By Zeeba T. Hashmi
In Faislabad, the police are busy raiding homes of Ahmadi citizens to ensure that they do not make the mistake of celebrating Eid or even of exchanging common Muslim greetings. A 77-year-old man has also been charged for exchanging typical “Assalam u Aliakum” with a Muslim neighbor over 30 years ago. This elderly man has been handcuffed for a felony that subjects one to punitive actions as stipulated under Pakistan Penal Code 298 ( c) . The police officials are further taking their time out of their busy schedules to threaten Ahmadi community members of dire consequences if found to be observing rituals that regular Muslims do on Eid day. That not just the society’s actors are directly involved in their bigoted disposition against their own fellow citizens, but the state machinery involving its officials are also actively engaged in this. It can get very traumatic for any decent human being to note the growing insensitivity towards Ahmadis here every dat who suffer both implicit and direct violence at the hand of both state and the citizens. This Eid is not going to be any different from the rest, particularly in the recent years where the state and the citizens it engineered through its educational, literature and mass media has taken it upon themselves to define what true religion is, with much impunity and without much resistance to the consequent widespread bigotry we see around.
So where is this hate really stemming from? It’s a long history to narrate its orgination, but lies and unchecked content perpetuated and encouraged through different political viewpoints are directly to blame for the mess we are in.
This blog is not about the history of hate against the Ahmadi community members, but about the processes of hate involved in bringing a multiplier effect to it. In all her previous articles for different publications, this scribe has pinpointed towards the nexus between extreme religious political parties and the state in engineering a particular narrative especially near the time of elections. In a column published in 2015, this scribe reported on the religious organisations that are directly engaged in threatening and targeting Ahmedis. In Lahore, the World Tuhafiz Khatme Nabuwat Council collaborates with the Shubban-e-Khatme Nabuwat to produce names and addresses of prominent Ahmadis, which are made public to anyone who wants to target those named in the hit list. There are about 10 such organisations that are working with other political and religious organisations to spread hate against this minority group, and yet these organisations hardly make it on the list of proscribed organisations list issued by the government. The authorities remain well aware of their activities but do not dare touch them. The NAP, which prohibits the spread of hate material, also seems ineffective in curbing this mushrooming trend.
Fast forward from how unchecked hate since 1953 to today, we see a very emboldened Tehreek e Labbaik party, a previously proscribed party that has just been given green light by incumbent Minister for Interior, Rana Sanaullah, to take active part in politics and elections just like other parties. It is needless to remind our readers here that TLP is a mother of all evils behind blasphemy-charged vigilante violence against helpless individuals, and is also responsible for the spike in blasphemy and anti-Ahmediya FIRs on very ridiculous grounds. The police also become a convenient accomplice to their actions, along with lawyers bar councils and other student bodies having the power of influence. It is a worrisome trend, because TLP workers have very smoothly penetrated into our educational institutions as “teachers” where they are directly involved in preaching hate to young minds, and their pedagogies of hate go unopposed.
How has TLP become so influential and penetrative? Five years ago, this scribe was part of a civil society’s fact finding mission team to probe into an incident involving illegal demolition of an Ahmadi worship place in Sialkot that took place on 23rd May, 2018. For writing a comprehensive report, this scribe reviewed multiple documents, and the witnesses, the aggrieved families, state officials, the clerics and the mob participants were interviewed to understand reasons of this mob incident and what impact did it leave on the Ahmadi neighborhood. The findings were disturbing and highlighted how the entire paraphernalia of hate based on religious and political propaganda was implicitly aided by the state, that stood by silently.
This scribe is reproducing excerpts from that comprehensive report to develop an understanding on the processes involved in how such incidents take place.. Through this intensive blog, IFE hopes that some sense will prevail to stop the madness of hate-based politics that is only contributing in destroying our social fabric.
