Living in Fear

Since the year 1974, more than 300 Ahmadis have been murdered due to their faith. These are 300 families whose lives have been completely paralyzed due to the hatred that is spewed against their community by their fellow countrymen as well as the state that has sworn to protect them. A majority of these families have had to say goodbye to their homes, move to an alien city and never look back to their old lives. Some were fortunate enough to move abroad whilst others continue to live in constant fear and desperately look for a grain of hope in a state whose very constitution preaches their persecution. Below are selected stories of a few families who have lost their loved ones due to the anti-Ahmadiyya sentiment in the country.

Shahzad Ahmad and his siblings

At the age of 35, Shahzad Ahmad has already completed an M.Phil in education with distinction from Sarhad University of Science and Information Technology Peshawar. A promising student from the start, he has earned a gold medal each in his undergraduate, masters as well as a postgraduate degrees. At the start of 2021, he was teaching at Sarhad University and at the Allama Iqbal Open University. In the evening, he would commit a few free hours to tutor. His future plans included pursuing his PHD research in education. However, behind the facade of a prosperous life was a very fearful and anxious Shahzad. He had lived his life in a place where everyone around him despised him for his faith. His family had been living in Peshawar for more than 40 years. Including Shahzad, 4 brothers and 5 sisters were born and grew up in the city they loved. The city, however, never loved them back. He recalls facing discrimination and hate even in his school years. Being labelled as an infidel or a non-Muslim was something that had become a norm for him and his siblings. In 1997, his father, Abdul Qadir built a house in the city in the hope of providing a home for his family.  Abdul Qadir used to work in a medical clinic. In 2009, he was severely injured in a targeted attack at his work but miraculously survived. The family rented out the house they were living in and moved to Rabwah (headquarters of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan). Shahzad Ahmad recalls how they felt safer in Rabwah but still feared that someone would come from Peshawar and attack them. For 9 months they stayed there. However, as soon as they felt that things had settled down, they moved back due to a lack of economic opportunities in Rabwah as well as their longing for their beloved city; Peshawar. Initially, they rented a house inside Peshawar University where it seemed safer. However, they had to hide their identity of being an Ahmadi in order to protect themselves from hateful gazes but every time, someone would find out, making it impossible for them to continue to live in the same house. Therefore, in the course of the next eleven years, the family had to change residences 10 times. Shahzad Ahmad recalls, how during the time the siblings were studying in different schools but were facing similar treatment of hatred and bigotry from fellow students and teachers. Trying their best to hide their own identity, some of the younger siblings did not understand the crime that they had committed for which they were being so severely punished.

Meanwhile, Abdul Qadir continued to work at the medical clinic he was attacked at. Although armed guards stood at the gate, Abdul Qadir’s wife and children feared for his safety. With each passing day, they became more anxious and afraid. The year 2020 saw a new wave of anti-Ahmadiyya propaganda in Peshawar which led to the murder of a number of Ahmadis in targeted attacks. Abdul Qadir and his family felt petrified. This led to the decision to move some of the members of the family back to Rabwah. Abdul Qadir stayed back and started living in the medical clinic. Shahzad Ahmad rented a hostel near Sarhad University where he was teaching whereas, another younger brother Farhan Ahmad resided in a private hostel in the city. The severe persecution and constant fear had led them to this difficult decision of splitting their family, however, the ones that moved to Rabwah continued to worry for the ones that stayed back.

Then the dreadful day arrived. On the 11th of February 2021, around 2 pm; an 18-year-old man disguised as a patient arrived at the clinic. Abdul Qadir, as always, eager to treat his patients moved towards him only to be brutally shot by the young attacker. The attack proved fatal. The family was shocked and traumatized. Shahzad Ahmad took the body of his deceased father from Peshawar to Rabwah for burial. They left behind all their belongings and said goodbye to their beloved city once again.

Shahzad Ahmad says that after investigation it became clear that the killer was encouraged by a fundamental cleric and was even dropped off at the clinic for the deed. These clerics brainwash young minds and promise them eternal awards in exchange for the cold-blooded murders of Ahmadis. The government, he says, continue to turn a blind eye towards these atrocities resulting in a free hand for the ones calling out for the annihilation of the Ahmadiyya community. He and his family, he says, do not feel safe or protected in Pakistan. Three of his sisters are married and living abroad but were unable to come to Pakistan for their father’s funeral due to concerns for their own safety. His mother, Sajida Begum is living in fear and shock and constantly worries about her children, not allowing them to go back to Peshawar to continue with their jobs. Sajida Begum, Shahzad Ahmad says, is scared of losing another family member.

