On May 28, 2010, Islamist militants attacked two Ahmadiyah mosques in the central Pakistani city of Lahore with guns, grenades and suicide bombs, killing 94 people and injuring well over a hundred. The Punjabi Taliban, a local affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility. The Taliban have targeted not just Ahmadis but all Pakistanis — regardless of religious or sectarian affiliation. The Pakistani opposition leader Nawaz Sharif condemned this attack on “brothers and sisters who are Pakistani citizens.”
Yet his statement was greeted with anger by religious political parties and groups led by the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Pakistan branch of the Khatm-e-Nabuwat — an international Islamist umbrella organization dedicated to the “preservation of the finality of the Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood,” which considers Ahmadis heretics. It was a very ugly moment for Pakistani society.
The Ahmadiyah community has long been persecuted in Pakistan. What has happened in Pakistan is instructive in understanding the nature and potential objectives of those attacking — verbally and physically — the Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia. The situation for Ahmadis in Indonesia suggests a similar pattern of systematic persecution and a similar trend toward legalized discrimination against all Ahmadis for their religious beliefs and practices. Moreover, there are clear and specific ideological links between anti-Ahmadi organizations in Pakistan and Indonesia.
In 1974, Pakistan’s Parliament introduced constitutional amendments that defined the term “Muslim” in the Pakistani context and listed groups that were, under the law, to be considered non-Muslim. The amendment, which went into effect on Sept. 6, 1974, explicitly deprived Ahmadis of their identity as Muslims.
In 1984, five ordinances in Pakistan’s penal code were amended to explicitly target religious minorities: a law against blasphemy; a law punishing the defiling of the Koran; a prohibition against insulting the wives, family or companions of the Prophet of Islam; and two laws specifically restricting the Ahmadis’ activities. On April 26, 1984, Pakistani dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq issued these last two laws as part of Martial Law Ordinance XX.
Ordinance XX undercut the activities of religious minorities generally, but struck at Ahmadis in particular by prohibiting them from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim.”
Ahmadis thus could no longer profess their faith, either orally or in writing. Pakistani police destroyed Ahmadi translations of and commentaries on the Koran and banned Ahmadi publications, the use of any Islamic terminology on Ahmadi wedding invitations, the offering of Ahmadi funeral prayers and the displaying of the Kalima — the statement that “there is no god but Allah, Muhammad is Allah’s prophet,” the principal creed of Muslims — on Ahmadi gravestones.
In addition, Ordinance XX prohibited Ahmadis from declaring their faith publicly, propagating their faith, building mosques or making the call for Muslim prayer. In short, virtually any public act of worship or devotion by an Ahmadi could be treated as a criminal offense.
With the passage of the Criminal Law Act of 1986, Parliament added Section 295-C to the Pakistan Penal Code. The “Blasphemy Law,” as it came to be known, prescribed the death penalty for blasphemy. With Section 295-C, Zia and the Pakistani government institutionalized the persecution of Ahmadis as well as other minorities in Pakistan. The Ahmadi belief in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is considered blasphemous insofar as it “defiled the name of Prophet Muhammad.” Therefore, theoretically, Ahmadis can be sentenced to death for simply professing their faith.
As a consequence, Ahmadi mosques have been burned, their graves desecrated and their very existence criminalized. Since the 1980s, hundreds of Ahmadis have been formally charged in criminal cases for professing their religion. Scores of Ahmadis have been specifically charged with blasphemy; several have been convicted and face life imprisonment or death sentences, pending appeal. The offenses included wearing an Islamic slogan on a shirt, planning to build an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore and distributing Ahmadi literature in a public square. As a result, thousands of Ahmadis have fled Pakistan to seek asylum abroad.
Not surprisingly, anti-Ahmadiyah prejudice remains widespread in Pakistan. The foundation of legalized discrimination laid by the Pakistani state has played into the hands of the Taliban and other militant sectarian groups. The suicide bombings and other attacks on Ahmadis by these groups in recent times are only a deadly extension of the Pakistani state’s legal regime against its Ahmadi citizens since 1974. And all Pakistanis are affected: the Taliban demand that either Pakistanis accept their version of Islam as the true faith or face discrimination, flee or live in fear for their lives.
The horrific example of Pakistan should instill fear in the heart of every Indonesian. Last week’s suicide bombing attack on the Cirebon Police mosque in West Java provides an ominous foretaste of what lies ahead unless extremism nurtured by bigotry is checked before it consumes Indonesian society. For, much like their Pakistani counterparts, those who espouse extremism in Indonesia are turning on their own state and its security forces.
In Indonesia, as in Pakistan, Ahmadis are easy targets in times of religious and political insecurity. Following the June 2008 national decree that bans the Ahmadiyah from publicly practicing their faith, punishable by up to five years in prison, provincial governments have increasingly issued anti-Ahmadiyah bans —16 provinces and regencies have done so since 2006.
These provincial bans on Ahmadiyah activities breed intolerance, discrimination and, as the increasing attacks against Ahmadis in Indonesia show, violence. In February, Islamist militants beat three Ahmadis to death in Cikeusik village, Banten. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should immediately void the 2008 national decree and all the provincial decrees. He should ensure that the police act quickly to protect the Ahmadiyah from violence and hold perpetrators accountable. Indonesia’s reputation as a tolerant society is at grave risk.
Today it’s the Ahmadis, tomorrow, as in Pakistan, it could be you.
Ali Dayan Hasan is the senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.