By Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo
Since 15th March, 2022, the entire Muslim world has been glowing with triumphalistic celebratory moods activated by the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption by consensus a resolution declaring March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia.
The resolution was introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It marks the day when a gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 worshippers and wounding 40 others in the terror attack.
Formally introducing the resolution at the General Assembly Hall, Pakistan’s UN envoy Munir Akram said anti-Muslim hatred has become a “reality” that is “proliferating in several parts of the world.” He further said that “Such acts of discrimination, hostility and violence towards Muslims – individuals and communities – constitute grave violations of their human rights, and violate their freedom of religion and belief.”
Of course, like every other Muslim, this writer feels excited to felicitate with fellow Muslims across the Muslim Ummah (world) over this landmark breakthrough in the collective long walk towards realizing an end to Islamophobia across the world.
No doubt, Islamophobia, which represents irrational and unfounded fear of, prejudice against and hatred for Islam and Muslims, is, apparently, an aberrant psycho-social complexity that has, sadly, become deeply rooted in the psychological perception and/or practical reaction against Islam and Muslims by many a non-Muslim element. True, whenever and wherever Islamophobia had found manifestations, it had invariably stunted expression of human rights and freedom, dividing the world along religious line with negative implications and destructive consequences.
Be that as it may, however, a similar destructive phobia and grave issue which this auspicious development has re-engendered before the UN is the primacy of passing a resolution to combat “Ahmadiphobia” across the world. Specifically, and justifiably, too, it is the thrust of this article to harp on the necessity for the UN to declare May 28 as International Day to Combat “Ahmadiphobia.”
For clarity, “Ahmadiphobia”, like Islamophobia, is equally aberrant and unjustifiable attitudes expressive of negative sentiment, hatred for, prejudice against and hostility towards the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and/or its members by many an element, particularly mainstream Muslim State and non-state actors and others across the world. It is often manifested in the hate speech, societal discrimination, repression, oppression and hostility towards Ahmadiyya Muslims. It is a type of antipathic and xenophobic phenomena that has, since the past decades, become widespread and entrenched across the world, particularly within majority-Muslim countries and communities, as shall be seen later in this write-up.
For the records, May 28, 2010 was the darkest day in which entire humanity was rendered aghast by the barbaric and heinous expression of “Ahmadiphobia” by some anti-Ahmadiyya terrorists through two atrocious events that are now infamously referred to as the Lahore Massacre. It was the day some gun-wielding Muslims launched coordinated firearms attacks simultaneously against two mosques belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Lahore, Pakistan. In the wake of the indiscriminate, sporadic shootings that lasted for over an hour, 86 innocent Ahmadi Muslims were gunned down while hundreds were left injured.
Notably, like the New Zealand’s Christchurch attack, this bloody “Ahmadiphobic” attacks were also against two mosques and took place during Muslims’ Friday prayer service. However, while the Christchurch attack was carried out by a non-Muslim Islamophobe against innocent Muslims, the Lahore Massacre was launched by Muslim “Ahmadiphobes” against innocent Ahmadi Muslims. Curiously, too, while 51 casualties were recorded in the former, the recorded death toll in the latter was 86.
It is instructive to note that, unlike the common reactionary responses, like rioting, burning of national flags and protests etc., which usually trail the occurrence of such heinous attacks, it is to the credit of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that it reacted to the attacks with its usual non-violent, peaceful resistance measures that have always characterized its response to the growing and widespread persecution against it across the world. For instance, just few hours after the Lahore Massacre, the Caliph and Supreme Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) delivered his Friday Sermon (which was both broadcast and streamed live across the world) where he reacted to the horrendous attacks with the following statement:
“News are coming in today, many must have heard it, seen it on TV, severe attacks have been made on two of our mosques in Lahore, one in Model Town and the other Darul Zikr. Similarly, rallies have been taken out in Kunri. Likewise, in other places in the world, in various countries, opposition is carried out by following the mullah (Muslim clerics). Can this opposition finish Ahmadiyyat? Did Ahmadiyyat ever come to an end after earlier opposition? Most certainly not, and it never will, of course it will definitely make those who oppose us the target of God’s chastisement and reprove.”
