Khalid Zaheer, religious scholar and writer, focuses on Ahmadis from a historical and political standpoint
TNS: Do you see a systematic rise in the campaign against Ahmadis or was it spontaneous, which led to anti-Ahmadi legislation?
KZ: My feeling is that people wanted popular slogans. When anti-Ahmadi movement was launched, the clergy wanted to gain attention. Primarily, they wanted establishment of an Islamic state and the implementation of (what they call) Sharia. In order to give impetus to the movement, they also added this dimension and were convinced about it. When Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims by Bhutto, it was not taken beyond a point. Ahmadis declared non-Muslims, full stop. But when Ziaul Haq came, his agenda of Islamisation worsened the situation.
TNS: Do you think the state should have become a part of this whole thing?
KZ: Technically, if anyone can declare an individual(s) non-Muslim it is only the state -- the parliament. But that does not really mean that if you have power to declare people non-Muslim you must do it. There are other Muslim groups and sects who are far more divergent than Ahmadis from the mainstream Muslim understanding and they are still declared official Muslims.
I am personally convinced that declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims was primarily a political move. I clearly and strongly disagree with the Ahmadi claim that Mirza was a prophet but I think, ideally, they should not have been declared non-Muslims. Other countries followed Pakistan like Saudi Arabia.
Our scholars want to make people uninformed believers, blind followers, and emotionally-charged supporters. That is not helping any cause.
Actually, ideally and honestly, this legislation should not have happened but now that this has happened, I respect it as a citizen of the state. Certain decisions, right or wrong, should not even be discussed as they can create more trouble. Maybe, decades down the road it may become a possibility.
They have the right to challenge, to claim to be Muslims. If we have the right to say that as a nation they are non-Muslims, they have the right to claim the legislation is wrong. What needs to be curtailed is the damage this declaration has done against Ahmadis in the form of aggression and violence. There is no difference between Ahmadi version of Islam and mainstream Islam, except for their claim that Mirza Ghulam Ahmed was a prophet. I think the attitude needs to be reviewed. We are worried about Ahmadis but we are also worried about Christians, Hindus, and, within Muslims we are worried about Shias. I sympathise with the Shias when I hear of their target killings every day. I think it is an attitude which needs to be corrected.
TNS: What implication and impact of this anti-Ahmadi legislation do you see in society?
KZ: The implications of the declaration were decided and implemented, such as their places of worship cannot be called mosques; they are not allowed to give the call for prayers, etc. And their passport, CNIC, probably Nikah register also carries a statement which clearly discriminates.
Ziaul Haq’s understanding of Islam was indirect, based on the understanding of other scholars. They were the ones who were bent upon making you think that the Ahmadis should be isolated and demeaned and that is what happened. The impact was that hatred against Ahmadis became even stronger.
Ahmadis started leaving the country in great numbers. Those who were in Pakistan went underground. The net result was that their life was made difficult and they were generally not disclosing their identity.
Pakistani society started considering hatred towards them as part of their religious obligation. And, of course, it did hurt. You can improve as a society if there is diversity; you remove diversity and you become a mob where your beliefs are not even questioned. You don’t think, and you are just mostly attracted to what is being given to you.
It did not stop there. When we were able to eliminate Ahmadis literally from society, did the religious-based fights stop? No. We have other different groups, Shia-Sunni, within Sunnis, Taliban, and so on.
TNS: How did violence add into this whole issue?
KZ: Violence gradually rose after 1970s because of the Afghan jihad. Arms and ammunition literally poured in by the Americans. People say it is only because of Zia. I say that is not the case. Hatred and venom was always there. With Zia and Afghan jihad, that venom and poison was expressed not only verbally but through bullets.
People decided to stay mum which actually is a tacit way of saying, okay carry on, that is what needs to be eliminated.
Two things that have actually become more instrumental are the influx of ammunition and arms and funds. There are Saudi funds, Iranian funds, American dollars and God knows what else. Do not just worry about the actual acts of violence but also about the ideologies that are actually at the hearts of all these acts of violence.
TNS: Where do you see state in the whole situation?
KZ: The state has to take clear and strict measures to ensure that the menace of sectarianism is removed. The measures could be difficult to take.
One of them is that at some point, like in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and other Islamic states in earlier part of our history, Pakistan has to declare all places of worship belong to the state and not to any private group. Khateeb is appointed by the state. Sermon is actually approved by the state. And no sect is mentioned anywhere. It is very difficult but very important.
Secondly, as state makes medical colleges and engineering universities, it ought to make institutions which will produce scholars after they have done their A levels.
It really has to be a serious endeavour to produce scholars who are educated and open-minded and are aware what is happening in this modern contemporary world. The state has to take its role.