Bait ul Mubarak, Ahmadi place of worship and an adjoining historical building located at Hissam ud din street at Kashmiri Mohalla in Sialkot was vandalized and destroyed. As per eye-witness accounts, around 30-35 staff members of the Tehsil Muncipal Committee arrived at around 10:30 pm with an intent to only demolish the contested historical building that was alleged to have been illegally constructed. However, as soon as the TMC members arrived, a mob of about 600-700 men led by a local cleric Hamid Raza, local political leaders and lawyers also arrived and moved on to also demolish the place of worship that was well outside the question of dispute over its legal building status. As per the laws, the buildings and places of worship over 100 years old are to be preserved and protected. The said place of worship was an old, historical building.
How this action was culminated with destruction and vandalism that continued on until next morning deserves an attention to what transpired in days preceding it. Weeks before, a cleric from a sectarian religious party Sunni Tehreek in the neighborhood complained to the S.H.O that the construction of the house adjoining the wall of Bait ul Zikr was illegal as there was no N.O.C granted by the Municipal Corporation and demanded from the police to immediately get the renovations stopped in the building. On 9th May, 2018, acting on this complaint, an FIR was lodged. On the same date, the Municipal Corporation Sialkot promptly issued a notice to the building owner and demanded that he submitted a sanctioned building plan to the office, failure to do so would have this building demolished. It is noteworthy here that on this particular document, no deadline was given for submission of the plan as the space was left blank. The building was thus sealed by the administration, and ultimately acted on demolishing without cut off dates mentioned in the documents.
At parallel, the lawyers from Sialkot Bar Association passed a resolution, presented by its then president Khwaja Muhammad Irfan, where it called on the demolition of the place of worship, even though there was no legal basis for this call.
Following the demolition of the Bait ul Zikr, Hasam ud Din and the adjoining building by the mob, the residents of Ahmadiyya community filed a complaint with District Police Officer on the same day. The complainants identified at least six persons leading the mob and also mentioned about incitement to violence against them by a cleric of nearby Dongabagh mosque, Dr. Khadim Hussain Khurshid, where he had given a threatening speech just a week before. . The Ahmadi community requested the police to protect their life and property and to take action against the mobsters responsible for this act. However, no FIR was ever registered against this complaint, at least not as quickly as the FIR against their building was registered by the religious clerics.
The interviews were carried out with those who publicly mentioned about their participation in the attack. What they said and what was on their mind to carry out this act needs to be understood from the perspective of dissecting into how political hate takes shape. The interviewees were from political fraternity, the lawyer groups and religious groups.
Hamid Raza, leading cleric at Dau Darwaza Masjid and mob leader He said that he believed in maintaining peace and protection for minorities as he was in favor of the rights of the Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, however, he took an exception to speaking in favor of the rights of Ahmadis because to him, they are the Murtids, and thus outside the circle of Islam. He said that the Ahmadis are creating Fitna (discord) therefore it is a holy duty of every Muslim to crush them. When asked about his political career, he expressed of his hope of getting a ticket from Pakistan Tehreek I Insaf. When pointed to him that PTI has officially distanced itself from this incident, he responded that the party head has been mislead on this issue, therefore it is his duty to teach him about true Islam. He further criticized PPP Senator Qurat ul Ain Marri who condemned this attack on the floor. When asked about his speech after destruction of the place in which he threatened to close down the city if FIRs were launched against any mob participants, he reiterated his plan to do so by saying that Faizabad sit-in was successful and the model against the state and government could be replicated here as well. When asked what he will actually do, he refrained from answering.
Advocate Faisal Gujjer, PPP political worker and president of Khatme Nabuwat Youth Force He spoke about his role in the demolition of the Hassam ud Din building and the worship place. He insisted that whatever happened, happened with the patronage of the Tehsil Municipal Corporation (TMC). On the question as to why the worship place and Hakim Hasam ud Din buildings, which had nothing to do with alleged illegal construction, were also vandalized, to which he replied that his intention was not to attack the worship place but the contested building, however, he defended the destruction of the place of worship.