Furthermore, he declared more categorically in a statement further released same day that, “The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at is a peace loving, true Muslim Jama’at. Thus, there will be no improper reaction from any Ahmadi. Our salvation lies in our supplications to God Almighty and we believe He has, and always will help us. No terrorist and no government can ever stop the progress of our Jama’at because of its divine organisation.”
It is important to note that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was established in March 23rd, 1889 as an international, peaceful Islamic revivalist and missionary organization by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be on him), whose advent fulfilled the prophecies about the coming of the Promised Messiah and Mahdi contained in the Holy Qur’an and Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be on him). Today, the Community is being led by the worldwide Supreme Head and Khalifatul Masih (Successor to the Messiah), Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), and has spread across over 220 countries and territories with a membership that spans tens of millions. It categorically condemns terrorism, bloodshed and religious intolerance and advocates peaceful co-existence, loyalty to nation, freedom of religion and conscience and fundamental human rights etc. Its renowned official motto is: love for all; hatred for none.
Sadly, however, just as it is usual historical experiences with every divinely established religious revivalist movement in the world, many among the mainstream Muslims who disagree with and oppose to Ahmadiyya’s Islamic revival mission and its reformed interpretation of Islamic teachings and peaceful propagation have always been resorting to various expressions of Ahmadiphobia as a way to decimate the peaceful Community. Hence, today, across the world, particularly in majority-Muslim nations and communities like Pakistan, Indonesia, Algeria, Bangladesh etc., “hate propaganda against Ahmadi Muslims in media, on the streets on posters and distributed through pamphlets and at large gatherings are endemic and continue unabated and uncensored, fuelling the persecution of Ahmadis.” (A Beleaguered Community: On the rising persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community,  International Human Rights Committee (IHRC) and Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)).
In fact, over the decades, “Ahmadiphobia” has culminated in state-sanctioned persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims where the members have been declared non-Muslims and barred from performing their Islamic religious practices and propagation. Regrettably, this hostile atmosphere has continued to bring about growing cases of target killings, recurring violence, legal discrimination and social exclusion of the members of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Ultimately, hundreds of them have been killed, scores of their mosques destroyed or confiscated and thousands of their published literatures banned.
Emphatically, persecution is cruel and unfair treatment of a person or group, especially because of their religious or political beliefs, or their race. This 14th century English word – which has its root from Latin persecutionem – gives general senses of “malevolent oppression, harassing or oppressive treatment,” also “a time of general or systematic oppression” (https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/persecution). In legal terms, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Statute defines persecution as “the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity” (Art. 7.2.g of ICC Statute). (https://guide-humanitarian-law.org/content/article/3/persecution-1/)
In light of the above, it is, therefore, worrisome and disturbing noting that the reality and proliferation of “Ahmadiphobia” and staunch persecution of Ahmadi Muslims have become so global and endemic, so much so, that, a 2015 report, commissioned by Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and International Human Rights Committee (IHRC), had had to profile it as extensive and systematic, while describing the Ahmadiyya Community, itself, as a beleaguered community (A Beleaguered Community: On the rising persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community,  International Human Rights Committee (IHRC) and Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)).
It is compelling to note that, while, from every available evidence, Pakistan has been the hotpot of the staunchest state-sponsored expressions of “Ahmadiphobia” and persecution of the Ahmadi Muslims in the world, it is rather ironical, paradoxical and, at its worst, a sheer mockery of dictates of integrity and fairness, that the same Government of Pakistan is priding itself as the sponsor of the motion that led to the UN’s resolution on Islamophobia! This act of Pakistan can best be viewed in the light of the following Urdu proverb (Urdu is one of the official languages of Pakistan): ghahr azaab, bahir thawaab (گھر عذاب باہر ثواب), which gives the sense of an entity who commits punishable vices within, while simultaneously engages in rewardable deeds without!
