Paksitan’s recent ban on the social networking sight Facebook seemed a tad bit hypocritical. The order to block the site was issued by the high court after it held a competition featuring caricatures of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The material was deemed as being ‘offensive’ to Muslims. Unsurprisingly, a wave of righteous indignation swept over Pakistan’s Maulavis and protests were held throughout the country calling for a swift removal of the offending material as well as the obligatory calls for ‘death to the infidels’. Whatever, one’s views on the limits of freedom of speech and expression, there is a train of thought, even amongst the Western intelligentsia which supports the sentiments behind the ban, if not the ban itself. However, what right Pakistan has to affect such a measure is a matter for debate. For many years now, both the state and civil society have actively ridiculed and abused the founder of the Ahmadiyya community, Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in the foulest of terms. He is routinely vilified in the Pakistani media, literature, on sign boards and shop windows. I will not reproduce the type of language that is used against him, but a scan through any Pakistani or indeed international anti-Ahmadiyya website, would be sufficient to prove my point. Not only that, but in Pakistan, anyone applying for a passport, identity card, or even opening a bank account has to first sign a declaration confirming that they are a Muslim. That is to say, that they have to denounce Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as an, ‘imposter nabi’. This clause and the regular abuse directed Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s way displays absolutely no regard whatsoever for the injury this may cause to the feelings and sentiments of Ahmadis. In fact, speaking of cartoons, some years ago in the Musharaff era, a vile caricature of Hadrat Ahmad was sketched in the background of a cartoon despite the fact that the subject matter of the drawing had absolutely nothing to do with Ahmadiyyat. Thus, when Pakistan has such an unholy penchant for reviling the sacred personalities of other groups and religions, how can they expect or even condemn the fact that others revile the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). Do they not know that the book brought by the Prophet (PBUH) whose sanctimony they are so keen to preserve, exhorts the Muslims to not even abuse the idols of the disbelievers lest, out of their spite, they in turn abuse Allah. Moreover, there is a Hadith in which it is reported that companion of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) got involved in an argument with a Jew regarding the respective statuses of Muhammad (PBUH) and Moses. When the matter was brought to the attention of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) he said, ‘Do not ascribe me a higher status than Moses.’ As the old adage has it: do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Unfortunately, this is a lesson Pakistan seems unwilling or unable to learn.
You know you’re an Ahmadi in Pakistan:
I) When you find yourself serving a three-year prison sentence for saying Asslamu-alaikum. Nice!
II) When you are arrested for such monstrous crimes as…….wait for it……………distributing sweets, wearing new clothes and having the cheek to look happy. Implausibly sad but true.
III) When you are accused of being an agent of everyone from Mossad to Ben & Jerry’s.
IV) When cartoons, however distasteful they may be, matter more than the life of your brothers and sisters.
V) When you turn on the TV and are told that you deserve to be put to death. No TV standards regulators here then?
VI) When according to the law you become a non-Muslim the moment you profess to be a Muslim. Eh? Is this one of Zeno’s paradoxes?
VII) When as a Kid you begin fidgeting a little too uncomfortably in your Islamiyaat class.
VIII) When people start chucking grenades at you.
IX) When you don’t start burning tires and effigies of the Great Satan, every time you are wronged.
X) When through it all you remain patient and steadfast and walk with your head held high and proud. When you are resolute in your faith and do not give into fear. When you see your people die and lament their passing with the words, innanillahi wa inaalihi raajiun. When you do not hate. When, whatever the world may say, you remain as you always were; A Muslim.
According to John Stuart Mill, “the time, it is to be hoped, is gone by when any defense would be necessary of the liberty of the press.” Mill clearly never lived in Pakistan. In truth, the freedom of the press is a thing to be cherished in those societies, where principles of justice, fairness, equality and liberty exist. Alas, the closest thing to these sublime values in Pakistan is not the media, but Metro, the German cash and carry chain where thankfully you don’t have to declare yourself a Muslim before purchasing many of the tasty tidbits they have on offer. Unlike Metro however, which has a fair pricing policy and a serene, if entirely bland vision of what Pakistan should become, it seems that the news channels have their own corporate agenda; to feed the carnage and let the cameras role. The glimpse into reality they routinely show may bring them viewers, but does nothing to improve the current deplorable state of the country or even accurately reflect it. Rather than become the last bastion of truth and integrity the Pakistani media have used their hard fought independence to further entrench Pakistan into crises. Needless to say this is not exactly what Mill had in mind.
