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Ahmadis flee Peshawar for safer abodes

The Times of India logo The Times of India 02-12-2021 Omer Farooq Khan
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ISLAMABAD: The majority of Ahmadi families living in Peshawar have sold their properties and fled to safer places to escape the constant threat to their lives from the public in general in Pakistan’s northwest.

An estimated four million Ahmadis live in Pakistan, a country of 220 million, and they face threats of death and intimidation. A sustained hate campaign has been on against them for decades. Members of Pakistan’s Ahmadi community do not reveal or speak about their faith in public. They consider themselves Muslim but are constitutionally barred from declaring and propagating their faith publicly, thus barring them from projecting themselves, directly or indirectly, as Muslims.

While violent attacks against the community’s members and their place of worship have been occurring in most parts of Pakkstan, their lives have been threatened by extremist elements in the Pashtun-dominated northwestern belt of the country. A number of them were killed on allegations of blasphemy. An old man, believed by his community to be insane, was gunned down earlier inside a courtroom in Peshawar while proceedings were underway.

This part of Pakistan, adjacent to Afghanistan, has been home to scores of radical madrasas representing their own interpretation of Islam for decades.

Though Pakistan’s different Islamic sects and groups have serious differences among them on a number of religious matters, they all are one on the issue of the Ahmadi faith, considered heretical by many conservative groups who want Ahmadis publicly punished. The resentment against them is so intense that members of the community, accused of blasphemy, have been killed before the dispensation of justice by courts.

The unending killing spree has forced most Ahmadis, living in Peshawar and it’s nearby Achini area, to dispose of their properties and shift to new places to hide their identities. "We no longer feel safe here as people who know about our faith treat us as aliens. Our faith and community are frequently condemned and denounced in religious sermons and speeches in mosques and seminaries," said Asghar Ahmad, a community member who has shifted his family from Peshawar to Punjab. He refused to reveal the name of the city or town where he has shifted his family. "We don’t feel safe even in our new homes but people, at least in new places, are unaware of our identities," Ahmad added.

Most of the properties of Ahmadis in Achni locality were bought by a local builder known locally as "Doctor". While many locals could not afford to buy their lands, some affluent people were reluctant to purchase them.

According to witnesses, the builder who bought the properties much cheaper than the market price, had also bribed local clerics to stay calm to ensure the safe shifting of families from their ancestral homes for their new abodes.

The group, however, blames radical Islamic leaders for often publicly denouncing Ahmadis and promising their killing earns the killer a place in heaven. Human Rights Watch says that Pakistani authorities also routinely arrest, jail and charge Ahmadis for blasphemy and other offences because of their religious beliefs.

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