By GIRLWITHABOOK Co-Founder, Lena Shareef
While traveling throughout Pakistan, one of my favorite parts was visiting Rabwah. Officially known as Chenab Negar, Rabwah is a city of a little less than 100,000 people located in the Punjab province. It is also home to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a severely persecuted minority sect of Islam.
Ahmadis and mainstream Muslims believe in the Abrahamic lineage of prophets and in the second coming of Jesus. The only difference between Ahmadis and other Muslims is that they believe the second coming of the Messiah has already happened. And this one small difference has brought immense suffering to the Ahmadi community throughout the world.
The Ahmadi community in Pakistan has had to deal with a whole host of issues and discrimination. From the basic ignorance of non-Ahmadi neighbors to mob violence and the burning of their homes or workplaces, and from hate speech to the infringement on their civil rights. Even the laws of Pakistan do not recognize them as full citizens. In fact, Ahmadis are not considered to be Muslims under the Second Amendment of the Pakistani constitution. Under Ordinance XX, which was implemented in 1984, they have no right to practice Islam or use Islamic terms or titles. Even by saying assalam-u-alaikum (the traditional greeting of peace) to someone else is viewed as a criminal act.
I was learning all this as our gracious hosts in Rabwah gave us a guided tour of their museum. We saw pictures of the Ahmadi community and where it originated in India. We saw galleries upon galleries of Rabwah's own history and how it had grown to become a sanctuary for Ahmadis across the country. And as I walked through the exhibits, I felt so stupid, so ashamed that I was learning all this just now. I used to live in Pakistan and I have visited this country almost every year since I moved away. But I had never known any of this until I went to Rabwah.
The only thing I did know was that Ahmadis were hated by most other Muslims, but I knew that without fully understanding why. Not every country has a Nobel laureate, but Pakistan is fortunate enough to have two: Malala Yousafzai and Muhammad Abdus Salam. Malala is the youngest and the only Pakistani to receive a Nobel Peace prize. Muhammad Abdus Salam won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979, and was the first Pakistani ever to become a Nobel laureate. Yet his country chooses not to remember him and even went so far as to debase his grave to make that point.
I can hardly begin to explain this kind of behavior. I truly don’t understand where so much of their hatred stems from. And how did it become so systemic? Not only in Pakistan, but throughout the Muslim world. This was especially hard for me to grasp when we interviewed young girls in Rabwah. We asked several of them what they would want others to know about Ahmadis. Many of them said they would want the world to know that they are people too. They carry no ill will towards others no matter how bad it gets. Violence and retaliation is not what the Ahmadi community is about.
Maybe it’s just me, but I find it easy to accept people like that as equals, as neighbors, as friends. If there’s anyone truly embodying the message of peace that Islam is founded on, it’s the Ahmadis.
And since yesterday was the last day of Ramadan, I want to wish all my Muslim friends and family, both Ahmadi and non-Ahmadi, Sunni, Shia, and everyone in between a very happy Eid-ul-Fitr.