Let us interrogate some facts about “Ahmadiphobia” as a “reality” that is “proliferating in several parts of” Pakistan so as to expose how “Such acts of discrimination, hostility and violence towards” Ahmadi Muslims “constitute grave violations of their human rights, and violate their freedom of religion and belief.” Curiously, it is documented in an October, 2021 report published by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and entitled USCIRF Factsheet: Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims, that:
“In 1974, the Pakistani government introduced a Constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis, whom it refers to using the derogatory term Qadianis, as non-Muslims. In 1984 it adopted a legal ordinance making it a criminal offense for Ahmadis to refer to themselves as Muslims. Since Pakistani citizens by law must declare their religious affiliation to join the civil or armed services or obtain official documents—i.e., passports, birth certificates, and national identification cards—Ahmadiyya Muslims must sign a declaration stating that they are non-Muslim, contrary to their beliefs, in order to obtain such documents and attain basic civil rights such as the right to vote. In the judgment requiring this declaration, a Pakistani court stated that citizens, referring particularly to Ahmadis, who disguised their religious affiliation were guilty of betraying the state.”
“Pakistan’s Penal Code prohibits Ahmadiyya Muslims from declaring their faith publicly, propagating their faith, printing, or obtaining material related to their faith, making citations from the Qur’an or hadiths, using the Kalimah or Muslim creed (on personal lettering including invitations, gravestones, signs, jewelry, etc.), building mosques or calling their places of worship mosques, and making the call for Muslim prayers (the adhaan). Virtually any public act of worship, devotion or propagation by an Ahmadi can be treated as blasphemy, a criminal offense punishable by fine, imprisonment, or death.”
“These repressive laws and policies, combined with new media regulations, contribute to the systemic and societal discrimination of Ahmadis in Pakistan—discrimination that government officials often publicly support and enflame. Hardline clerics, religious groups, politicians, and political parties often use the country’s harsh anti-Ahmadiyya laws and blasphemy laws as a rallying point. The government has not addressed these statements, and officials’ use of fiery language incites violence and harassment of Ahmadis including targeted killings, desecration of graves, demolition of Ahmadiyya mosques, unofficial boycotts of businesses, hate speech, including from government officials, and online harassment.”
“In 2020, the exclusion of Ahmadis from the National Minorities Commission (NMC), a governmental body to promote the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, ignited debate leading to a series of targeted attacks and hate speech directed at the Ahmadiyya community. Between July 2020 and September 2021, seven Ahmadis were murdered, including 57-year-old Tahir Naseem, an American citizen accused of blasphemy, who was shot in a Pakistani courtroom while awaiting trial. At least seven others were wounded in unsuccessful attempts.”
“During debates surrounding the question of Ahmadi inclusion in the NMC, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious and Inter-faith Harmony Affairs, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, publicly stated, “Whoever shows sympathy or compassion towards (Ahmadis) is neither loyal to Islam nor the state of Pakistan. “Additionally, Pakistan’s State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan, referred to Ahmadis as “agents of chaos.” The government did not address statements made by Qadri and Khan or other officials who incited hatred and intolerance towards Ahmadis.”
“Pakistani authorities have failed to protect Ahmadiyya Muslims and other religious minorities and are often complicit in the destruction of Ahmadiyya houses of worship and tombstones that carry the Muslim creed…” (https://www.uscirf.gov/publication/ahmadiyya-persecution-factsheet)
It is important to note that a number of similar reports have been published over the years by various independent international bodies. For instance, interested readers can read Suffocation of the Faithful – The Persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan and the Rise of International Extremism, published in July, 2020 by All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, UK; Human Rights Watch’s 2020 Annual Global Report on Pakistan titled Pakistan Events of 2019; Pakistan: Religious freedom under attack, published in December 2019, by CWS, UK; From Persecution to Desperation: Fact-finding Mission to Thailand and Malaysia, published in 2019 by International Human Rights Committee; As Good as Dead: The Impact of the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan, Amnesty International, 2016; A Beleaguered Community: On the rising persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, published in 2015 by International Human Rights Committee (IHRC) and Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), and a host of others.
