When Ramadan nears to an end, families around the globe spend their final days in preparation of the Eid-al-Fitr celebrations. On July 27, seven-year-old Hira and her family in the Arafat Colony in Gujranwala, Pakistan must have shared the same excitement.
Hira’s Uncle Fazl shared that Hira, along with her grandmother Bushra, was really excited for Eid. He explained that a day earlier, Bushra prepared Iftar dinner for the entire street. Hira volunteered to distribute that food among all their neighbors. Growing up in Pakistan and having spent so many Ramadans there, I can imagine seeing Hira being thrilled for Eid. Young girls’ preparation is always the most elaborate one: henna application on their hands, bangles for their arms, new outfits and matching jewelry are part of the ritual for all girls. Tomorrow, at this time, they would be sighting the new moon, the precursor of Eid.
As they were finishing breaking their fast, according to the reports stated by her uncle, they heard mixed noises outside. They discarded it first thinking it to be the over zealousness of a bunch of neighborhood kids due to coming Eid. The noise became louder and more violent. Soon they heard smacking at their doors with bricks and sticks. Hira’s house along with several other houses of Arafat Colony belonging to Ahmadi Muslims came under attack by an angry mob. The mob, consisted of both Sunni and Shia Muslims, became deathly angry due to alleged blasphemy committed by an Ahmadi youth on Facebook. While the allegation was meritless, it didn’t stop the mob from continuing their tirade, chanting slogans of Allahu Akbar (God is Great), Ya Ali (O Ali) and death upon Qadianis (derogatory term used for Ahmadi Muslim) while setting 15 homes ablaze.
According to personal accounts, Hira’s family thought it best to hide in a room on the top floor of their 3-story house. Eleven women and kids including Hira took refuge in that room. Fortunately, the residents belonging to other houses escaped the fire as they had already fled. The angry mob looted their valuables including cash, jewelry, appliance, good furniture etc. After dealing with the vacant houses the mob moved to Hira’s house. While Hira’s uncles, cousins and father were dealing with the mob and were trying to convince the police to intervene. Some terrorists got access to the top floor of Hira’s house where they found this locked room full of women and children. They tried to push the door open but the women resisted and did not let them in. In turn, the terrorists barricaded the door from outside and started burning plastic by the door and windows. Soon poisonous fumes erupted causing the women and kids to cough profusely. Eight of these women and children in this room survived, but Hira, her eight months old baby sister Kaainat and her grandmother Bushra suffocated to death. Hira’s aunt Mubashra, who was visiting Hira’s family for Eid, was seven months pregnant and suffered a miscarriage shortly after. Hira’s five years old brother and three year old sister survived but are still suffering with respiratory ailments. Some eight other Ahmadi Muslims were taken to the hospital to be treated for the burns and torture, at least four in critical condition. While this was happening, the police arrived but opted to watch the scenario unfold rather than take any measure to stop the atrocities.
Reports state that onlookers around the burning homes celebrated. Those who survived fled to Rabwah, Ahmadi Muslims headquarters in Pakistan.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has always faced persecution in Pakistan. In the summer of 1974, 40 years prior to this recent burning incident, hundreds of houses were torched in the same manner. Back then, Pakistan’s clergy pressurized the Pakistani government to declare Ahmadis outside the folds of Islam. From May 1974 until October 1974, over one hundred incidents of Ahmadi persecution occurred in Pakistan, including violent killings of Ahmadi Muslims, burning down Ahmadi owned houses and shops, torturing Ahmadis, blackening the faces of Ahmadis and touring them around the cities, ransacking and occupying their mosques, plundering, social and economic boycott and above all infringement of their fundamental religious freedom rights.
On September 7,1974 the government of Pakistan declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims, which was said to appease the clergy. For a time, physical persecution dwindled, but the persecution in the form of social boycotts, sidelining Ahmadis in academia, violation of their equal employment opportunity rights was reported to have increased. For example, in 1979, Dr. Abdus Salam earned Pakistan its first Nobel Prize in Physics, but given that he was a known Ahmadi, the glorious occasion went uncelebrated. When Dr. Salam died, the Pakistani government forcibly removed the word “Muslim” from his tombstone.
In the 1980’s, Pakistan witnessed its worst regime in the face of General Zia’s dictatorship, which radically increased the persecution of the Ahmadi community. In 1984, he passed the infamous Ordinance XX anti-Ahmadi law, and two years later in 1986, he passed a broader anti-blasphemy law. Both laws were directly aimed at Ahmadis but proved to make each human life vulnerable in Pakistan. There is now a death penalty for blasphemy in Pakistan. Apart from Ahmadis, these laws are frequently used against Christians, Hindus, and Shias. From 1986-2010, an estimated 1274 cases of blasphemy have been filed in Pakistan. Compare this with total number of seven blasphemy cases from 1947-1986. In the last four years, the number of blasphemy cases and killing in the name of these cases continue to rise. According to my research, since 1998 until 2012, in just 14 years, an estimated 1024 blasphemy cases have been filed only against Ahmadis in Pakistan. Since 1986, over 230 Ahmadi Muslim men women and children have been killed on account of their religious beliefs.
My research also shows that Pakistan has not tried or convicted a single murderer directed towards a member of the Ahmadi community. An Ahmadi Muslim captured a suicide bomber during 2010’s Lahore attacks on Ahmadi Mosques. He handed him over to the police to be processed by law enforcement. However, the police set free culprit for unknown reasons.
In recent years, hate and crimes against Ahmadis, Shias, Christians and Hindus has noticeably augmented in Pakistan. Media reports are said to aid in inciting violence. Despite the fact that several private channels have mushroomed over the last 12 years, making Pakistani media much more liberated than ever before, minorities remain underrepresented and stereotypes continue to be sensationalized about these groups. In 2008, a notorious TV anchor along with his extremist guest openly called for the death for Ahmadi Muslims. As a result, two Ahmadis were killed in broad daylight. In 2010, Pakistani Taliban attacked two mosques belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community located in Lahore during Friday prayers. 86 Ahmadi Muslims and one Christian lost their lives. Media responded with spreading more hatred towards Ahmadis by calling them traitors to Pakistan
These days, such mistreatment is not exclusive to Ahmadis. Now, many Christians and Shias also face increasing demonization by the media. Last year, nearly 90 Christians lost their lives in a suicide attack at a Peshawar church. Rather than empathizing with their fellow human beings, Pakistani media shamelessly labeled every Christian as a janitor by running the headline “sweepers have been swept away.” Media irresponsibility, government incompetence, extremist clergy, marginalized academic syllabus against minorities, and public ignorance have all made Pakistan a living hell for minorities, especially for Ahmadi Muslims.
As the sunset on July 28, a new moon was sighted and the Eid began on July 29 as had been expected by Hira’s family. Only no one was left to celebrate it. And on Eid day, while the terrorists who murdered Hira, Kainat, and Bushra roamed free and offered their Eid prayers, no doubt rejoicing in murdering Ahmadi Muslims, Hira’s family instead, offered three painful funeral prayers, patiently waiting for justice.