In an era where human rights violations are being called out, the bigotry and persecution faced by the Ahmadi Muslim community are hardly ever discussed when the discussion of Islamophobia comes up. Now is the time to have that discussion.
Who are the Ahmadis and why are they Persecuted?
The Ahmadis are a community of people who believe in all five pillars that are required of Muslims, and their movement began as an offshoot of Sunni Islam. They identify as Muslims but are subjected to bigotry and persecution because they believe that the promised Mahdi (messiah) is Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the Ahmadiyya Movement. They are persecuted because of this belief and are often condemned as kafirs (infidels or non-believers).
This is, of course, blatant Islamophobia. The most straightforward way to define Islamophobia is “An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims.” Ahmadis are a Muslim community, yet are subjected to such blatant discrimination because of hostility and hatred towards the version of Islam they practice. But this Islamophobia is hardly discussed despite how rampant it is in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Islamophobia Against Ahmadis in Pakistan
Pakistan, notorious for the ill-treatment of its Hindu, Christian, and Sikh minorities, has state-sanctioned Islamophobia against the Ahmadi Muslim community. For starters, the second constitutional amendment in Pakistan’s Constitution states that Ahmadis are non-Muslim and that any Ahmadi that identifies as Muslim is subject to prison time. The very governing document of Pakistan endorses Islamophobia against the Ahmadi Muslim community.
It doesn’t end there. Ahmadis are not allowed to call their places of worship as mosques, display the Kalima (Islamic testimony of faith), nor use the Islamic greeting. And this is by law. Because of the legal Islamophobia and bigotry they experience, even some mainstream Pakistani Muslims have shunned Ahmadis, engage in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories involving the Ahmadis, and believe the minority Ahmadi Muslim community are ‘enemies of Islam’. While there have been many brave atheists, secularists, and liberal Muslim voices that have called out this Islamophobia against Ahmadis, the societal persecution they face is rampant – – so much so that “Since 1984, over 260 Ahmadis have been killed” simply because of their faith.
The situation is so dire that the town of Rabwah, which is the only Ahmadi-majority town in Pakistan, doesn’t receive any government support for essential amenities like schools, roads, etc. Why? Because 90% of the city is Ahmadi Muslim.
For a country that screams about minority rights in India, Pakistan engages in cruel Islamophobia against its Ahmadi Muslim community (and even Shia Muslims for that matter). Unfortunately, this is not just limited to Pakistan. Bangladesh also engages in this Islamophobic behavior against the Ahmadis.
Islamophobia Against Ahmadis in Bangladesh
Even less discussed than the Islamophobia in Pakistan against the Ahmadi Muslim community is the Islamophobia against them in Bangladesh. Albeit relatively less severe than the state-sanctioned Islamophobia in Pakistan, Ahmadis still face bigotry and persecution in Bangladesh as well. Recently, for example, in 2015, fundamentalist bombers detonated explosives at an Ahmadi mosque in a village in northern Bangladesh, which injured three Ahmadi Muslims. In 2019, a Sunni Islamist cleric in Bangladesh by the name of Shah Ahmed Shafi called for a governmental declaration of Ahmadis being non-Muslims and stated that ‘No good Muslim should marry a Qadiani [Ahmadi] because they are not Muslims. They should not be buried in Muslim graveyards, and no one should lend them any support.’
These sort of inflammatory and bigoted remarks from fundamentalist Sunni clerics has led to violence against the Ahmadi community in Bangladesh for years. In fact, the situation got so dreadful in 2003-2004 that Ahmadi publications were banned, an Ahmadi preacher was killed, and there were illegal house arrests of Ahmadi villagers. Surprisingly, the Bangladeshi government at that time did not condemn the violence nor reaffirm its commitment to religious freedom.
All of which points to how in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Ahmadi Muslim community is exposed to Islamophobia, including state-sanctioned Islamophobia, because they believe in their version of Islam. This is not only unfortunate and outrageous, but it also highlights the critical need for human rights organizations to focus on the bigotry and persecution of the Ahmadi Muslim community in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, the latter being a country which has seen relatively little recent literature or dispatches about Ahmadi persecution.