This article was published on ‘Times Online’ on 1st June 2010.
Last Friday more than 80 members of my family were slaughtered and many more were left for dead as they prayed in two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan.
My fathers, brothers and sons were targeted and lost their lives in one of the most barbaric attacks the country has ever seen.
Then, on Monday, another relative was killed in his own home in District Narawal as his wife watched in horror.
These were all members of my family – related not biologically, but by a common faith. These were fellow Ahmadi Muslims, a community of pacifists founded in the late 19th century by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. This is the man we have accepted as the Promised Messiah, appointed by God for the rejuvenation of Islam, free from all cruelty and corruption, reflecting the true and original teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. This Messiah also taught that jihad or struggle was a spiritual battle against oneself, not an aggressive holy war against unbelievers.
It is our belief in that Messiah and his message that jihadists find unpalatable – because they await a warrior leader instead – and that, for them, was a good enough reason to wreak complete havoc in the days just gone. I fear it won’t be the last time either.
I saw the distressing images being beamed from Lahore: terrorists firing at police, my brethren trying (but tragically failing) to escape, dead bodies on the streets, and the wounded being carried into ambulances and rushed to hospital.
Thousands of miles away, in Birmingham, I too felt those bullets, I too bled and I too felt those cries of anguish. It felt like a nightmare, from which I wanted to wake up. As I watched footage on YouTube from a survivor’s mobile phone of what was unfolding in one of the mosques, I felt I was with them in that chilling atmosphere.
The persecution of Ahmadi Muslims, particularly in Pakistan, is nothing new. Ever since our inception, we have grown accustomed to kidnappings and killings, most of which have gone unreported and unpunished in a land where law and order are simply an ideal. This, though, was on quite another scale – the gravest act of murder in Ahmadi history – and for the first time, finally, the world seemed to notice our plight.
And it was heartening and uplifting to receive so many messages of sympathy and support from friends from all faiths who said we were in their thoughts and prayers.
What erupted in Lahore represents an ongoing battle about what Islam actually is: a religion of peace, respect and tolerance as Ahmadis know, love and practice it, or a weapon for mass destruction as militants have misinterpreted and espoused it.
The sponsors of last week’s bloodbath have warned that if Ahmadis do not renounce their faith, there will be more such attacks. So one would think the government of Pakistan would heighten its security and ensure that Ahmadis are given some protection. Far from it.
The government’s attempts to lay the entire blame on extremists denies the stark reality that the government itself is complicit with them in the bullying and beating of Ahmadis and other minorities, and has been for decades.
Ahmadis have been systematically singled out and vilified through every sphere of Pakistani life. Laws passed by the government criminalise the public practice of Islam specifically by Ahmadis with jail sentences for ‘posing as Muslims’ or trumped up charges of blasphemy. Any Ahmadi that offers the Islamic greeting salaam to another Muslim could be put behind bars for three years.
Such State-sanctioned persecution has acted as a catalyst for others to act with impunity in discriminating against Ahmadis in public life. Ahmadis are barred from senior posts in government, higher levels of the armed forces, denied many other jobs, their businesses looted and progress in education blocked. Four million Ahmadis cannot even exercise their right to vote unless they relinquish their claim to be Muslims, something no Ahmadi would dream of doing.
Meanwhile, clerics spew hatred in sermons and through the media, demonising Ahmadis so that young Pakistanis grow up thinking that Ahmadis are ‘the enemy within’. Clerics often appear on popular TV shows to incite hatred and declare openly that Ahmadis are ‘liable to be killed’. Conferences are organised and billboard adverts displayed with the sole aim of undermining Ahmadis, all with the government’s blessing.
Groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda are united with mainstream Muslim parties in their vociferous and violent anti-Ahmadi stance. Ministers failed to attend the funerals of Ahmadis and the media succumbed to pressure from hardliners by referring to the Ahmadi mosques as ‘places of worship’ instead.
And yet, whilst condemning the latest attacks, the State cannot see the blood on its own hands, nor its role in fostering this deadly environment in which the victimization of Ahmadis has become not only socially acceptable, but also a passport to paradise.
All this creates a fertile ground for all manner of abuse to be directed at Ahmadis, not just in Pakistan but elsewhere too, including Britain. I myself have experienced foul-mouthed tirades and threats from impressionable Muslims influenced by such clerics barking from their pulpits on these very shores.
However, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s response to this trend and the latest massacre remains the same. United and steadfast under the inspiring leadership of our Khalifa, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, and a commitment to our code ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’, we do not seek revenge, demand any special help from the Pakistani authorities, or depend on any worldly justice, but place our full trust in God.
As required by our constitution, we shun “cruelty, mischief and rebellion”, and must keep ourselves “occupied in the service of God’s creatures for His sake only, and endeavour to benefit mankind to the best of our God-given abilities”.
It is for this reason the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was established, and for which it seems fanatical forces want us destroyed. But as history has shown, for each family member we lose, God gives us so many more.
Pakistan truly stands at the precipice of an abyss. Whether it falls into the jihadist hellhole it has fomented, or steps back from the brink, will depend on how its government and people react to these atrocities. Either way, I believe the blood of my brothers martyred in the cause of faith and peace will not go in vain. The God I know would never allow that.