Four young men ran through the streets of Gujranwala, Pakistan, trying to escape the mob rioters chasing them and reach the house of their friends. Their friends, two brothers, had already arranged to move all the women of their house and others to a nearby neighbor’s home for safety. The four men reached the house of the two brothers with a trail of stone-throwing rioters behind them. The six of them climbed to the roof of the house. The stone throwers, however, had already reached the roofs of adjoining houses and began pelting the men. They were forced to come back down. The men found themselves surrounded and trapped. The rioters proceeded to beat the men with sticks and clubs and continued to stone them. While beating the men, the rioters shouted and demanded the men denounce their Ahmadi faith and “Mirza Sahib”. The six men refused. The rioters then stoned the six men to death. The women of the household fought their tears and mourned quietly afterwards for fear of being heard by outsiders. The six men lay buried beneath the pile of stones for a day. No one dared approach the site of the killing out of fear of the militant perpetrators. The next day, members of the six men’s religious community uncovered the bodies and discreetly buried them. Reports were filed but no charges were made by police.
– M. Nadeem Ahmad Siddiq, “Enforced Apostasy: Zaheeruddin v. State and the Official Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan”, Law and Inequality, December, 1995.
Sangha quoted residents as saying that the assailant threatened to not leave any Ahmadi alive.
– Dawn, Monday, May 31, 2010
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was born in Qadiyan a small village in Punjab in the late 1830s.1 He belonged to a prosperous household which had a long history of land grants and pensions from both the Mughal and Sikh courts, and from the British. He worked briefly as a law clerk but mostly his early life remains out of historical sight. In 1880 he self-published Barāhin-i Ahmadiyya – an exegesis on prophetology, on revelation, on the conditions of Muslim society as well as an engagement with the Hindu and Christian polemical and missionary materials. It is in these pages that he first articulates his role as a mujadid (a millennial renewer), muhaddath (one in direct conversation with God), a mahdi (the one who will lead the apocalyptical battle) and masih (Jesus). There is a lot here, theologically speaking, that would rile up the orthodoxy though much is also indebted to many strains of Sufic practices as well as theoretical explications of man’s relationship to God in various philosophical schools. Ahmad continued to write in local papers, issuing pamphlets, debating everyone. Starting in 1886, he began to hold public debates with Arya Samajist – a Hindu revivalist organization, founded in 1875 by Dayanand Saraswati to defend Hindu thought and practice from Christian missionaries; with Christian missionaries, and with other Muslim scholars. In 1891, he created an organization built around himself and began the efforts to actively proselytize in the community.
His public engagement was not confined to these debates (one of them lasted for 15 days) alone. He was a prolific author, having written nearly 88 books in Urdu, Arabic and Persian over the course of his life. In 1897, he established an Urdu weekly al-Hakam, and in 1902, al-Badr, as well as an English monthly The Review of Religions. Of his many concerns traceable in his writings and the journals, two need pointing out – Ahmadi engagement with the British regime (profoundly positive and engaged) and Ahmadi proselytizing around the world (deeply committed). Ghulam Ahmad died in 1908, leaving a Will but no clarity on succession. The Ahmadiyya split into two factions – the Lahori branch and the Qadiyani branch in 1914 along a number of issues (Ghulam Ahmad’s prophethood, how Ahmadis should proselytize to non-Muslims, leadership etc.).
Ahmadi missions began to appear in Britain and Europe (early 1910s), USA (1920 to Michigan and Ohio), Central Asia (1921), Iraq (1922), Syria (1925), Egypt (1924), Indonesia (1926), , Nigeria and Ghana (post 1918) – alongside came persecution. The first deaths came in 1901 and 1903 when two Ahmadis were stoned to death in Kabul. The next wave of anti-Ahmadi violence came in 1924-5, again starting in Afghanistan during the reign of Amir Amanullah Khan (1919-1929) when he ordered the arrest and execution of Ahmadis specifically on the grounds of apostasy. He also made being an Ahmadi a capital offense under the penal code.
The ‘ulama in Delhi and Deoband agreed by publishing their own fatwas/exegesis on the apostasy of the Ahmadi – chief among them was Shabbir Ahmad Uthmani of Deoband who founded the Jamaat Ulama-i Islam (JUI). His fatwa was crucial in the anti-Ahmadi riots of 1953. But the ‘ulama were not the only ones rallying after the Ahmadi. Muslim political groups such as the Majlis Ahrar-ul Islam tried to have them declared non-Muslim in the 1930s. Even the stalwart opponent of the bearded mullah, Muhammad Iqbal, took exception to the Ahmadi claim of a resurgent prophethood.
The Ahmadi question exposed the faith-based dysfunction in the ideology of Pakistan in 1949 (just as Bengali and Bengal were to expose the linguistic and racial dysfunctions, and Baluchistan the territorial dysfunction). The Ahrar and various other ‘ulema began agitating for the declaration of non-Muslim status to the Ahmadi in the constitution being drafted as well as attack the first foreign minister of Pakistan, Muhammad Zafrullah Khan (an Ahmadi). Everything from public rallies to violence shook the cities of Pakistan (a must-read document is the Munir Report). The fledgling government successfully resisted this pressure.
In 1951-3, the Ahrar kept tremendous pressure on the government – esp. the Punjab govt. by holding rallies (which often turned into riots) across the country. On March 5, 1953, Maulana Maududi and his Jamaat-i Islami, which had largely kept out of the anti-Ahmadi fervor, joined the fray. Maududi published Qadiyani Masalah (The Ahmadi Problem) – using his theological know-how to structure himself at the center of the debate. This greatly intensified the public outcry, as well the response of the state – which cracked down hard on the religious parties and their organs. The inquiry report issued – the Munir Report – is perhaps the best and only official indictment of religious parties produced in Pakistan.
The Bengal question cleaved Pakistan into two. This second Partition gave rise to the first outright embrace of the process of Islamization under the leadership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. From 1972 onwards, anti-Ahmadi riots spread across Punjab with state legislatures introducing anti-Ahmadi legislations. On September 7, 1973, the State decided to amend the Constitution and add a clause requiring faith in the finality of the Prophet as a central tenant, and failure of doing so, be punishable by law. The Ahmadi were finally non-Muslims and denied basic rights of citizenship. After Pakistan, similar measures were passed across the Muslim world – often linked to pressure from the Saudi Arabian regime.
1984 began another long nightmare when Zia ul Haq passed the Ordinance on April 26, 1984. It forbid them from declaring themselves as Muslims, or calling their mosques, mosques or using the call to prayer. Pakistan’s task, to quote Zia ul Haq, was to “persevere in our effort to ensure that the cancer of Qadianism is exterminated”.
1993 was another round of riots across Pakistan.
- See Spencer Lavan’s The Ahmadiyah Movement: A History and Perspective (New Delhi: Manohar Books, 1974) and Yohanan Friedmann’s Prophecy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and Its Medieval Background (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) [↩]