More so, a powerful statement made by Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief aptly corroborates the fact of the fierce experience of “Ahmadiphobia” in Pakistan. He said: “It is well documented that Ahmadis have fled from Pakistan where they face multiple forms of persecution from the State and non-state actors. This Report identifies the immediate steps that now need to be taken to safeguard refugees, particularly Ahmadi Muslims, by the host countries and by the UNHCR. The resettlement of Ahmadi Muslims to third countries should also be prioritised.” (From Persecution to Desperation: Fact-finding Mission to Thailand and Malaysia, published in 2019 by International Human Rights Committee, p.5)
More pointedly, Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has also lamented how the persecution of Ahmadiyya has spread widely across the Asian continent. He noted: “Tragically, the situation in some other Asian states is no better… In Malaysia, where Islam has the status of an official religion, the general ideological pattern of discrimination seems to follow the example of Pakistan. Ahmadis are treated as “heretics”, whose sheer existence allegedly endangers the purity of the Islamic creed. In addition to this comes extremely inhospitable conditions for refugees. In Thailand too, the situation of Ahmadis is characterized by the denial of even a minimum respect for human rights, including school education for their children, provision of basic health care and access to legal aid.” (From Persecution to Desperation: Fact-finding Mission to Thailand and Malaysia, published in 2019 by International Human Rights Committee, p.6)
Furthermore, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community faces persecution and discrimination in a range of Muslim-majority countries, including Algeria, Pakistan, and Malaysia. In these countries, authorities have targeted Ahmadi Muslims through hate speech and speech inciting violence against them, denied them citizenship, restricted their rights to worship, and prosecuted them for practicing their faith, including by charging and convicting them of blasphemy. Some states prohibit Ahmadis from declaring their faith publicly, criminalize them for identifying as Muslim, and prohibit them from calling their houses of worship mosques. States have also tolerated violence and hate speech against Ahmadis from nonstate actors.” (https://stopthepersecution.org/ahmadiyya-persecution-factsheet/)
Intolerance and extremism know no boundaries, so it is little surprise that anti-Ahmadi Muslim extremism has also found its way to other countries including the UK. Issues arising include being denied membership of organisations for self-identifying as Muslims, the distribution of hate leaflets calling for the death of Ahmadi Muslims, anti-Ahmadi Muslim posters in shops, and even bullying at schools. In 2018, OFCOM found Radio Ikhlaas culpable for broadcasting inflammatory remarks against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and similarly, in 2019, Channel 44 was fined for airing anti-Ahmadi Muslim hatred. There is also routine anti-Ahmadi Muslim hate on social media channels that remains a vibrant space for extremist views. The most shocking incident in the UK was the religiously-motivated murder of Ahmadi Muslim Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah in 2016.” (https://stopthepersecution.org/history-of-the-persecution-of-ahmadis/)
Even in Bulgaria, an EU member state, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was denied rights. Twice it attempted to register itself as a religious community and twice it was rejected on the advice of the country’s Grand Mufti. It took a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights to push through their registration. (https://stopthepersecution.org/history-of-the-persecution-of-ahmadis/)
Hate, hostility and persecution are found in other countries too. Algeria, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Egypt and Kyrgyzstan, to name a few, are all where harassment and persecution continues, denying Ahmadi Muslims their right to freedom of religion.
It is disheartening to note that, in March 2016, the Algerian authorities refused registration of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community as an association. On 2 June 2016 the National Gendarmerie, acting on orders of the Prime Minister, raided and destroyed a newly built Mosque in Larbaa (Bilda Province) on the day of its inauguration and arrested nine Ahmadis, including the community’s national president. All of the community’s belongings in the mosque were also seized including personal data. Since then, the Algerian authorities have prosecuted more than 280 Ahmadis simply on grounds of their faith. Alleged charges against the community include distributing foreign literature, threatening the national interest, with no evidence to substantiate these claims. Those arrested included the elderly, sick, women and children. All arrested have faced criminal proceedings, with most convicted and sentenced to a prison term of up to 4 years imprisonment or a fine of up to 300,000 dinars. The police have continued to monitor the activities of the Ahmadiyya community closely including being present at internal board level meetings. (https://www.uscirf.gov/publication/ahmadiyya-persecution-factsheet)
Still on the continent of Africa, on 6 January 2017, the Government of Comoros Islands, unexpectedly seized the Baitul Ahad Mosque belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and ordered it to vacate and remove all belongings within 48 hours. The mosque was then raided by the army who seized the premises and ordered that their prayers and functions be prohibited upon instruction of the Commissioner of Anjuan Islands. The minarets were destroyed, the Kalima (the fundamental declaration of the Islamic creed) was erased, the religious teacher removed from his ground floor residence in the building and the building was taken over to be used as the police Headquarters.
