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Pakistan’s Ahmadis live in fear as tombs, religious sites attacked

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says there have been at least 34 attacks on Ahmadi religious sites this year.

Islamabad, Pakistan – Members of the Pakistani minority ahmadi community They say their places of worship and cemeteries are being attacked as part of a systemic and coordinated hate campaign.

Community spokesman Amir Mahmood told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that they are facing a significant increase in attacks, particularly in eastern Punjab province, Pakistan’s most populous.

Mahmood said at least 74 tombs were vandalized in the Punjab city of Daska last week, while the minarets of two Ahmadi places of worship were demolished near the provincial capital, Lahore.

He accused police and administrative officials of demolishing his religious structures (one built before 1947, the year Pakistan was formed after independence from British rule) under pressure from a right-wing religious party.

“The religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) also threatened the local administration with serious consequences if the minarets of our place of worship are not destroyed,” Mahmood said.

“They have now issued an ultimatum to the administration to act on their demands by Friday, which coincides with the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebrations,” he added.

At least 74 graves were vandalized in the Punjab city of Daska last week (Courtesy: Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya Pakistan)

The 500,000-strong Ahmadi community is a religious minority in Pakistan, which considers itself Muslim, but was officially declared “non-Muslim” in 1974 through an amendment to the constitution.

A decade later, under the dictatorship of former military ruler Zia ul-Haq, a ruling banned Ahmadis from “posing as Muslims” and prohibited them from publicly referring to themselves as Muslims. They were prohibited from practicing aspects of the Islamic faith or publicly displaying any symbols that identified them as Muslim, including building minarets or domes on mosques, or publicly writing verses from the Koran, the Islamic holy book.

On Monday, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the country’s top human rights body, said there have been at least 34 attacks on Ahmadi religious sites since January this year.

According to data collected by the community, in 2022, at least three Ahmadis were killed for his faith, while another 108 people were prosecuted in various religious cases. They alleged that last year at least 14 mosques and 197 graves belonging to the community were desecrated.

Zaheer Aslam (whose name has been changed), an Ahmadi businessman in Daska, told Al Jazeera that his ancestors lived in Daska, a small town of less than 200,000 people, even before the country was formed. He said less than 200 households in the city were now Ahmadis.

“Our community has always faced prejudice, sometimes brutally, sometimes more subtly. However, this year the flames of hate are much more intense,” he stated.

Aslam said Daska is full of TLP banners calling for protests against Ahmadis for allegedly “insulting” Islamic religious symbols.

“Today (Tuesday) a demonstration took place that was filled with hate speech against our community, while the administration sits silently and watches everything unfold,” he told Al Jazeera.

Saadat Ali, a police officer posted in Daska, said police are trying to ensure law and order in the city ahead of the prophet’s birthday celebrations. He denied accusations that the TLP was pressuring the police or that police officers themselves desecrated graves.

“We received a complaint from the TLP that Ahmadis were displaying minarets in their places of worship. I told the group that it was built before 1984 and that they should go to court for guidance. It does not fall within the purview of the police,” Ali told Al Jazeera.

A banner mobilizing people against the minority community of Daska (Courtesy: Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya Pakistan)

But community spokesperson Mahmood rejected the police claims.

“I would like to ask the administration: didn’t (the attackers) carry out their operation in the dark, under police protection? What right did they have? It was our cemetery, bought with our money, and it only buried people from our community. What law allowed them to take this measure?” she asked.

While the police say they are prepared for any eventuality ahead of Friday’s celebrations, Daska’s Ahmadi community remains concerned.

Aslam, the business owner, said most of the people campaigning against Ahmadis do not belong to Daska and come from nearby cities and towns.

“People in the city, in general, do not actively participate in these hate-filled demonstrations. But the circumstances are such that no one has the courage to come out and support us or defend us publicly,” the 47-year-old said. “There is an air of fear and intimidation that completely suffocates us.

“We were told not to call our places of worship mosques. We were told not to give azaan (the call to prayer). We were told not to write Quranic verses on our houses or graves. What do they want from us next? Should we stop breathing the same air so as not to contaminate it?

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