Ahmedis and Pakistan. Some background..

Atif Mian

Professor Atif Mian is a prominent Pakistani-American economist and a professor of economics at Princeton university. 2 weeks ago he was nominated to be a member of Imran Khan’s “Economic Advisory Council” (a think tank of sorts that is supposed to generate ideas for the new PTI government; it is not at all clear what influence, if any, this group will have in real life). This set off a controversy in Pakistan because Atif Mian is an Ahmedi and Ahmedis are widely reviled as heretics, apostates and traitors in Pakistan. After an initial attempt to defend his appointment (including the obligatory Jinnah quote and reference to the fact that an Ahmedi, Sir Zafrullah, was one of Jinnah’s closest advisers and Pakistan’s first foreign minister) the Imran Khan government backed down and asked him to leave the council.

Since then his defenders (mostly liberals who believe religion should play no role in such appointments and experts should be judged on their professional skills and not their religion) and opponents (Islamists, PTI-type Islamist-lite folks who believe Ahmedis in particular should not be appointed to any important position because they are fake Muslims and potential traitors, etc etc) have been arguing about this case on social media. This post is an attempt to provide background and clarify some of the issues raised by both sides.. (some of the background material was published earlier in a post I wrote in 2012 for 3quarksdaily.com)

Mirza Ghulam Ahmed

The Ahmediya movement was started in Punjab in 19th century British India, by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed of Qadiyan. He seems to have been a quiet, religious loner who brooded about the challenges faced by his faith and his people. The decisive military and economic superiority of Western civilization over the Islamicate world had produced a variety of efforts at reform and revitalization. They ranged from the Wahabi-influenced puritanical Jihadism of Syed Ahmed Barelvi (who led an extremely fanatical jihadist movement in what is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwah, until he was defeated by superior Sikh firepower and a reaction to his extreme views among the local Muslims) to the anglophile reformism of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (founder of Aligarh Muslim University). Mirza Ghulam Ahmed’s response was to start a movement of religious revival that was built around his own charismatic claims. Though he contradicted some mainstream Islamist claims about the finality of prophet-hood and the absolute necessity of military Jihad (military jihad as a Muslim duty is now so widely downplayed that it is hard for Westerners and even Westernized Muslims to figure out why his claim was considered so controversial). His movement was socially conservative and even puritanical and he vigorously defended Islam, especially against Christian missionaries and Hindu critics. He found some support among modestly educated middle class Punjabi Muslims (including Islamist icon Allama Mohammed Iqbal, who either flirted with joining the movement or actually joined for a few years, depending on what version you believe). As his movement (and his claims regarding his own status as prophet or messiah) grew, it also drew orthodox opposition, especially from the dominant Sufi-oriented Barelvi Sunni sect. Ironically this branch of local Islam enjoyed some American (and world media) attention as “moderate and tolerant Muslims” in contrast to their Deobandi/Wahhabi brethren in the aftermath of 9-11 (though this attempt to fight Wahabi/Deobandi fire with Sufi-Barelvi water seems to have run into some trouble recently).

This increasingly vocal opposition (complete with fatwas from Mecca declaring the Ahmedis as apostates liable to the death penalty if they did not repent) led to a sharper separation between Ahmedis and other Muslim sects, but the Ahmedis themselves always claimed to be Muslims and made efforts to remain fully engaged in “Muslim causes”. In their own view they were reforming and purifying Islam, not opposing it, so they had a legitimate interest in the cause of oppressed Muslims everywhere (e.g. they took a leading role in supporting Kashmiri Muslims against their Dogra-Hindu ruler). Some Ahmedis played a very prominent role in the Pakistan movement, including Sir Zafrullah Khan, who wrote a Pakistan proposal for the viceroy in Feb 1940 and shared it with Jinnah before the Muslim League passed its Lahore resolution in March 1940. He remained one of Jinnah’s closest associates and was the first foreign minister of Pakistan and Jinnah’s representative on the boundary commission that divided India) and others held prominent positions in the new state and fought for it with distinction (most famously, General Akhtar Malik in the 1965 war with India). It is likely that neither they, nor the relatively Westernized leadership of the Muslim league had a clear idea of what lay in store for them in Pakistan. Even more ironically, the Ahmedis themselves aggressively pursued “blasphemers” (e.g. Pandit Lekh Ram in Punjab in 1897). It is hard to read this Ahmedi polemic against Lekh Ram without thinking about where the Ahmedis themselves now lie in relation to the blasphemy meme.

