The Plight Of Ahmadiyya In Pakistan: A Call For Justice And Equality


In Pakistan’s history, religious identity has played both a uniting and dividing role. While the nation gears up for the 2024 elections, the Ahmadiyya community, a deeply marginalized sect, faces systemic discrimination. Since 1947, they have endured persecution, culminating in the 1974 Second Amendment branding them as non-Muslims and the draconian 1984 anti-Ahmadi ordinance. As the election rules compel Ahmadis to renounce their faith or be labelled “non-Muslims,” a grave violation of religious freedom unfolds. With over 500,000 Ahmadis, their exclusion from the democratic process is an affront to the principles of freedom and individual rights. The upcoming elections, stained by this unfairness, reveal the hypocrisy in Pakistan’s supposed democracy. Despite being targets of violence, hate speech, and social ostracization, Ahmadis remain resilient. Isolated in self-contained communities, their basic rights are systematically denied, perpetuating cycles of disadvantage. The road to dismantling sectarian segregation in Pakistan is arduous, requiring acknowledgment and redress of the Ahmadiyyas’ grievances to pave the way for a truly inclusive and just society.

Pakistan is a nation carved out of religious identity, tragically carries the burden of profound sectarian divisions. While the Shia-Sunni divide remains entrenched, another deeply marginalized community faces systematic discrimination: the Ahmadiyyas.

As Pakistan gears up for its general elections on February 8, 2024, one religious minority group will not be able to participate: the Ahmadiyyas. The Ahmadiyyas are a sect of Islam that believes in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed to be the Messiah and Mahdi in the late 19th century. This belief is considered heretical by most mainstream Muslims, including the Pakistani state, who regard Muhammad as the final prophet of Islam.[1]

Since the inception of Pakistan in 1947, the Ahmadiyyas have borne the brunt of systemic discrimination and violence, a tragic saga ingrained in the nation’s history. The ominous turning point came in 1974 with the enactment of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, a legislative affront that officially declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. This egregious declaration not only deprived them of the most fundamental rights but also subjected them to pervasive legal and social discrimination.

The year 1984 marked a further descent into persecution with the implementation of an anti-Ahmadi ordinance, a draconian measure that criminalized their religious practices and expressions. Under the auspices of this ordinance, Ahmadis were barred from identifying as Muslims, utilizing Islamic terminology and symbols, preaching their faith, or even constructing mosques. The violation of these draconian laws carried severe consequences, ranging from imprisonment and exorbitant fines to the gravest penalty—death, as stipulated by the blasphemy laws.

The imposition of such legal shackles created an environment of exclusion and suspicion, permeating every facet of Ahmadi life. This climate of hostility led to the insidious segregation of the Ahmadiyya community in housing, education, employment, and access to public services.[2] The very fabric of their social integration was torn asunder, forcing them into the margins of society, bereft of the most basic human rights and dignity.

In essence, the legal branding of Ahmadis as non-Muslims not only violated the core principles of religious freedom but also catalyzed a corrosive ripple effect, fragmenting their existence across multiple spheres of life. The echoes of this historical injustice reverberate through the years, underscoring the urgent need for a comprehensive re-evaluation of Pakistan’s discriminatory laws to usher in an era of genuine religious tolerance and human rights.

As Pakistan prepares for the upcoming nationwide parliamentary elections in February 2024, a glaring and gross violation of fundamental human rights casts a dark shadow over the democratic process. The Ahmadis, a religious minority, find themselves systematically disenfranchised due to discriminatory provisions enshrined in Pakistan’s electoral law, a blatant affront to the principles of freedom and individual rights.

The election rules compel Ahmadis to either renounce their faith or consent to being listed separately as “non-Muslims.” This directly contradicts the core beliefs of Ahmadiyya, where identifying as Muslims is of utmost importance. With a population surpassing 500,000 in Pakistan, this harmful practice actively prevents Ahmadis from exercising their natural right to take part in the democratic process, which includes local, provincial, and national elections.

The impending elections in Pakistan stand tainted, bereft of legitimacy and fairness, as an entire community is systematically excluded from exercising their right to vote. The gross injustice perpetrated against the Ahmadiyyas underscores a reprehensible reality where religious differences are wielded as a tool to deprive citizens of their fundamental democratic rights. The denial of voting rights on the grounds of religious beliefs is an unequivocal violation of the principles of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, laying bare the hypocrisy of a supposedly democratic electoral system.

