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The Ahmadiyya religious movement

The Ahmadiyya religious movement originated in India in the 19th century. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder, was born in 1839 in the town of Qadian in Punjab, India. He claimed to be the Mahdi, or the Messiah, as foretold by the Prophet Mohammed.

Since Ahmad’s death in 1908, the Ahmadiyya community has continued to be led centrally by a spiritual leader. The fifth and current spiritual head, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, resides in the UK.

According to a 2005 Human Rights Watch report, the Ahmadiyya community “believes that Ahmad conceived the community as a revivalist movement within Islam and not as a new religion”, and “members of the Ahmadiyya community (‘Ahmadis’) profess to be Muslims”. However, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (PDF), “many Muslims consider Ahmadiyya Muslims to be heretics”.

Legal restrictions in Pakistan

As well as defining major religious groups such as Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists as non-Muslim, Article 260 of Pakistan’s constitution (PDF), also defines a non-Muslim as “a person of the Quadiani group or Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis or by any other name)”.

The Pakistani state requires Ahmadis to declare themselves as non-Muslims in certain administrative processes. A March 2023 human rights report on Pakistan by the US State Department, states that “Passport applicants must list their religious affiliation, and those wishing to be listed as Muslims must swear they believe the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet and denounce the founder of the Ahmadi movement as a false prophet”.

When registering to vote Pakistanis must also sign a similar declaration and the State Department report states that “many [Ahmadis] were unable to vote because they did not comply with this requirement”.

Number of Ahmadis in Pakistan

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PDF) states that 191,737 people identified as Ahmadi Muslim in the 2017 census (Table 9). However, due to Pakistan’s legal restrictions on Ahmadis identifying as Muslim explained above, many are believed to not identify as so in the census.

According to a 2021 UK Home Office paper (PDF) ‘community sources’ put the figure at 600,000 but “some estimates put the number as high as 4 million”. In terms of where in Pakistan the community is based, the report describes:

Between 60,000 and 70,000 (90-95%) of the population of Rabwah (considered the community’s headquarters), is Ahmadi, whilst the smaller Lahore branch is between 5,000 and 10,000. Ahmadis live across the country and aside from Rabwah, other main population centres include Sialkot, Quetta, Multan, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad.

A June 2022 US State Department report on International Religious Freedom in Pakistan, also notes the boycott of the census by many Ahmadis, and includes a similar community estimate figure, saying “Taking into account the Ahmadi boycott of the official census, however, community sources put the number of Ahmadi Muslims at approximately 500,000 to 600,000”.

Human rights and religious freedom concerns

Human Rights Watch, the human rights NGO, in their report looking at human rights in Pakistan in 2023, details legal discrimination against Ahmadis and violence targeted against them:

Members of the Ahmadiyya religious community continue to be a major target for prosecutions under blasphemy laws and specific anti-Ahmadi laws. Militant groups and the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) accuse Ahmadis of “posing as Muslims”. Pakistan’s penal code also treats “posing as Muslims” as a criminal offense. On July 25, a mob vandalized an Ahmadiyya place of worship in Karachi, Sindh province. On August 18, a mob attacked a factory owned by an Ahmadi in Lahore, accusing him of blasphemy. Instead of prosecuting the attackers, the authorities charged eight members of Ahmadi community with blasphemy.

The US State Department publishes annual reports on human rights on countries across the globe, including Pakistan. In its most recent report looking at the events of 2022, the Department details killings of Ahmadis in 2022:

Societal violence due to religious intolerance remained a serious problem. There were occasional reports of mob violence against religious minorities, including Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and Hindus. Shia Muslim activists reported continuing instances of targeted killings and enforced disappearances in scattered parts of the country.

On February 7, a 31-year-old Ahmadi Muslim doctor was killed, and three members of his family injured, in an attack on their home in Punjab’s Nankana Sahib District. A spokesperson from the Ahmadi Muslim community reported the family was attacked after they attended Friday prayers.

On March 5, a 35-year-old doctor was killed and another wounded when unidentified assailants attacked a medical clinic owned by an Ahmadi Muslim doctor in the Scheme Chowk area of Peshawar. Dr Muhammad Shahid Ahmad was working at a clinic owned by a member of the minority Ahmadi Muslim community in Peshawar’s Bazid Khel village. The Ahmadi Muslim community stated the attacks on members of the minority community and places owned by them were on the rise and that during the prior two years at least five members of the community were targeted and killed in Peshawar.

On May 17, Abdus Salam, a member of the Ahmadi Muslim community, was stabbed to death in what activists described as a religiously motivated attack.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, publishes an annual report on democracy and human rights, focusing on a number of what it calls ‘human rights priority countries’, this includes Pakistan. The section on Pakistan in the most recent report published in July 2023 looking at the events of 2022, mentions the Ahmadiyya community:

Violence and discrimination against the Ahmadiyya Muslim community escalated, including the religiously motivated murder of a community member in Rabwah in August and the arrest of an Ahmadi Muslim leader in December. Ahmadi mosques and graves were desecrated, without condemnation from the state. In October 2022, the Punjab government made it mandatory to include the oath of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of the Prophethood) in the marriage certificate form.

Each year the US State Department reviews the status of religious freedom in every country in the world and designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). Pakistan was designated as a CPC in the latest annual review in January 2024. Pakistan’s Government rejected the designation, and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement in response saying: “Pakistan is a pluralistic country, with a rich tradition of interfaith harmony. In line with its Constitution, Pakistan has undertaken wide ranging measures to promote religious freedom and protect minority rights”.

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