Soon after partition, the Islamist factions in Pakistan picked up the Ahmedi issue as a wedge issue with which they could acquire power and influence in a society that was otherwise not very interested in organized political Islam. Various elite factions (and, it is sometimes alleged, the American embassy) maneuvered against each other using this movement in creative ways, until their vicious squabbles derailed Pakistan’s rudimentary democracy. Still, even though they may have been useful to some elite factions, anti-Ahmedi troublemakers were still outside the elite mainstream and remained so until 1971. During the rule of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, this issue was again raked up and various Islamist parties found it useful to beat up on the Ahmedis on the way to power in Islamabad. Bowing to riots and rallies, Bhutto himself undertook to officially declare the Ahmedis as non-Muslims in 1974. Having tasted blood, the Islamist parties have never looked back, with steady increase in persecution and legal restrictions on the Ahmedi community and sustained propaganda that ensures that most Pakistanis find it difficult to publicly defend the threatened community.

It is very likely that the percentage of people in Pakistan who believe Ahmedis should be killed unless they repent is larger than the percentage of Germans who, in 1933, believed that all Jews should be killed (as opposed to, say, “put in their place” or just encouraged to leave). The blasphemy law and specific laws prohibiting Ahmedis from using any Islamic symbols are regularly used to put uppity Ahmedis in their place. Prominent businesses owned by Ahmedis can be targeted for boycotts or worse, and in some cases of mistaken identity, the business has gone out of its way to prove that Ahmedis are not the owners. Property can be grabbed from Ahmedi owners by cooking up blasphemy allegations or simply threatening to do so (in which case the sane owner may decide to play ball before any public effort is launched). Of course, such methods are not restricted to Ahmedis. Once human beings find a good thing, they tend to use it more and more. Still, Ahmedis remain uniquely vulnerable.

With this background in view, a few quick points about the Atif Mian case:

  1. The main objection was not that he was a non-Muslim. While some Islamists do indeed believe that non-Muslims should not serve in any important capacity in a Muslim state, this is NOT the majority view. If Imran Khan had appointed a Christian or a Sikh to the council it would not have led to any significant backlash (a Hindu may be a different matter, since Hindus (and to some extent, Jews) are the officially designated “other” in Pakistan). The objection is that Ahmedis are uniquely problematic because they do not accept that they are non-Muslims. They insist they are Muslims and by doing so they violate Pakistani laws. Atif Mian, who is proudly Ahmedi, must either accept that he is a non-Muslim or he must be expelled because by insisting on being a Muslim he is in violation of the laws of Pakistan.
  2. This is a very unique situation for Ahmedis. By definition, they regard themselves as Muslims (their founder claimed he was reforming Islam, not bringing a new religion). But the law prohibits them from saying this or from acting in any way that implies that they are Muslims (hence the ban on quranic verses in their mosques, the fact that their mosques are not officially referred to as mosques and so on). Low profile Ahmedis can get away with it by staying quiet in public. Prominent ones can get in trouble. The law is, of course, an absolutely unjust law, and it opens the door for massive abuse as more and more actions can be prohibited under the ambit of “acting like a Muslim”. But it is worth noting that liberals in Pakistan will usually sidestep this issue by framing it as “can’t non-Muslims serve Pakistan? are they not citizens” and so on, but Ahmedis don’t believe they are non-Muslims and their insistence on being Muslim is against the law. Unless you are willing to criticize the law itself, just framing this as a “rights of non-Muslim” issue misses the point. That issue (discrimination against non-Muslims) exists in Pakistan too, but this particular issue has unique features that do not apply to non-Muslim religions.
  3. Given that Imran Khan (and all other mainstream parties) repeatedly and vigorously voice support for this law, there is no way this won’t happen the next time any Ahmedi is appointed to a high position. Either he can deny his own religion, or he is in violation of the law. Of course their enemies hate them in any case, but the law provides them with the tools with which they can bring down any prominent Ahmedi. There is no escape from this.

