Rejected by many in the Islamic world as heretics and routinely persecuted because their more moderate beliefs do not accord with mainstream Islamic interpretations of the Quran, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is arguably one of the most persecuted Muslim communities in the world. However, beyond some faint pleas for better treatment from the U.S. State Department and human rights groups, the Ahmadi Muslims plight has largely gone unnoticed.
The Ahmadi Muslims trace their roots to the late nineteenth century, when the movement was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, in the Punjabi village of Qadian, now modern day India.
They share many of the basic tenets of Islam, however differ in some significant respects.
For one, the Ahmadi Muslims condemn the use of terror and reject any attempt to spread Islam through violence or coercion. According to Naseem Mahdi, national Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the U.S., "there is no place or justification found in Islam for violence whatsoever," and that "Islam condemns terrorism unreservedly and totally."
The Ahmadi Muslims are also one of the few Islamic organizations to endorse a separation of Mosque and State; they believe individuals must be both "righteous souls as well as loyal citizens." Mahdi says that "Islam requires all Muslims to live in peace and harmony wherever they may be," and that "it is thus the duty and responsibility of all Muslims living in the U.S. to be loyal to the flag and to be law-abiding citizens."
Mahdi has also warned that the vast majority of reasonable, peace-loving and law-abiding population of Muslims living in the US must "speak out and speak out loudly" about the dangers of radical Islam.
Additionally, the Ahmadi Muslims advocate universal human rights and protections for religious and other minorities, including the empowerment and education of women. Contrast this to some other Muslim states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, which treat women and people of other faiths and minorities as less than second class citizens.
Yet, the singular most controversial element of the Ahmadi faith, which has riled up so many in the Islamic community, is the belief that their founder, Ahmad, was both the second coming of Jesus as well as the Mahdi (the Messiah). This contradicts a fundamental tenet of Islam: that the Prophet Mohammed was the last of the prophets sent by God (Quran 33:40).
As a result, the Ahmadi Muslims, who number globally about 10 million, have become a persecuted minority in most Muslim countries where they are not even recognized as Muslims.
Although the majority of the world's Ahmaddis are in Pakistan (where 3 to 4 million currently live), most are dispersed throughout South East Asia (India, Bangladesh, Indonesia) and in the Arab Middle East, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the disputed Palestinian Territories.
Nowhere, however, is the persecution of the Ahmadi Muslims more evident, nor blatant, than in Pakistan, where they have been stripped and denied of their most basic human rights. For example, not only are members of the Ahmadi community expressly declared non-Muslims under Pakistan's constitution, but under Section 298C of the Pakistan Penal Code, they are explicitly prohibited from "posing" as Muslim or "referring" to their faith as Islam. Likewise, preaching, making the call for Muslim prayer or using any visible representation of their faith is also prohibited and punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. At the behest of radical Islamists, Section 298C adds that any Ahmadi who "in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims" is also be liable to be imprisoned. In short, the treatment of the Ahmadi Community in Pakistan is nothing less than religious apartheid.
Of gravest concern are Pakistan's blasphemy laws, largely because under Section 295C of the Penal Code, blasphemy is an offense punishable by life imprisonment or even death. Pursuant to this law, which was created specifically against the Ahmadi Muslims, their belief in the prophethood of Ahmad is considered blasphemous insofar as it "defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad."
To date, Ahmadi Muslims account for almost 40% of all arrests under Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws.
Ahmadi Muslims are also denied their most basic right, at least in a democracy: the right to vote -- unless they first disavow their identities and declare themselves to be a non-Muslim or that their founder was an imposter.
Not only does the government in Pakistan deny the Ahmadi Muslims the same rights afforded to other Muslim citizens, it adds fuel and justification to extremist organizations to perpetrate violent attacks against them, then looks the other way when the attacks occur.
In Lahore, for example, in May 2010, terrorists from the Pakistani Taliban attacked two Ahmadi mosques. 93 people were killed and and hundreds injured in the largest single assault ever on the Pakistan's Ahmadiyya Community. Although two men were charged after the attacks, two years later, they have still not been brought to justice and their case stands abandoned with the Pakistani government pandering to extremists and repeatedly ensuring the proceedings are adjourned. .
In March of this year, Amjad Mahmood Khan, the National Director of Public Affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the U.S., testified before the House of Representatives Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, on the religious persecution facing the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in South Asia.
In his testimony, Khan said that "owing to pressure from religious extremists, Pakistani authorities have demolished, set on fire, forcibly occupied, sealed or barred the construction of over 90 Ahmadi Muslim Mosques. They have also denied the cemetery burial of 41 Ahmadi Muslims and have exhumed after burial the bodies of 28 Ahmadi Muslims. In addition, Pakistan's state security forces do not adequately protect Ahmadi Muslims from attacks by extreme religious groups."
There are, moreover, many such examples of violence in Pakistan against the Ahmadiyya community. Such slaughter, however, does not occur in a vacuum. It is the direct result of a pervasive state-sponsored, indoctrinated hate -- with a nation using all the force of both its exchequer and communications infrastructure to incite violence and deny the Ahmadis their most basic human rights.
Equally regrettable, there have been few world leaders or human rights organizations even stirred by the problem, let alone aroused to fight for justice and equality for the Ahmadiyya Community, not only in Pakistan, but the world over.
The United Nations has been totally oblivious to the plight of the Ahmadis: it has failed to pass even a single resolution at the Security Council, General Assembly or Human Rights Council.
What is needed immediately is a Special Rapporteur to investigate such human rights abuses in Pakistan: however given the dominance and control of the block of 56 nations of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, one should not be holding one's breath.
To (some) credit, Human Rights Watch has spoken out, saying that "the [Pakistan] government's continued use of discriminatory criminal laws against Ahmadi Muslims and other religious minorities is indefensible," adding that, "as long as such laws remain on the books, the Pakistani state will be seen as a persecutor of minorities and an enabler of abuses."
Amnesty International has also demanded that the Ahmadi Muslims be free to practise their religion, calling on the Pakistan government to "protect the Ahmaddiya community against threats of violence."
Despite the occasional condemnation from HRW and Amnesty, however, neither has taken up the Ahmadi cause with any fervor.
The Obama Administration has been even more pitiful on this issue. Notwithstanding that Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid and a hotbed of terrorist activity, the Administration has totally failed to stand up for the Ahmadi Muslims.
Both the U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practises for 2011, and especially its Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom (Pakistan - 2011) criticize the Pakistan government over its treatment of Ahmadi Muslims (and other minorities). However, without concrete steps putting meaningful pressure on Pakistan to reform, such as withholding aid, this, as the Pakistani government knows full well -- in addition to all the other abusers of human rights -- is just empty rhetoric.
The U.S. State Department and the Obama Administration have also failed to reach out to the local American Ahamdi community, especially in the fight against radical Islam. Given that the Ahmadis represent model moderate American Muslim citizens, one would have thought this would have been elementary. Apparently not.
On June 27, 2012, the Ahmadiyya's spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, marked his first visit to Congress, where he met with various House and Senate members from both sides of the political aisle.
Katrina Lantos Swett, the Chair of U.S. Commission on Interreligious Freedom and daughter of former Representative, Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Tom Lantos, called for those present to stand up for the Ahmadiyya, saying, "We who believe in peace and freedom dare not be silent."
Those who believe in peace, freedom and human rights must stand up against injustice anywhere. The Ahmadi Muslims are among the most persecuted groups in South Asia; it should be expected of us all to demand respect for their dignity and rights.