece of have lost sight of Ms. Mangla’s purpose. The objective of this piece is to reveal the ongoing injustices Ahmadis face in Pakistan. However, some readers have taken this as an opportunity to argue about the validity of the Ahmadiyya sect. Thus, I would like to ask the readers to focus on the human rights aspect of Ms. Mangla’s article- her purpose is not to say Ahmadis are better than other Muslims. Rather, she makes a convincing argument favoring the restoration of basic civil and human rights of Ahmadi Muslims.

  • Qudsia00

    One does not need to know the intricacies of Islamic law [‘shariah’] to figure out that Pakistani laws against Ahmadis are nothing but hateful and vindictive pieces of legislation, enacted with the sole aim to make the lives of Ahmadis as miserable as possible. The peculiar brand of discrimination against Ahmadis in Pakistan, despite its horrific bleakness, has a comical element–that although Ahmadis have been declared non-Muslim in Pakistan, they are deprived of rights given even to the non-Muslims there. A Hindu, a Christian, a Budhist or a Jew will not be put in jail for saying the Muslim greeting, ‘Assalamo-alaikum’ [‘peace be on you’], yet if an Ahmadi were to utter this greeting it would be necessary by law to fine him/her and put that Ahmadi in jail for up to 3 years, should someone complain. A Muslim would be, and should be, overjoyed to hear a Hindu, a Christian or a Jew declare the Muslim article of faith that, ‘There is no God but Allah; Muhammad is his Messenger,’ and indeed it is not a crime in Pakistan if a non-Muslim were to declare so. Yet, strangely, if an Ahmadi were to declare this aloud, or wear a pin with this declaration, or have it written on his/her house or place of worship, according to Pakistani law such an Ahmadi would have committed a crime punishable by up to 3 years in jail (plus fines). One does not need to know Islamic shariah to realize that Pakistani laws against Ahmadis are against all reason and common sense. This truth resonates in the kind and friendly treatment of so many Pakistani non-Ahmadi Muslims when dealing with their Ahmadi friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, the law-makers and law-enforcers of Pakistan, playing as pawns of religious extremists, have been enabling the terrorists to wreck havoc with the peace of its citizens, overshadowing everything good in their country. At first, it was only the Ahmadis who were the brunt of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, then the mainstream Muslim factions started targeting each other as well, and now they are a threat to world peace. Not many cared when it was just the Ahmadis who suffered and died; now, there is more at stake for everyone.

  • ahmadc22

    A true test of the greatness of a society is how it treats its minorities. By these standards, Pakistan is proving to be a great failure. Intolerance of any sort, especially in the name of religion, is deplorable. Your article succinctly makes the case for Pakistan to change its ways. Lets hope Mr. Zardari, as you put it, follows his own advice.

  • asimjatt78


  • SSohail

    What I am finding most interesting about this discussion is that, over a period of 30 some years, the aggressors have become the victim of their own aggression. While the Ahmadiyya community has experienced explosive growth and prosperity around the world, the malice that was incited for Ahmadis by the mulla has turned in on itself. Pakistan, unfortunately, has become a dysfunctional country where non-state, or fringe, elements seem to have more power than the state. One could argue that this could be attributed to the drain on intellect and morality when Ahmadis started migrating to western countries in large numbers.

  • endofdemocracy

    The former head of the Ahmadiyya Community, the Late Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad was once asked if there could ever exist a truly Islamic state run under Islamic law. His response was that in todays world this could not happen, because, he stated, that Islamic law requires complete and absolute justice…and since todays nations include citizens from a number of differant religions, how then can any religious state be just in enacting and excercizing its religious laws on all those citizens. Only those that appreciate true democracy and freedom will understand the depth of this response. In simple terms, state and religion needs to be separated. Justice has to be paramount in all our dealings as individuals and as governments and if a government cannot be just with ALL its citizens, it has no right to exist. The Pakistani government therefore must either alienate itself from the mullahs and repeal its unjust laws or step down…it must also remember that God does not like injustice and the people that make up the government will one day have to stand before Him and be answerable for their actions.