Hatred of Ahmadis behind Pakistan protests

Islamist leaders in Pakistan agreed Nov. 27 to call a halt to protests that had for nearly two weeks paralyzed Islamabad and other cities in return for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Along with the deal, although seemingly not a part of it, a judicial panel ordered the release of 2008 Mumbai terror suspect Hafiz Saeed from house arrest, sparking angry protests from New Delhi. The protests were led by the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Party, linked to the Barelvi sect of Islam and fronted by the cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi. The protests were launched over Hamid's proposed changes to the oath taken by incoming lawmakers, omitting the language recognizing Muhammad as God's final prophet. Rizvi called the proposed change "blasphemy," which is a capital offense in Pakistan. Hamid quickly backtracked, calling the omission of the text a clerical error, and had it reinserted. Rizvi's followers still demanded his resignation, and protests reached by point of deadly violence before the deal was struck. In recent days, Islamabad considered calling in the army to clear the streets—raising fears about whether the army would respond, and the prospect of a face-off between the armed forces and civil authorities. (BBC News, NYT, Nov. 25; NYT, Nov. 27)

Although few media accounts have mentioned it, the obvious backdrop for the outrage over Hamid's indiscretion is the campaign of hatred that has been waged by Pakistan's conservative Islamists against the Ahmadiyya Muslim movement. The Ahmadis face growing threats in Pakistan, and have been especially targeted by the blasphemy law. The London Times reports that as the protests have mounted in Pakistan over the past days, Ahmadi mosques even in Britain have imposed "airport-style security" measures in response to a wave of threats from conservative Islamists. And the special opprobrium for the Ahmadis from orthodox Sunnis concerns precisely their rejection of the tenet that Muhammad was God's final prophet. For Ahmadis, this honor falls on their own founder, the 19th century Indian reformer and mystic, Mirza Gulam Ahmed—who is actually held by Ahmadis to have been the messiah. This "heresy" has won the Ahmadis persecution from Egypt to Indonesia.

Fiyaz Mughal, director of UK-based interfaith organization Faith Matters, decried the hypocrisy of Sunni Muslims who cry Islamophobia when members of their community are targeted for their beliefs but harass and threaten Ahmadis for theirs. "It is, frankly, sickening that some think they can openly harass, intimidate, vandalize and create a sense of fear within minority Muslim communities while shouting out about Islamophobia and the need to challenge it."