The fear continues to consume the family of Abdul Qadir. Even before his death, his son Ihtisham Ahmad, a graduate student, fell into severe depression due to the persecution the family was facing in Peshawar. Changing residences and hiding their identity to keep safe had such a toll on his mental health that he had to be admitted to a psychological treatment centre in Lahore. In order to protect him, the family has not told him of his father’s death.

Farhan Ahmad, another son of Abdul Qadir had completed his BBA from Peshawar and was planning to start his MBA before the tragic demise of his father. His plans shattered, he is now working in Rabwah. The two younger siblings Talha Ahmad and Noor ul Iman were also forced to move to Rabwah unable to continue with their studies in Peshawar. At the age of 15, Noor ul Iman has had to bear the tragic loss of her father and although Shahzad notices, she puts on a brave face for her mother, she feels unsafe and depressed. Shahzad, himself is teaching in a school in Rabwah and feels hopeless about the prospects of any career-oriented future in Pakistan.  

The clinic, their father worked in for decades has shut down. Another Ahmadi who was working there saw his house attacked by a large crowd calling for his head. He has, since then, left everything behind and moved out of Pakistan.

Family of Naeem Ud Din Ahmad

Naeem Ud Din Ahmad was serving as an associate professor in Peshawar before he was brutally murdered. Having completed his PhD from Beijing, China in 2008, Naeem Ud Din returned to Pakistan with a desire to serve his country. Settled in Peshawar, Naeem Ud Din was happy with his wife and five children. However, being a civil servant, he attracted a lot of hate for being an Ahmadi. There were frequent incidents of misbehaviour from his staff and peers. As the word spread about his faith, local people started a social boycott against him. Despite being successful, the family lived a lonely life and continued to feel marginalized by the people around them.

Professor Naeem Ud Din was not the first in his family to be attacked for being an Ahmadi. In 2009, his father-in-law Bashir Ahmad was kidnapped while he was on his way to work. Bashir Ahmad was a practising lawyer at the Peshawar High Court. To this day, nobody knows the whereabouts of Bashir Ahmad. In 2014, Naeem Ud Din’s brother Shahab Khattak, on his way to Peshawar High Court was also attacked with intent to murder. However, he miraculously survived and was left untouched despite the bombardment of bullets aimed against him. Another brother of Professor Naeem Ud Din, Zia Khattak owned a business selling veterinary medicines. He was accused of apostasy by the local clerics and a mob showed up at his doorsteps demanding his blood. He survived the attack but had to flee from the city along with his family. Next, it was Naeem Ud Din’s turn who was less fortunate than the others. At his residence, he was highly persecuted by his neighbours and at work by his students and colleagues. He and his family never felt safe and continued to live in fear and anxiety. There were demands from the clerical staff for him to be removed from his position. An unwritten social boycott was enforced, where no one was allowed to talk or greet him at work. This too didn’t satisfy their appetite for hatred and eventually, on the 5th of October 2020 in a targeted attack, Naeem Ud Din was murdered, his wife widowed, his children orphaned. They moved to Rabwah in search of a safe abode.

Naeem Ud Din’s eldest daughter Fareeha Bushra was just 27 when she found out about the murder of her father. She was an expectant mother, teaching at a school in Peshawar. The shock broke her, her dreams shattered, she left the job. The school administration refused to pay her 6-month due salary. Since then, she has given birth to a baby but her worries have not ended. She worries most for the infant who has been born in a country that spews hatred against their community. She does not want her child to face the hardships that she has faced. She longs for peace and comfort.

Maleeha Bushra is the second eldest daughter of the family. At 25, she had completed her undergraduate studies in Chemistry. A high achiever, she passed with a GPA of 3.5 from the University of Peshawar. At the time of her father’s murder, she was enrolled in an M.Phil programme. A sharp student, Maleeha faced a social boycott at her university. Most of the students stood against her because she is an Ahmadi. She worked alone in the lab because no one wished to befriend her. Her supervisor was cooperative but was often threatened by the students himself and was, therefore, at times; helpless. After the death of her father, she had to rent a room in a private hostel to complete her degree. Currently, she is teaching Chemistry at Benazir Bhutto Women University where she faces persistent persecution from her colleagues who continue to demand the administration to dismiss her.    

