A recent judgment by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), directing the government to adopt stricter measures in letting people declare their religion at the time of accepting government jobs and getting official identity documents, paves the way for religious persecution at the state level and more intolerance in society.
Members of the legal community are of the view that there is no law which expects people to declare their faith, as desired by the judgment. This has created a furore among the civil society because one religious minority has particularly come to be at its receiving end.
The judgment urges the state to take steps against a ‘particular’ minority group that is using the name of Islam. It directs the government “to make necessary legislation and also introduce requisite amendments to the existing laws to ensure that all the terms specifically used for Islam and Muslims were not used by persons belonging to any minority faith for hiding their real identity or for any other purpose.”
Ahmadis were the prime focus of the judgment on a writ petition, filed at the end of November, against this ‘amendment’ to the oath statement of prospective legislators about the finality of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as part of the Election Bill 2017. The petition was filed by a leader of an anti-Ahmadi group, International Khatam-e-Nabuwwat Organisation, Maulana Allah Wasaia. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqi of the Islamabad High Court took up the matter at a time when the Faizabad Dharna was in full swing. Later, he separated the dharna issue from the petition and continued with this Election Bill and the Khatam-e-Nabuwat matter.
While hearing the petition, Justice Siddiqi sought the record from National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) and statistics department about the count of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. The judge admitted the petition for hearing despite the fact that the government had, weeks ago, nullified the controversial amendment in the law after protests by political and religious parties.
Declaring the “faith affidavit” compulsory, the judgment reads: “Nobody should be permitted to conceal his/her real religious faith and for getting CNIC, passport, birth certificate, entry in voters list, appointment in judiciary, armed forces and civil service, an affidavit must be sworn by the applicant based on definition of Muslim and non-Muslim provided by Article 260 (3)(a)(b) of the Constitution. Appointment of a non-Muslim on constitutional posts is against our organic law”. It’s interesting because the constitution does not bar non-Muslims from contesting for any office other than that of the president and prime minister.
The judge also directed Nadra, as part of the judgment, to fix the time (period) for any citizen who intends to make corrections or changes in the already given particulars, especially about religion.
“This is akin to further marginalising the Ahmadis and providing an opportunity to exploit and victimise them in a situation where they are already vulnerable,” says human rights activist and senior columnist I.A. Rehman. “The court took up this matter unnecessarily. Such a judgment should not have been given. This will make it more difficult for Ahmadis to get jobs etc. Nobody has right to ask anyone about his personal matter — neither our faith nor our constitution allows this. The government should go into an appeal against this judgment.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also condemned this IHC judgment, urging the federal government to file an appeal against it in a written statement that says: “Forums for justice such as the Honourable IHC should play their due role in safeguarding the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable sections of society. It is, therefore, unfortunate that Pakistan’s religious minorities should feel more unsafe as a result of a ruling by the honourable court.”
During the proceedings, the judge, after getting initial figures of Ahmadi population in Pakistan from Nadra’s record not only barred people from changing the religion on their Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) without permission of the court but also observed that if anyone wants to change religion after his CNIC is made, they should change it within a couple of months after the CNIC is issues.
The target were the nearly 10,000 Ahmadis who had changed their religion after the age of 60, creating this suspicion that they may have got government jobs as Muslims and then changed their religious identity after retirement. “It seems Ahmadis are showing themselves as Muslim for government job and going back to their original faith after retirement,” the judge said in one hearing while seeking the travel history of these 10,000 citizens who changed their religious identity as Ahmadis. He also observed that following the September 1974 legislation [Second Amendment] declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslim, there was a need to take more measures to force them to declare their religious identity rather than posing themselves as Muslim(s).
As per the data of 1998 census, the population of Ahmadis was 286,212 while the data provided by Nadra showed that just over 167,000 people were registered as Ahmadis in Pakistan. However, there are no reliable official/unofficial statistics about the number of Ahmadis in Pakistan. Many Ahmadis don’t publicly identify themselves as Ahmadi; they refuse to take part in the census and also refuse to enlist themselves in the separate electorate. According to different figures available on the Internet, the estimates about the number of Ahmadis in Pakistan range from 500,000 to four million. The community also declines to give the official number of Ahmadis, fearing this may lead to victimisation.
“The witchhunt of Ahmadis continues. Unfortunately, the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution are marred by the Zia era legislation that Pakistan’s parliament is yet to review. These legal instruments have turned Pakistan into a state that practises a religious apartheid against one community,” says Raza Rumi, editor and political analyst.
“Sadly, the judiciary has upheld anti-Ahmadi constitutional provisions and laws time and again. The judges, howsoever strongly they might feel about matters of faith, must desist from such a path.”
Last December, after the government had withdrawn the said amendment to the Election Bill, which it claimed was a “clerical error,” Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar, son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Member National Assembly (MNA), spoke on the floor of National Assembly, demanding a ban on Ahmadis from joining the armed forces. Some analysts thought the speech was aimed at rectifying the political damage incurred by the ruling party.
The state declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims in 1974, which was followed by more specific anti-Ahmadi laws in mid-1980s in the Penal Code, during Ziaul Haq’s time, barring the Ahmadis from calling their worship place a “mosque,” calling themselves Muslims or ‘misusing’ Islamic epithets, descriptions etc.
According to data compiled by Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya Pakistan, since the introduction of these sections in 1984, as many as 765 Ahmadis have been booked for displaying Kalma; 447 have been booked for ‘posing’ as Muslims; and 815 booked for preaching. 1164 Ahmadis have been booked in other cases on religious grounds; 379 assaulted for their faith; and 260 have been killed.
“We were the aggrieved party but the court did not call us even a single time,” says Salimuddin, spokesperson of Ahmadiyya community. “This is against the spirit of justice. What else does the court wants from us. The identification for Ahmadis or oath against Ahmadi-faith has already been mandatory while obtaining CNIC, passport, for vote registration and even for admission in various educational institutions. They just want to push us to the wall.”
He adds, “every Ahmadi is proud to show their identity and they do not need any state certificate to do so”.
Ansar Ahmad, a Lahore-based community member who does a private job, says: “We are already living a vulnerable life. We face discrimination in society, schools and public places. Hate speech against us is not barred. Such judgments will make our lives more miserable.”
In Pakistan, religious minorities and different minority Islamic-sects face different types of social and legal discriminations and faith-based persecution. Early this year, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State of United States of America placed Pakistan on a “Special Watch List” for severe violations of religious freedom. According to the 2017 report of United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Pakistani government continued to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations.