Our belief in Islam has been made subject to our denunciation of the Ahmadis. This is a bigoted policy that will be denounced by the world, and will perpetually put Pakistan on the wrong side of history
Indian government has rightly included Ahmadis as a Muslim sect in its census for the first time in its history. Even though Ahmadis in India, numbering a little less than 100,000, were never declared non-Muslim as they were in Pakistan in 1974, under the influence of Deoband, government of India had shied away from including their name in the list of Muslim sects. If this has indeed been undertaken by the Hindu nationalist BJP government, it is smart politics on their part. At a time when the caste Hindu majority in India was under pressure from a joint Dalit and Muslim front, they have managed to lay bare the inherent contradictions of Muslims for the world to see. Predictably, Muslim leadership in India has reacted badly by attacking what is a principled decision as anti-Muslim. Instead of embracing Ahmadis as part of their community, political opportunists like Asaduddin Owaisi have walked into a trap where they stand exposed as bigots.
Rewind 70 odd years and the Muslim leadership in India was in the hands of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Repeatedly, extremist mullahs, especially those who supported the Congress, attacked Jinnah for having Ahmadis in the Muslim League. Jinnah’s clear and unambiguous answer was that anyone who called himself a Muslim was a Muslim. He realised that raising doctrinal issues would sound a death knell for the unity of Muslims, and would only marginalise minority sects within the community. As a Shia himself, Jinnah refused to sacrifice any section of Muslims in the name of religion. Ahmadis were amongst his closest lieutenants, and he was undeterred on the point regardless of opposition from various sections. The Ahmadis in turn gave their all to the Muslim League. It must be remembered that it was Zafrullah Khan from the Ahmadi community who was handpicked by Jinnah to present the Muslim case before the Boundary Commission at the time of partition. The Ahmadi community itself voted as one bloc for the Muslim League in 1946 elections on the order of their spiritual leader, Bashiruddin Mahmud.
It must also be taken into account that Jinnah at no point envisaged a permanent divorce between his “Pakistan” and rest of India. His stated maximum goal was a federation of Muslim provinces that would then enter into treaty relations with the rest of India on the basis of parity. His real objective, that discerning historians have noted, was actually to create a solid Muslim voting bloc at an all-India centre, which in his estimate would be the best safeguard for all Muslims and other communities (like Dalits) of the subcontinent against caste Hindu domination. These were political objectives not religious ones. The partition as it happened, and it happened because Congress insisted on an all or nothing approach when dealing with Jinnah’s demands left Muslims of what is now India in the lurch. They were left leaderless and rudderless, which they have remained for the last 70 years. Consequently, leadership has passed down to pygmies like Asaduddin Owaisi in India and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in Kashmir. These leaders are incapable of taking into account the terrain they are faced with. By allowing their bigotry to take centrestage, they have forfeited the interests of the Muslim community as a whole.
What is true of leadership of Indian Muslim community is truer still of the Pakistani leadership. In 1974, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, ostensibly a secular liberal man, made a shameful compromise with bigoted religious groups by getting the parliament to legislate on the religious status of Ahmadis. This is a decision that has torn up the fabric of Pakistani society. Sectarianism and religious violence that has become commonplace in Pakistan now can all be traced back to that unwise decision. We added a layer atop that bigotry by placing unconscionable fetters on the religious freedom of Ahmadis in Pakistan in 1984. So scared are 190 million official Muslims of Pakistan of a tiny community that every Pakistani Muslim who applies for a passport has to affirm that he considers them non-Muslims. Our belief in Islam has been made subject to our denunciation of the Ahmadis. This is a bigoted policy that will be denounced by the world, and will perpetually put Pakistan on the wrong side of history. These laws are going to be denounced by the world and eventually damned by our own posterity. This kind of injustice cannot last forever, but however long it lasts it will keep eating away at Pakistan’s soul.
What, after all, is the problem here? Are we so intolerant as Pakistanis and Muslims to be threatened by the beliefs of a very small section of our society? It is alright if you disagree with their beliefs and even call them non-Muslims, but why should you expect them to agree with you and call themselves non-Muslim? Why should their acts of worship, their reading of the Quran and their celebration of Eid outrage you to an extent that you are ready to kill them? After all, they have the same names, say the same Kalima, read the same Quran, and pray the same way. They have brought laurels for the country on many an occasion.
Pakistan’s only military general to die in battle was an Ahmadi. Zafrullah Khan kept the Pakistani flag flying high at the International Court of Justice. Dr Abdus Salam is Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate in Physics. Ahmadis have served Pakistan in the armed forces, in the civil bureaucracy and in business. Why must a doctrinal dispute over the status of their founder sink your humanity to treat them in a manner unfit for any modern and civilised state?
Is it any wonder then that the world turns a blind eye to us when we talk about Indian atrocities in Kashmir or the increasing religious intolerance in that country? The world rightly asks us to put our house in order first, to treat our own, Muslim and non-Muslim, with respect and dignity, something that we have consistently failed to do. So long as Pakistan continues to mistreat its own citizens, the world will continue to ignore our pleas for justice and those who hate us will continue to have a stick to beat us up with.