Ahmadis in Pakistan say intimidated ahead of Eid al-Adha feast

Pakistan's Ahmadis praying in the Rabwah city of eastern Punjab province in September 2023 (Arif ALI)
Pakistan's Ahmadis praying in the Rabwah city of eastern Punjab province in September 2023 (Arif ALI)

Pakistanis from the minority Ahmadi community say they are under increasing pressure from authorities and Islamist groups ahead of the Eid al-Adha celebrations on Monday.

The Ahmadiyya sect, considered heretics by fundamentalist groups, has been persecuted for decades in Pakistan but threats and intimidation have risen in recent years.

"Eid is supposed to be a happy occasion, but it's filled with trepidation and threats for us now," Naeem Aslam, an Ahmadi in Chakwal, told AFP.

The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, to be celebrated on Monday, is marked by the ritual sacrifice of animals often bought days in advance.

Amir Mehmood, a spokesman for the community in the city of Chakwal in Punjab, said police earlier this week placed three senior representatives in "preventive detention" for 30 days, demanding a written order that they would not sacrifice animals.

Mehmood told AFP that the men were released on Thursday following negotiations and pressure from rights groups, and a verbal commitment to perform the religious rites at their homes -- something he said Ahmadis already do.

"The law allows us to practice our faith in the four walls of our homes. But even that has become an issue recently," Mehmood said.

The government's deputy commissioner office in Punjab said the detention order was given to "maintain law and order" after public complaints.

"This opposition to our performing the sacrifice is something recent that we've seen happening in the last three or four years," Aslam said.

- Rise in hate -

Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, and their faith is identical to mainstream Islam in almost every way.

But their belief that the movement's founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the "mahdi" or messiah has marked them as blasphemous unbelievers, particularly in Pakistan. There are around 500,000 Amadis in Pakistan according to their community leadership.

The constitution has branded them non-Muslims since 1974, and a 1984 law forbids them from claiming their faith as Islamic or openly practising Islamic rituals.

In a report published last year, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said there had been a surge in the persecution of Ahmadis in Punjab, adding that the rise of extremist religious groups in recent years had aggravated anti-Ahmadi sentiment.

Pakistani police arrested a man last Sunday accused of killing two Ahmadis hours apart in separate attacks in the eastern Punjab province.

- Mobs and threats -

Last month, a mob from the radical anti-blasphemy party Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) gathered outside an Ahmadi place of worship in Jhelum, Punjab, where a TLP leader threatened to hang any member who dared to perform the sacrifice.

In videos of the incident shared on social media, the frenzied crowd can be seen chanting in support as the police look on.

"Ever since that day men, on motorcycles have been stationed outside the homes of Ahmadis in the area spying to see if we bring home an animal for sacrifice," an Ahmadi leader in the city who asked not to be named told AFP.

"All this intimidation is being done with the tacit approval of the authorities," he said. "This has only further emboldened the extremists."

Ahmadis in the city have also been asked to give written assurances to police that they would "maintain law and order" after several residents registered complaints against them, he added.

Fayyaz Ahmad -- not his real name -- had to hide on his rooftop when police raided his home in the industrial city of Faisalabad last year.

A complaint had been filed against him after his neighbours saw his nephew distributing meat among relatives.

According to Ahmad, police went through his refrigerator to look for evidence of the sacrifice.

"I've lived in this area for 27 years and this was the first time something like this happened," he said.

A viral video last year from the same city showed police in Faisalabad raiding the house of an Ahmadi and recovering three goats.

"As much as I want to perform my religious duty this year, I have to hold back. I can see my neighbours peeping in to see if I have bought a goat," Ahmad said.