Mr Muhammad Daoudou, Minister of Interior of Comoros, was interviewed by the Comoros Gazette in which he accepted that the actions by the police and the state were carried out because he did not consider Ahmadis to be true Muslims. On 8th January 2017, at the time of early afternoon prayers, police came and forcibly removed worshippers from the mosque. The ban on Ahmadis being able to pray at the mosque is ongoing. (https://stopthepersecution.org/history-of-the-persecution-of-ahmadis/)
To conclude, we have seen in the past few decades how anti-Ahmadi Muslim bigotry has spread across the world. This issue will snowball out of control unless swift action is taken to ensure Ahmadi Muslims, along everyone else is afforded the basic right to freedom of religion or belief. For a society to be inclusive, it is paramount that the human rights of all are defended and respected. (https://stopthepersecution.org/history-of-the-persecution-of-ahmadis/ )
It is incontrovertible that freedom from persecution is vital to the well-being of individuals in society and to their enjoyment of the rights to which they are entitled. Under international law, persecution is a crime against humanity. This was clearly established under the jurisdiction of the international military tribunals of Nuremberg and Tokyo and was reaffirmed most recently in the ICC Statute (Art. 7.1.h of ICC Statute). (https://guide-humanitarian-law.org/content/article/3/persecution-1/)
From the above, it is, therefore, not surprising that the Holy Quran, in the verses 192nd and 218th of its Surah al-Baqarah, categorically profiles persecution, in all its forms, as worse than homicide. From this context, it becomes glaring how regrettable it is that many among mainstream Muslim world could still morally descend so low as to engage in Ahmadiphobia and persecution of the Ahmadi Muslims in clear defiance to the pronouncements of the Holy Qur’an on the subject.
In his well-reasoned submission, Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, who has been quoted earlier, was right in declaring that, “Turning a blind eye to the ongoing suffering of Ahmadis, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere, would ruin the credibility of international human rights commitments in general. One way of showing solidarity is by designing resettlement programmes for certain groups of Ahmadis, in line with the criteria set up by UNHCR.” (From Persecution to Desperation: Fact-finding Mission to Thailand and Malaysia, published in 2019 by International Human Rights Committee, p.7)
At this juncture, the mind of this writer is aptly drawn to International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance’s (IRFBA) Statement on the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that was co-signed by 14 countries, including the US, UK, Australia and Brazil, and released, just a few days ago, precisely, on 1st March, 2022. They categorically declared that: “we note with grave concern the hostility toward the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in a range of countries, and the threats to the human right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for members of this community.”
They, therefore, went further to state that:
“We affirm that the right to FoRB, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, includes the freedom to manifest an individual’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. States should not, therefore, discriminate against and tolerate violence toward Ahmadi Muslims – or anyone – based on their interpretation of the Islamic faith.
We call upon all states to, where applicable:
- Immediately release all Ahmadi Muslims imprisoned for exercising their religious beliefs, including on charges on the grounds of their religious expression (for example, blasphemy), activities, and self-identification as Muslims;
- Immediately re-instate the right to vote to Ahmadi Muslims;
- Immediately end capital punishment of Ahmadi Muslims pursuant to blasphemy laws;
- Immediately end home raids and raids on places of worship for Ahmadi Muslims;
- Immediately eliminate any discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims with respect to the issuance of national identification documents;
- Immediately eliminate any discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims with respect to their access to justice within courts and hearings;
- Immediately eliminate discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims with respect to their employment and education;
- Immediately eliminate targeting Ahmadi Muslims in third countries under laws that curb free expression, including religious expression, and bans on their religious texts, online and offline;
- Review and address current intersecting forms of violence and discrimination against women and children of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community*; and
- Hold accountable individuals and groups who use violence or intimidation against Ahmadis. (https://www.state.gov/irfba-statement-on-the-ahmadiyya-muslim-community/)
Adding to the foregoing demands by IRFBA, this writer makes bold to propose that, in line with the mandates that established the United Nations Organization (UNO), it is high time the global body declared May 28th as International Day to Combat “Ahmadiphobia.”
Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo is a Journalist, Missionary and Chairman of Muslim Writers Guild of Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org