No exit.


Published by

Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

24 thoughts on “Ahmedis and Pakistan. Some background..”

  1. The PTI government has just embarrassed itself and given in to religious bigotry. Given that they knew that Professor Mian’s faith was problematic, why did they appoint him in the first place and then vigorously defend “Jinnah’s Pakistan” only to do a U-turn a few days later? I am completely with the other foreign-based members of the EAC who resigned in protest. It also suggests that any time Imran does something that TLP doesn’t like, he will back down.

    This decision is so wrong that even Jemima Khan couldn’t defend her ex-husband.

  2. Anti Ahmadi politics in Punjab predates partition. Allama Iqbal (whose dad was ahmadi), majlis-i-ahrar (secular, pro Congress, anti Ahmadi), etc.

    Maulana Azad’s attempt to use anti Ahmadi bigotry as a wedge issue in the 45 and 46 elections (he was pro bigot) set the precedent for its later use.

    It’s been around a long time.

    1. Sorry, two (minor) errors in the hastily written comment above and I was too late to edit it.

      1) Iqbal’s elder brother was Ahmadi. I can’t recall about his father.

      3) Majlis-i-ahrar was anti-Muslim nationalist, but not “secular” in a modern sense. It was a religious party.

    2. But the problem with the Ahmadin question is that they “dissemble.”

      In diaspora we hear so many stories of Muslims marrying one to later find one of the partners is an Ahmadi..

  3. L’affaire Atif Mian shows the problem in Pakistan is not lack of professional resources available to the policy makers. It is the ideological and political distortion of institutions towards bigotry. And the supine willingness of the government to go along with religious fundamentalism.

  4. I think i have recounted this event before, but still

    In during the movement of Objective resolution in Pak assembly , Liaquat Ali Khan defended that Islam should be the governing force in Pakistan and religion indeed will meddle in the state. There were few hindu bengali Congressi elected who opposed it but were swiftly shut down. There was one loud backer of the resolution who quoted Koran to no end , ending with assuring the opposing members “Dont worry, in Islam we know how to take good care of minorities” .

    That person . Zafralluha Khan.

    Karma is a bitch

    1. He couldn’t have guessed that his community would be legally declared non-Muslim. This is the inexorable logic of a religiously-based state.

      Though the issue with Ahmedis is not so much that they are a minority but that they are considered to be heretics.

      1. Opposite to the Bahai issue in Iran.

        The Iranians government simply wants us to declare ourselves Muslim, which we simply will not do.

        It’s interest Shi’ism and Sunni state have such different perspectives on this. Sunnis want conformity on the big question whereas Shi’ites tolerate heterodox opinions so long as an official break doesn’t come about..

        1. I think mainstream Shias (at least in Pakistan) also believe Ahmedis are not Muslim since they believe in a prophet after Muhammad (pbuh).

    2. I do feel schadenfruede in the case of Ahmedis. They are like Kurds , who were used by the Ottomons as a sword in their genocide of Armenians. Now Kurds are facing the same sword , with the sharp end against them
      Ahmedis deserve what they get since they went after a Pied Piper in the shape of Jinnah. as a first step, they should completely recant their leaders who followed Jinnah and feel some contrition. Otherwise , they are prosecutors-in-waiting . Much like Christians in Roman Empire. First Christians were persecuted by Roman Empire. Once they got the levers of power, Christians persecuted pagans even more vigorously, till paganism was extinct. I suspect Ahmedis are in the same position. If , by some , historical chance , they come to power , they will suppress non-conformists like Rushdie vigorously.

      1. My Pakistani Punjabi Ahmediya friend constantly talks about how much partition was a mistake. I listen in mild amusement knowing full well what his people are receiving is karma.