Kaleem Khattak, son of Naeem Ud Din had completed his bachelor’s degree around the time of his father’s untimely demise. He was accepted for a master’s programme but soon realized that it was unsafe for him to continue. He is currently living in Rabwah, eager to pursue higher studies but anxious to leave for another city.

Sarah Bushra, another daughter, was studying Psychology at Peshawar University but had to leave it all and move to Rabwah where she is unable to continue her studies in her favourite subject. Noor Ud Din, the youngest son has completed his matriculation and is searching for options for the future. His ambition drives him but he knows that in current circumstances, he will have to settle for a safe option. His sentiments echo the feelings of thousands of Ahmadi students in the country.

Family of Miraj Ahmad

Yasir Ahmad lives in Rabwah with his mother Rasheeda Miraj and three other siblings. On the 12th of August 2020, his father was murdered on his way home from his medical store in Peshawar. Yasir Ahmad’s daily routine was to leave the medical store along with his father. He would drive ahead on his motorbike whilst his father would follow him at a slower speed. Every day Yasir would arrive much earlier than his father. As usual, Yasir hopped on his motorbike and left for home. Little did he know that his father would not be able to follow him that day. Two armed men shot Miraj Ahmad and sped off leaving him in a pile of his own blood. The attack proved fatal.  

A few years back Yasir was studying in Australia. His plan was to finish his studies, find a job and settle down. Miraj Ahmad travelled to Australia to meet him, stayed with him for a couple of months and convinced him to return to Pakistan and to serve his country and be with his family. Miraj Ahmad wanted his son to help at the family medical store. A dutiful son, Yasir obliged. Since the tragic death, the medical store has been shut and Yasir and his family have moved to Rabwah. The son is here but the father he came back to help has left. Even now when Yasir Ahmad talks about his father, tears come pouring down his eyes. At a young age, He is now solely responsible for his family. Rasheeda Miraj, the widow, suffers from extreme depression and Miraj Ahmad’s death has made it worse. There are times, Yasir says, she distrusts even her own children. Her depression exacerbates the anxiety levels of other family members too. Yasir Ahmad puts on a brave face, silently enduring it all. He misses his home in Peshawar. He says how they have been forced to abandon their beautiful home due to persecution. He remembers their home and all their possessions, a house filled with love and memories. He himself appears unsettled as he imagines dust particles slowly settling down on their belongings, more and more day by day. His sister was in the middle of her undergraduate programme. The family contemplates whether it is worth the danger of sending her back. It is not a normal life but this, unfortunately, is the norm for Ahmadis in Pakistan. Yasir Ahmad and his siblings fear for their future. His relatives in Peshawar have also had to move in fear of their safety. In just a few months their lives have changed drastically. They have lost their loving father, their business, their home and their city. Happiness has been substituted with fear and anxiety. Although they have settled down in Rabwah, they long for a peaceful life.

