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Pakistan currently has the largest Ahmadi population in the world: though their exact numbers are unknown, estimates suggest there are hundreds of thousands and even millions of community members in the country. Most were originally based in Qadian, India prior to independence, but after the 1947 Partition they migrated en masse to Pakistan. Here, they established a new city in Pakistan’s Punjab and named it Rabwah, meaning ‘higher place’ or ‘hill’. Despite their established presence in Pakistan, however, Ahmadis are among the country’s most persecuted communities, with many forced to conceal their faith for fear of attack.
Discrimination against the community began as early as the 1950s, with the formation of anti-Ahmadi movements calling for restrictions and their designation as heretics. Following countrywide protests against the community, the state cemented this stigmatization with the Second Amendment to the Constitution in 1974 which declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. This effectively imposed minority status on Ahmadis – a status which members of the Ahmadi community reject. A decade later, this persecution was reinforced by a 1984 presidential ordinance making it illegal for Ahmadis to ‘pose as Muslims’ or ‘refer to their faith as Islam’. Under this law, it became a criminal penalty to describe an Ahmadi place of worship as a mosque or their call for prayer as azaan. Even saying an Islamic greeting can be a non-bailable criminal offence for an Ahmadi in Pakistan. Blasphemy accusations, then, are among the most common forms of persecution for the community, aided and abetted by this legislative context.
Against this backdrop of institutional discrimination, Ahmadis are marginalized in almost every sphere of public life. For example, a Pakistani passport can only be obtained after signing a declaration that the ‘Qadiani group’ – a derogatory term for the Ahmadiyya community, referencing their Indian origins – are non-Muslims. Large-scale public events are also regularly held in celebration of the Second Amendment, with speakers calling for further restrictions against the community. As a result, Ahmadis are frequently forced to conceal their identity to ensure they are not targeted. Even in death, however, the community is not spared, with Ahmadi cemeteries frequently desecrated. The extent of discrimination is such that Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate, Abdus Salam, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, is largely overlooked in his own country and the word ‘Muslim’ has been removed from the epitaph on his gravestone.
In 2010, the Ahmadiyya community suffered the worst incident in its history when Ahmadi mosques were attacked during Friday prayers in Punjab’s provincial capital, Lahore, leaving at least 94 dead and many others injured. Since then, increasing numbers of Ahmadis have left the country, although there is no data available to determine how many have sought asylum abroad.
Top photo: Liwa-e-Ahmadiyya, the flag of Ahmadi Community. Credit: Ceddyfresse – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17183481