        Him and I used to be shooting buddies at the local firing range. He used to do it to get training for defending Rabwa which is apparently a town in Pak Punjab the Ahmediya are flocking to from across Pakistan to make their last ditch stand. Of course he goes back and forth to Rabwa like twice a year from the US.

        To be honest expressing sadness is not going to be enough. One can hope, that if Rabwa becomes an official or de facto Ahmediya Israel via successful militancy, they may even conquest the rest of Pakistan and then remerge with India while offering up the defeated Sunni majority into ghar wapsi to Hinduism or Sikhism. That is the only way the Ahmediya can make it up, anybody can talk the talk but they will need to walk the walk.

        Otherwise the entirety of Babar ke aulaad are suffering the karmaphal of the ghor-paap of Brahm-hatya they committed in the lands of western Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir etc, private repentance or not.

        1. ” Ahmediya are flocking to from across Pakistan to make their last ditch stand”

          Ahmedis would be making a mistake by concentrating in a single place – where genocide would be much easier. The last ditch stand would be literally last ditch. they are well advised to spread all over Pakistan prefarably to more tolerant pockets -relatively – in Pakistan and keep their heads down.

          1. Nah he says they are armed to the teeth in Rabwa and few machine gun rounds in the air is enough to scare off the Sunni hordes when tensions flare up. It probably doesn’t help them economically to be confined to a ghetto, but that’s why the ones like him in the US are giving like 50% of their earnings into zakat lol. One thing they do have is strong political cohesion due to a Khalifa, and they are a small persecuted group. They are in themselves like the early Muslims in the Medina phase.

            Being a economically well off proverbial micro minority that keeps its head down does literally jack when them hordes come for you, yo wife, your lands etc. This is why if Kashmir Pandits are going to resettle in Kashmir valley, they will not repeat the mistake of being geographically sparse. They will resettle Israeli settler style in armed camps. Being the doctors professors of Kashmir didn’t help them when the hordes came calling saying “Pandits leave Kashmir but keep your daughters behind”. If anything hordes were easier to be riled because on top of the Hindus being polytheist mushriks there was the additional “when our girls get sick, who puts their dirty hands all over them” (quoted from https://bengalvoice.blogspot.com/2008/05/chapter-3-three-horrors-of-forties.html?m=1 just search on page for doctor, it is the second entry).

            First priority in human life is physical security, rest are secondary.

          2. Israel has been able to exist and succeed against odds due to variety of international factors , which the Zionists have mastered and turn to their advantage. It won’t be repeated in nation states like India or Pakistan. It needs strong leaders like Ben Gurion to grab opportunities from fleeing moments of massive change. In ‘steady state’ conditions , they can’t be repeated.

      2. The quest for “purity” never ends. The only antidote is respect and tolerance for plurality and diversity. 🙂

    3. ‘in Islam .. ….we ‘ by an Ahmedi ? that is what makes fundamentalists go into a rage and hit the roof. Ahmedis , in the eyes of Islamic fundamentalists , are worse than kuffars . Heretics invite more hatred than mere unbelievers.
      Pakistanis have carried this raw persecution to all countries they are living.

  5. Are Ahmadis more educated and wealthy than the average Pakistani? A lot of prominent Pakistanis seem to be Ahmadi (Abdus Salam, Atif Mian, etc).

    Despite the discrimination and hatred they face, they may still achieve incredible success.

      1. Milder discrimination can make a community more achievement oriented. What Ahmedis are facing is nearly state sponsored ethnic cleansing; apart from emigration, these people don’t have a dignified future in Pakistan.

        1. Well, I think Mormons had extermination orders against them in states like Missouri, which is what prompted so many of them to make the trek all the way to Utah (then a remote wilderness.) And later, the more conservative ones who wouldn’t accept restrictions on their faith as the price for joining the US went to Mexico (like Romney’s grandpa.)

          But I do get your point. There aren’t any empty places for Ahmadis to move to, so migration to the West (as long as the West permits it) is probably their best option.

Comments are closed.

Brown Pundits