Khadim Husain Khurseed, the cleric who incited the people against Ahmadis in his Friday sermons Khursheed Husain is now a very prominent cleric who migrated to Sialkot from Multan. He delivers Friday sermons at Doongh Bagh Mosque, which is located only a few kilometers away from the demolished worship place. In days after the vandalism, he delivered a speech where he thanked the district administration for their prompt action against the Ahmadiyya community. During the interview, he appreciated the action of municipal corporation and the mob attack. Although he denied about sending his people to take part in the vandalism of the place of worship, but he justified the act nonetheless. When asked if he or any other Muslim have right to ransack the properties and worship places of other religions to which he said that had the Ahmadiyya community accepted their minority status and desisted from practicing Islamic way of worship, they would not have been targeted.
Muhammad Asif, city president Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasoolullah(TLYR) During the interview, he said “They (Ahmadis) do not deserve to be called humans on account of having blasphemous ideas and faith. They will have to declare themselves non-Muslim if they want not to be attacked”. He further added
“They should better leave this country and reside anywhere else. Here, in Islamic Republic of Pakistan, there is no space for them. This is the most appropriate solution to this long-standing issue facing Pakistan for decades as well”, he declared assertively.
Response from the City Administration and the Police
Tauheed Akhtar, Mayor of Sialkot. He said the house that was demolished by the municipal corporation (MC) because it was constructed in violation of the building map and sanction plans issued by MC to Jamaat Ahmadya Sialkot. When asked about the number of days the owner of the house was given to submit his reply on the notice issued to him, he expressed his lack of knowledge on non-communication of the timeline allowed. He insisted that the municipal corporation cannot be blamed for the mob attack on an adjacent worship place. The responsibility to protect the worship place, according to him, lied with the police in which they failed.
District Police Officer(DPO) When asked on why the police did not try to disperse the mob he replied that it would have created a Model Town like situation where confrontation between civilians and police personnel resulted in several causalities. ‘It was not possible for the police to overcome the violent mob. Were the law-enforcement agencies successful when they used force to disperse Faizabad sit-in in Islamabad?”, he tauntingly questioned.
He asserted that it was district administration that unilaterally decided to demolish the contested property and did not take the police in the loop so they could devise a well-thought plan to ensure law and order in the area as a consequence of it.
Points of concerns
While there was an admission by DPO of his department’s failure to ensure law and order, and to prevent the mob, he mentioned that the district administration did not coordinate with the police whereas the TMA officials went ahead to demolish the alleged illegal construction. On the other hand, district Mayor blamed the Police for not being able to control the mob which went ahead to destroy the worship place.
Ignoring signs of incitement: While the incitement against the Ahmadiyya had been making rounds in print media and in mosques, the authorities did not take note of the potential dangers posed by hardline clerics. There were no preventive measures in place even though the videos of the clerics went viral on social media.
Lack of response by Law Enforcement Authorities: From the interviews with the neighbors and witnesses of the attack, some members of the community dialed police emergency number 15, the DPO house and the Army Hotline at 1135, however, none of them offered any help. When the Army hotline was dialed, the caller was informed that the army and rangers cannot act without an instruction from the police. Apparently, the police made no such request for assistance.
While standing at the sight of the demolished mosque, a disgruntled retired teacher pointed this scribe towards the rubble from the worship place and showed the desecrated Quranic verses and the first Kalima written on the walls. He spoke of the double standards of the clergy where “they get enraged by such desecration of the holy texts, but don’t consider it blasphemy when the same is done at our holy places.”
He spoke about his personal agony of seeing the demolition of places so close to his heart and said that after serving more than 25 years in the education sector, this is how Ahmadis are respected here. “What are we teaching children at schools about this? That we are not humans?”
He was right. The insensitivity to hate, the political encouragement and lack of code of conduct for party workers on hate speech are all responsible for the ugly fascism that we see here today. Instead of condemning it here, we end up criticizing Hindutva on the other side of the border for doing the same against Muslims.