The Ahmadiyyas are also effectively disenfranchised from the electoral process. Since 2002, they have been placed on a separate voter list as non-Muslims, which require them to renounce their faith or accept their status as infidels. The Ahmadiyyas have boycotted the elections ever since, as they consider themselves Muslims and refuse to compromise their religious identity. According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 4 million Ahmadis in Pakistan, but only 167,505 are registered as voters.[3]

The upcoming elections are unlikely to bring any relief to the plight of the Ahmadis, as none of the major political parties have shown any willingness to address their grievances or protect their rights. On the contrary, some parties have openly pandered to the anti-Ahmadi sentiment and endorsed the discriminatory laws. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has also supported the anti-Ahmadi laws and faced accusations of being influenced by extremist elements. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by former President Asif Ali Zardari, has been more vocal about minority rights, but has also failed to take any concrete steps to repeal the anti-Ahmadi laws or ensure their inclusion in the electoral system. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, another mainstream major political party, also holds discriminatory views against Ahmadiyyas.[4]

In light of these severe infringements, it is imperative to acknowledge that religious disagreements, however deeply rooted, cannot serve as a justification for the flagrant denial of a populace’s right to vote. The international community must scrutinize and condemn such affronts to basic human rights, underscoring the urgent need for Pakistan to rectify its electoral laws to ensure a truly inclusive and democratic electoral process. Failure to address this issue perpetuates a disconcerting precedent wherein the democratic ideals ostensibly championed by the nation stand compromised and tarnished.

The Ahmadiyyas are not the only religious minority group that faces discrimination and persecution in Pakistan, but they are arguably the most marginalized and vulnerable. They have been the targets of mob violence, terrorist attacks, hate speech, and social boycotts. They have been denied access to education, health care, employment, and public services. They have been ostracized from mainstream society and forced to live in fear and secrecy. They have been deprived of their basic human rights and dignity.[5]

Ahmadiyyas are frequently relegated to isolated townships, walled off from the rest of society. These self-contained communities, born out of necessity rather than choice, become their worlds within a world, perpetuating a sense of “otherness” and limiting opportunities for interaction and integration.[6]

Access to quality education is a fundamental right, yet Ahmadi children face discriminatory practices within mainstream schools. Segregated education within their own institutions or facing harassment and bullying in state-run schools limits their educational opportunities and career prospects. This educational apartheid perpetuates cycles of disadvantage and hinders social mobility.

Their exclusion from certain professions and government jobs, coupled with societal prejudice, makes it a constant struggle to secure and retain even basic livelihoods. This economic vulnerability fuels marginalization and further isolates them from mainstream society.

The sectarian segregation in Pakistan is the result of state policies of Islamization and marginalization of secular democratic forces. The successive military governments have co-opted and patronized religious parties and extremist groups, who have propagated hatred and intolerance against the minority sects. The sectarian violence in Pakistan has claimed the lives of thousands of people, mostly Shias and Ahmadis, and has also targeted other religious minority groups, such as Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs. The sectarian conflict in Pakistan threatens to erode the foundations of the state and society and undermines the human rights and dignity of its citizens.[7]

The road to dismantling sectarian segregation and ensuring equality for all in Pakistan is long and arduous. However, recognizing the plight of marginalized communities like the Ahmadiyas and actively addressing their grievances is a crucial step towards building a more inclusive and just society.

As Pakistan commemorates its 76th anniversary of independence, a critical introspection is imperative. The nation must revisit the vision of its founding father, imagining a secular and tolerant state where all citizens enjoy equality and the freedom to practice their faith. To align with its international commitments, Pakistan should honor the human rights treaties it has ratified, specifically those guaranteeing freedom of religion and belief, along with the right to participate in public affairs.

The persistent systematic discrimination and persecution against the Ahmadiyyas demand urgent rectification. It is incumbent upon Pakistan to dismantle the structures that perpetuate such injustice and reinstate the constitutional and democratic rights of the Ahmadis. Recognizing them as an integral part of the Pakistani nation is not only a moral imperative but a necessary step toward fostering a society that respects religious identity and diversity.

As the nation approaches the upcoming elections, it stands at a crucial juncture. The fairness, inclusivity, and representativeness of these elections will serve as a litmus test for Pakistan’s commitment to democratic principles. To restore its standing as a beacon of democracy, Pakistan must ensure that these elections are conducted with utmost integrity, allowing all segments of society, including the Ahmadis, to participate freely and without discrimination. The international community should closely monitor these developments, urging Pakistan to embrace a path that upholds human rights, inclusivity, and the true spirit of democracy.

*Dr. Jalis Akhtar Nasiri is a distinguished scholar and journalist who contributes articles on significant humanitarian issues.

[1]Gossman, P., Pakistan denies voting rights to religious community, December 8, 2023, Human Rights Watch, accessed on December 13, 2023.

[2]Shahid, K. K., Pakistan continues to exhibit gory ‘Islamophobia’ against Ahmadis, February 14, 2022, The Diplomat, accessed on December 13, 2023.

[3]McDonagh, S., Why do Ahmadis Muslims in Pakistan do not have a vote?, August 14, 2020, Institute of Development Studies, accessed on December 15, 2023.

[4]Gottschalk, P., Who are Pakistan’s Ahmadis and why haven’t they voted in 30 years, The Conversation, accessed on December 16, 2023.

[5]Editor, Sectarian Concerns, September 19, 2022, DAWN, accessed on December 16, 2023.

[6] Hussain, A., Pakistan’s Ahmadis living in fear as graves, religious sites attacked, September 27, 2023, Al Jazeera, accessed on December 16, 2023.

[7]Rana, A., Perils of sectarianism, October 4, 2020, DAWN, accessed on December 17, 2023.

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