This point was aptly illustrated recently by an episode of the current affairs show Point Blank on the Express News channel. Following on from last month’s attacks in Lahore, the makers of the program decided in their infinite wisdom to further fuel the fires of this awful tragedy, by choosing to enter into an informed and intelligent discussion on the differences between Ahmadis and other Muslims. For ‘Informed and intelligent’ read ‘ignorant and foul’ and for ‘discussion’ read ‘vitriolic diatribe’. This may not have come as too much of a surprise for those already au fait with the workings of this insidious show. In December last year, Point Blank churned out a special report, or should that be very very special report, in which they managed to rope some poor unknown into appearing as the son of the Third Khilafa of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at, Hadrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad. With his grisly broken leg, wrapped up in advertisements and street banners (a marvel of medical innovation), Abdur Rehman, as he so styled himself, proceeded to tell a sad and cautionary tale of how, almost twenty years after he had left the community, a group of Ahmadis decided to seek vengeance and gave him a sound beating for his treachery. Tut Tut. What was the world coming to? Lying bruised and battered by the side of the road, an Angel of salvation came to his rescue in the form of the less than salvageable Ulama Ibtisam Ilahi Zaheer who took the ill-used and mistreated Abdul Rehman under his care. The only flaw in this otherwise heart rendering tale was that none of it was true – but when did the facts ever get in the way of a good story. But I digress. Returning to the topic at hand and things did not exactly get off to the best of starts as the show’s anchor, Mubasher Luqman, sternly informed viewers that in his most considered opinion anyone who did not believe in the finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) deserved to burn in the fire of hell. Ah, happy days! A more conciliatory tone was struck by his panel which consisted of the not-so-peace-loving threesome of the afore-mentioned Ulama Ibtisam Ilahi Zaheer, Maulana Abdul Ruaf Farooqi and Qari Zawar Bahadar, who condemned the attacks in the most somber tones. Unfortunately, that was the last of the human decency the audience was to see for the night. Pleasantries aside the real fun was about to begin. You see, nothing makes the current Ulama of Islam happier than spreading hate, discord and enmity – one might say that it is their Summum Bonum. Thus, the opportunity to rile against Ahmadis provided them with an ambrosial feast. And so it began. Ahmadis were declared, Kafirs, infidels, deserving of death, agents of the British, agents of the Zionists, revilers of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH), God forbid! It was a wonder that they didn’t add the recent cyclone in Sindh to the list of Ahmadi misdemeanors. Luqman, his mustache bristling with excitement, shed all thoughts of impartiality from his mind and joined in with the revelry. He yelled and hooted and laughed with the rest, often interjecting with a few words of wisdom himself. How this unholy sight must have played out before the victims of the Lahore tragedy, God only knows, not that Mubasher Luqman and his band of merry men had any care for that. As the show reached its denouement the melancholic looks on the faces of the participants was there for all to see. Maybe, they had forgotten to tell one last lie, or make one final false accusation. Perhaps they rued the fact that they had not done enough to incite the good Muslims of Pakistan against the Ahmadis. Or maybe they were burdened by thoughts of having to wake up in four hours for the Morning Prayer. God only knows. But, one thing was for sure, thanks to them the stars in the sky burned a little less brighter that night.
I am an Ahmadi who was brought up in the West. I have faced a constant struggle reconciling my Islam with my western liberal values. Now, I am an Ahmadi living in Pakistan. Here I struggle even to be a Muslim, for according to the laws and tenets of the land, I should have no Islam at all. I find myself living in a society which does not acknowledge my right to believe, my right to affirm my beliefs and my right to act in accordance with my beliefs. And this is because I am an Ahmadi. I am according to some a Kafir, an infidel, a disbeliever who deserves to be put to death. But according to God I am a human being, one miniscule strand of his infinite creation. And of course, I am an Ahmadi. I stand on the fault lines of the war on terror, of the so -called clash of civilizations. My plight is the fault lines. When I am back in the West I am at full liberty to profess my faith, to choose my mode of life and freely express it, to call myself what I am; A Muslim. But even there I cannot escape the hatred and terror that has become the sad hallmark of what is today called ‘Islam’. The people I have known all my life, whom I have grown up with and loved as though they were my own kith and kin, look upon the religion of God’s prophet with horror and disgust. Thus, in the place I once called home I am barred from building my minarets because I am a Muslim, and here I cannot make the call to prayer from my minarets because I am a disbeliever. Neither here nor there, I oscillate between two hostile worlds, for I am an outsider to all. Nay, I am an Ahmadi. Continents and ideologies collide within me. I have come back to the land of my forbears and found only the black trees of death and destruction. I have come to the land of my father’s birth but it has not claimed me as a son, because I am an Ahmadi. The believers share my infidel air, we breathe together but it is only I who suffocate. I have known the pain of watching my friends and brothers die on frenzied news reels and known the anguish of what it is to be truly helpless. I have watched as anchormen and reporters discuss not the waste of human life, but the nationality and attire of the assailants and the type of weapons they used to blow open the ‘gates of heaven’. I have witnessed silent politicians issue mildly embarrassed denunciations of the death of my people but I have not seen them act, because I am an Ahmadi. I have seen old men on the edge of life bury their sons with tranquil faces and mothers rejoice at heroic deaths. I have seen whole oceans of people prostrate before their God with patience and humility asking only for his mercy and grace. I have seen all this because I am an Ahmadi.