Kashaf Amir and Abdul Hadi

It has been 10 years since the death of their father. On the 1st of December 2011, their father, Malik Muhammad Amir was murdered. He was a loving father and husband and a caring person. He did not have any enemies except that people in his own country hated him for his faith. Consumed by this hatred, a group of persons shot him at his medical clinic in Harnai, Balochistan. Abdul Hadi was only 5 whilst Kashaf was just 7 years old when the tragic incident happened that took their father’s life. In fear of their own safety, the widow, Shazia Bukhari and the young orphans left everything behind and moved to Rabwah. Shazia Bukhari was working in a government job at the time. She took leave but did not quit her job. For over a year she stayed with her children in Rabwah but then settled them with her younger brother and moved back to Quetta alone for her job. The kids who already lost their father were separated from their mother as well. Every holiday Shazia Bukhari would travel the long distance from Quetta to Rabwah to see her children. Kashaf and Abdul Hadi’s life had completely transformed. Fears and anxieties became a part of their daily life. They missed their father and at a young age could not comprehend why he was murdered. They were separated from their mother and although they were close to their uncle, they longed for the comfort that could only be provided by a mother. Having lived in Harnai, Balochistan, they did not get to visit Rabwah often before their father’s demise and therefore, this was an alien city for them. Thus, at such a young age they had to cope without their parents in a new place. Every day they would talk to their mother on phone only to be worried for her safety for the next 24 hours until they would get to talk again. Although only 7, Kashaf was proving to be a promising student in her school in Harnai. However, after moving to Rabwah she could not excel as much. Abdul Hadi, although is good at school but is shy and often remains quiet as compared to other children of his age. Shazia Bukhari was already a heart patient before her father’s death. Her stress and anxiety levels peaked after the incident. Living away from her children, her health levels deteriorated drastically. She kept on putting a brave face for Kashaf and Abdul Hadi but internally she was getting weaker. Eventually, her body gave up and on the 11th of November 2018, she suffered from heart failure. Kashaf and Abdul Hadi continue to live with their uncle in Rabwah. There are no phone calls with their mother anymore; there is no worrying for her safety anymore. They are young but they have already seen how hatred in Pakistan for their community has taken the life of both their parents. The father was murdered and the stress took the life of their mother.

Muhammad Inamullah and his family

Muhammad Inamullah says that his family has been persecuted for their faith since 1953. In 1974, there was a wave of persecution against the Ahmadiyya community which triggered riots in Uch Shareef, Bahawalpur where his family was residing. One hate-mongering group set fire on the Ahmadiyya worship place. Muhammad Inamullah recalls how most of the families after this incident moved away but his family stayed there hoping that things will improve soon. In 1984, his father and brother were sent to jail on accusations of distributing a magazine. Although his father got bail, his brother was sent to jail Once again in 1987, his father was taken by police. This time his crime was to display a calendar at his clinic with inscriptions on the attributes of Allah. On this crime, he stayed in jail for 20 days before receiving bail. The final judgment of this case came 4 years later.  

On the 26th of September 2009, his elder brother Muhammad Azam was returning home from a wedding with his daughter when two unidentified men shot him and murdered him. The murderers fled from the scene afterwards. This was done purely on religious grounds with no other intent.

In his professional life, Muhammad Inamullah says that he worked for 30 years in the health department and faced countless acts of ill-treatment from his colleagues and superiors. Up until his retirement in 2016, he had been transferred to various departments 23 times because of complaints against him for being an Ahmadi. In 2009, another FIR was lodged against Muhammad Inamullah. The case continued for 5 years. During the course of the hearing, the petitioner would never show up in court yet the judge kept prolonging the judgment. Eventually, after 5 years, the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. However, the judgment allows the petitioner to reopen the case whenever he wishes to. His children were also deeply affected by the persecution and hatred against them in schools. Due to this, they had to change schools many times. His eldest son had to be shifted to a rural area in district Multan to live with his maternal grandparents and continue his education.

Then on 12th August 2018, things got worse and Muhammad Inamullah had to leave everything behind and move to Rabwah. False accusations of Blasphemy were thrown at him by a group of individuals. Soon a crowd of 300 gathered around his house, chanting abusive slogans against the founder of the Ahmadiyya community. Some of these held onto broken bottles of glass, some had daggers and some even had guns. It was his neighbour who came to their rescue. He then called the local president of the Ahmadiyya community who informed the local police. Soon, police came and managed to get him out of there in a police van. They took him to Bahawalpur Police station. After listening to the details of the incident, the inspector in charge at the Bahawalpur police station expressed his opinion that Muhammad Inamullah seems innocent but yet kept him in jail for 3 more days. On the 15th of August 2018, the police released him and informed the president of the Ahmadiyya community of Bahawalpur that Muhammad Inamullah must never return to Uch Sharif as there is a danger to his life there and if he does return then the police will not be responsible for his safety. Since then he has been residing in Rabwah with his family. He had a medical store in Uch Shareef which has been shut now. He has also been trying to sell his house in Uch Shareef but every time a buyer seems interested, he is ridiculed by other residents in the area for buying a house belonging to a ‘Mirzai’ – a derogatory term used for Ahmadis.

These are just a few incidents of a few Ahmadi families from a long list of persecuted Ahmadis living in Pakistan. There are, however, half a million Ahmadis as per the latest census who continue to face daily persecution in Pakistan from their fellow countrymen.