Pakistan's minority Ahmadiyya community has been subject to persecution since the 1953 Anti-Ahmadiyya Riots in Lahore when religiopolitical parties, including Jamaat-i-Isami, Majlis-i-Ahrarul Islam, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, agitated against the community. For years, followers of this sect have been speaking out against their institutionalised discrimination and disenfranchisement in the country. Most recently, Ahmadiyya community member Abdul Shakoor had the chance to meet with President Trump to call attention to the plight of the Ahmadis in Pakistan.
After news of the meeting was shared online, social media exploded with anti-Ahmadiyya messages and a hashtag campaign which sparked fierce debate all over the country.
A history of disenfranchisement
Pakistan is home to a large Ahmadiyya community which follows the teachings of Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad. The group's beliefs are controversial in Pakistan because they profess that their founder was the last Messiah. This goes against a core tenant of Islam as followed by the majority Sunni Muslims who believe that “the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last direct messenger.”
This conflict of belief led the Pakistani government to declare Ahmadis “non-muslim” by an amendment in the 1973 constitution of Pakistan. Since then, the community has been subject to a number of rules that prohibit calling their places of worship ‘mosques’, limit their public worship, and penalise sharing information about their faith.
On 17 July, Abdul Shakoor, an 82-year-old Ahmadi living in the US, met with US President Trump to appraise him of the situation faced by the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. Shakoor was arrested in 2015 on charges of spreading the Ahmadiyya faith as well as inciting religious hatred and sectarianism. He was sentenced to a total of eight years in prison, of which he served three.
During the meeting with President Trump, Shakoor was accompanied by Shaan Taseer, co-founder of Pakistan for All, a group that advocates for minority rights in Pakistan:
— Shaan Taseer (@ShaanTaseer) July 18, 2019
Hate speech and hashtags
After the video of Shakoor's meeting with President Trump was released (and shortly before a planned US visit by Pakistani PM Imran Khan), the hashtag “#Qadianis are the worst infidels on earth” began trending widely on social media [*Qadiani is a term used in Pakistan for Ahmadiyya Community].
Days after the video's publication, Taseer published a comment on his Facebook page about online hate posts he was receiving:
I want to apologize to my friends on social media for the vitriol they may have faced in the last few days from my detractors.
Though I see this as part and parcel of my work,it is not something you all signed up for when becoming my friends.
People have advised me to adopt a complete blocking policy for the hate trolls. Though I do block the occasional transgressor, I generally let their comments remain so we all know and remember that some roads are difficult roads to travel and if we walk them we don’t forget the perils the lie in our way.
Thank you all who have supported this cause. Do not forget the 200 Aasia Bibi’s in jail without fair trial. They need your support.
The hashtag trend was initiated from the account @HashirMalikPTI. It belongs to the same team that recently started a hashtag campaign against journalists. According to the profile picture and bio, the profile belongs to a follower of the Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) ruling political party:
قادیانی پاکستان میں دِن بَدِن متحرک ہوتے جا رہے ہیں ۔ ختم نبوت پر پہرا دینا ہر مسلمان کے ذمہ ہے۔۔اسی سلسلے میں @TeamPakZindabad کل 3 بجے #میرا_ایمان_ختم_نبوت
ٹرینڈ کرے گی
اس ٹرینڈ میں بھر پور حصہ لیں اور اس ٹویٹ کو ریٹویٹ کریں@MiaNaMateenPti pic.twitter.com/4anzkjgZr1
— مُحـــمّد حَــاشِر مَلِک??? (@HashirMalikPTI) July 25, 2019
Qadiani's are becoming active by the day. It is the duty of every Muslim to guard the finality of prophet-hood. TeamPakZindabad will start a trend.
Hamza Ali Abbasi, a Pakistani TV and film actor tweeted in support of the Ahmadiyya community and questioned the trend. Abbasi was part of a TV show on the Ahmadiyya community a few years ago but had to stop due to immense pressure from anti-Ahmadiyya elements in Pakistani society, he said:
Sad to c this hashtag! Kaafir? Majority of us Muslims don't even know the proper definition of KAAFIR yet we dare use this term with such ease! A Kaafir is sum 1 WHO KNOWS THE TRUTH in his heart & knowingly rejects it (Deliberately covers the truth). #قادیانی_دنیاکابدترین_کافر
— Hamza Ali Abbasi (@iamhamzaabbasi) July 19, 2019
In a TV interview, Orya Maqbool Jan, a popular Islamist TV personality, said that Abdul Shakoor should be charged under Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan [Article 6 is related to treason]. He claimed that “Hardly 20 Ahmadi's have been killed, as compared to 70,000 Pakistanis killed due to terrorism.”
اوریا مقبول جان نے بڑا مطالبہ کردیا
ٹرمپ کے پاس جانے والے قادیانی نے آئین پاکستان سے غداری کی آرٹیکل 6 لگنا چاہیے
بکواس کرتے ہیں کیا 70 ہزار قادیانی دہشتگردی میں مرے؟؟
— Azeem ヅ (@Azeem3284) July 19, 2019
Orya Maqbool Jan has made a big demand, Charge The Qadiani who went to Trump under Article 6 of the Constitution for treason. They just talk, have 70,000 Qadiani's been killed in Terrorism?”
A week after Shakoor's meeting with President Trump, PM Imran Khan spoke at the United States Institute of Peace during his US state visit. While being interviewed, he was asked about the conditions for minorities in Pakistan.
In his response, the PM asserted his support for the protection of minorities in Pakistan but highlighted one area where there was still a “problem”:
“We are making sure that all minorities are given full protection…….but there is one element where we still have a problem……there is one aspect I can't talk about it.”
Yasser Latif Hamdani, a lawyer and book author, wrote an article titled “Jinnah, the Ahmadi issue and Imran Khan” in Naya Daur:
Imran Khan’s statement on minorities made at the USIP is very encouraging. If Imran Khan can implement Jinnah’s 11 August speech and give equal rights to Pakistanis of every faith, he will win over naysayers like me as well. He said though that there was one thing even he could not talk about. The Prime Minister was most probably talking about Ahmadis and their continuing travails in Pakistan.
PM Khan's statement shook religious political parties such as the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F). The leader of the party, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, criticized PM Khan and the Ahmadi community while addressing a Million March in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan, Pakistan to agitate the issue. The party also started twitter trends and online attacks on Ahmadiyyas:
12 بجے ٹرینڈ شروع کرنی ہے
آج کی ہیش ٹیگ ?#JUI15thMillionMarchQuetta
— مطیع اللہ خان (@Matiullah886) July 28, 2019
Will begin the trend at 12pm. Today's trend #JUI15thMillionMarchQuetta
— Abdullah Muhammad (@Abdulla20727496) July 28, 2019
The ground will be set, Fazal ur Rehman will address the gathering, Imran will be scared
Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of former PM of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, was also targeted for supporting Ahmadiyya community. She quickly responded that it was a fake picture upload/post:
This is a fake image. Shame on those doing it. https://t.co/waVU11D70f
— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) July 28, 2019
Zain Siddiqui of Dawn News tweeted a thread on the topic:
PML-N once again stoking anti Ahmadiyya sentiment to use it as weapon against government. Marked uptick in anti-Ahmadiyya posts on social media in lead up to US visit and now Rana Sana's wife saying "Imran Khan Amreeka mai qadiyanioun ka baap ban kar baitha hua hai". Contd.
— Zain Siddiqui (@zainsid1) July 23, 2019
Anti-Ahmadiyya hate campaigns make the community members more vulnerable as the law of the country also doesn't provide them any protection.