Courtesy Wall Street Journal
By MIRA SETHI
In the early hours of May 28, Khalid Solangi was shaken awake by his wife. She told him that she’d heard news of a bloody attack on two Ahmadi mosques in Pakistan. Khalid’s older brother, an Ahmadi Muslim American, had recently flown to Lahore for a wedding and they feared he was one of the victims. “My wife said to me, ‘Your brother has never missed the Friday prayer.'”
And so Khalid dialed his sister-in-law’s number. She confirmed the worst: Her husband had called from his cellphone minutes earlier, asking her to pray for him and the others trapped inside the mosque. “The next thing we heard was that my brother had been martyred,” said Khalid. “He had gone to Pakistan for a wedding. He didn’t even live there.”
When the dust from the bombs settled and the Taliban gunmen stopped their shooting, nearly 100 innocent Muslims lay dead inside the mosques where they had gathered for Friday prayer. This wasn’t the first act of terror committed against this minority Muslim sect.
Since 1953, when the first anti-Ahmadi riots broke out in newly independent Pakistan, the Ahmadi community has lived under constant threat. In 1974, Pakistan amended its constitution to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims.
Ten years later, among a slew of anti-blasphemy laws—one of them famously known as “Ordinance XX”—the military dictator Zia ul-Haq made it a crime for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims. They were forbidden from declaring their faith publicly, using the traditional Islamic greeting, and referring to their places of worship as mosques. In short, virtually any public act of worship or devotion by an Ahmadi can be treated as a criminal offense punishable by death.
Unsurprisingly, attacks on the Ahmadi community followed. In 2005 eight Ahmadis were gunned down in a mosque in a small town in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. A year later a mob burned down Ahmadi homes and shops in a small village in the province, forcing more than a 100 Ahmadis to flee.
Last winter, while I was home in Lahore, I drove to a beige building near my house to get my passport renewed. The officer, in a small effort to assist me, made Xs next to the lines that needed my signature. First I signed the badly photocopied sheet, again and again. Then I found myself being asked to confirm that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad—a 19th century Punjabi reformer and founder of the Ahmadi movement—was an “imposter.”
This is standard. Every Pakistani Muslim applying for a passport must sign a statement deriding Ahmad, but I had forgotten about the procedure.
I asked the officer what would happen if I didn’t sign above the line. He looked at me blankly: “You don’t want passport?”
Later that day I went with my friends to a restaurant in Old Lahore—the city’s historic quarter—where cramped alleys lead to centuries-old Mughal mosques, forts and gateways. We ate kebabs and shared a hookah. On our way home, passing Lahore’s busiest road, I saw a banner on a building facing the Lahore High Court: “Jews, Christians and Ahmadis are enemies of Islam.” We passed a patch of grass where a bronze statue of Queen Victoria had once stood. It has been replaced by a tall glass box containing a Quran.
That the Ahmadi movement agrees with every tenet of Islam, save the additional belief that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad came to the Muslim community as a promised messiah, is irrelevant. The legal system has left minorities such as Christians and Hindus, and within Islam, Ahmadis and Shiites, socially and politically isolated.
Routinely, the graffiti along Lahore’s stylish boulevards will proclaim that Shiites are infidels. More than 100 Christian houses were burned in a town in central Pakistan last year over a claim that a Christian had defiled the Quran. That same year, 37 Ahmadis were charged under the blasphemy laws.
Pakistan is the only Muslim nation to explicitly define who is or is not a “Muslim” under its constitution. This serves only one purpose: to embolden groups like the Pakistani Taliban who use the laws as justification to declare Ahmadis as “wajib ul qatl” or “worthy of death.” As long as the state continues to decide who is and is not a Muslim—a personal, private question—we will continue to see attacks on minorities and medieval banners in the public square.
Ms. Sethi is a Robert L. Bartley Fellow at the Journal this summer.