The Ahmadi Muslim community originated in Qadian, Punjab in 1889. In 1947, the community’s leadership and many of its members migrated to the newly formed state of Pakistan where currently about five hundred thousand Ahmadis live according to official census statistics. While the community has continued to grow since then and has spread to 210 countries around the world, the prolonged and vicious campaign against them in Pakistan is an example of the state’s mistreatment of those of its citizens who do not practice the mainstream Sunni faith.
Though discrimination against Ahmadis has been going in Pakistan since the country gained its independence, it became systemic and institutionalised in 1974 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s parliament moved to change the constitution and declare Ahmadis Non-Muslim; making Pakistan the only country to do so. Further legislative changes in 1984 criminalised the religious practices of Ahmadis.
Since the introduction of these laws, numerous community members have been killed across Pakistan. In the most violent incident thus far, 99 Ahmadis were killed during an attack on their mosques in 2010. The impact of this brutality extends far beyond these deaths and affects every area of Ahmadi lives. In schools, workplaces and communities, Ahmadi adults and children are afraid to disclose their faith because they understand that if you are an Ahmadi in Pakistan, you hide your religious identity or face ostracization and bigotry.
Don’t Act Like a Muslim
Even though you are born and raised Muslim, the state can prosecute you for “posing” as one. You are Non Muslim according to the law and can be jailed for up to 3 years for even saying “As salam u Alaikum”. As for saying your prayers or reciting the Quran in a public space, well you can just forget about that.
From 1984 till 2018, there have been 4178 cases against community members under section 298-C of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law.
In Case of Emergency, Don’t Reach Out
Rather than protecting them against violent discrimination, state institutions are used to aid and abet the mistreatment of Ahmadis. From the police which does not control mobs, to courts which allow perpetrators to roam free to jails where Ahmadis accused under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to languish, the state repeatedly fails Ahmadis on multiple fronts. Not only do Ahmadis live in fear of violence from the public, they also remain wary of law enforcement agencies which can turn against them at the behest of extremist elements in the society.
Avoid a Scene: Looking Different is a Dream
Ahmadi women are easily recognisable in public spaces because of distinct kind of “burqa” they wear. They become targeted through verbal and physical harassment in the streets, at work places and in educational institutions.
“At my tuition centre, some girls figured out that I was an Ahmadi by the (traditional) burqa I wore. One day, they came up to me, and started abusing and yelling. One of them even slapped me right across the face. They said I was kafir (infidel)
and wajib-ul-kattal (punishable by death). None of the students stopped them. I started crying and was terrified. I felt humiliated and alone and then I stopped going to that centre.” Amina, Faisalabad
Get Indoors When Mullah Roars
Hate speech from religious clerics (Mullahs) can quickly turn peaceful gatherings into mobs that find and attack Ahmadis. Community members live in constant fear and avoid going outdoors when such diatribes are being spewed in their vicinity.
“We saw a car full of mullahs arrive. They gathered people around and informed them about the decree that had been issued to kill us because they had found out that we were Ahmadis. All this while we stood afar, hiding and listening. We were scared for ourselves, our kids, our families. That evening a mob came to our house. We were lucky to save our lives and left the city city forever. Many people don’t.” Aijaz, Quettta
From the publication by Nida Mehboob, A Survival Guide for Ahmadi Muslims of Pakistan, 2021.
The film maker and photographer Nida Mehboob works on designing and printing a photo-book called A Survival Guide for Ahmadi in Pakistan. This is a sarcastic take on the persecution of a religious minority, using images, text and archives. Borrowing aesthetics from traditional survival guides, this book explores the history of persecution and discrimination faced by this community in daily life while maintaining the anonymity of the subjects using staged photographs.
For the digital Open Studios by the JUNGE AKADEMIE, fellows Philipp Valente (Architecture), Nida Mehboob (Film and Media Arts) and Jennifer O’Donnell with Jonathan Janssens (Architecture) present current works-in-progress and topics such as book projects and installations they have worked on at the Akademie der Künste spaces in the Hansaviertel this spring 2021.
Video by Elisabeth Börnicke & Julia Milz
*1985 in Gujrat, lives in Lahore
Nida Mehboob is a photographer and filmmaker based in Lahore, Pakistan. She qualified as a pharmacist but left the field to pursue photography. Her topics of interest includes themes of social injustice ranging from religious persecution to gender discrimination in Pakistan. Her documentary work has earned her places at several international workshops and fellowships including the Magnum Foundation’s Social Justice Program and Berlinale Talents 2020. Her short films have screened at international film festivals, including Locarno Open Doors 2018.More about Nida Mehboob