Rabwah – A place for Martyrs?

That was the title of a Report of the PHRG mission that visited Rabwah in 2006. This report received good press in Pakistan, and a number of prominent column writers wrote columns in support of that report. As no member of that mission is included in the present mission, it is needful to present a small brief on this town’s past and present situation.

Rabwah was established by Ahmadis in 1948. Ninety-five per cent of its 60,000 population is Ahmadi. It is the headquarters town of the community in Pakistan and in a way its world headquarters. It suffered its heaviest blow when in 1984 it lost its crown in that the Khalifatul Masih was left with no option but to migrate from here.

Soon after the promulgation of the anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance XX, the government of General Zia took several steps in league with the mulla. A number of mullas were facilitated to be posted in and around Rabwah whose sole function was to indulge in anti-Ahmadiyya activities. A mulla Allah Yar Arshad once claimed his credit registration with the police of 40 criminal cases based on religion against Ahmadis. A large number of Ahmadis of Rabwah, hundreds of them, have suffered prosecution in courts under the anti-Ahmadiyya laws.

This tyranny through bad laws reached its climax when the entire Ahmadi population was booked by the police in 1989 (FIR & its English translation), and again in 2008. Rabwah is the only town in Pakistan where any citizen can be arrested anytime by the police, as the relevant FIR has remained open.

As if the imposition of non-Muslim status was not enough, the government had earlier proceeded to unlawfully usurp Ahmadiyya-owned land on the west bank of the river Chenab in 1975 and allocated it to non-Ahmadis to establish a Muslim Colony where extremist mullas subsequently built a big seminary, a congregational mosque and a clinic of Al-Rashid trust, an organization now banned for its terrorist links. This neighbourhood is a hub of anti-Ahmadiyya activities. Its special target is Rabwah itself.

Since 1984, the government has not permitted Ahmadis to hold their annual religious conference here, while non-Ahmadi mullas are routinely permitted every year to hold two or three major open-air conferences in Rabwah. Participants and fiery speakers are transported to Rabwah from other cities. These sectarian events pose a serious threat to the citizens of Rabwah. It is noteworthy that while the authorities grant the freedom of assembly to all, be they jihadists, racists, anarchists, extremists, communists, atheists, whatever – but not to  Ahmadis, who have not been permitted to hold their peaceful traditional religious conference for 25 years.

Ahmadis of Rabwah were disallowed to peacefully celebrate their centenary in 1989. The government forbade them to illuminate their houses, distribute sweets to children and serve food to the poor. The authorities repeated the exercise in May 2008 when Ahmadis wanted to celebrate the Centenary of Ahmadiyya Khilafat.

Community-level sports programs are also not permitted. Pakistan Amateur Basketball Association arranged a championship in Rabwah in April 2008, but the authorities, urged by the mulla, employed police and forced the Association to cancel the championship. Players who had arrived in Rabwah had to go back without playing.

Rabwah was reputed for its schools and colleges. Non-Ahmadis also availed of their high standard of education. The government nationalized them along with others in 1972. However, the government has changed its policy in recent years, and has denationalized most of those who applied for it, but not the Ahmadiyya institutions although Ahmadis have met all the prescribed pre-conditions. The standard of these nationalized schools and colleges has plummeted to a low level which has done irreparable damage to the education of Rabwah children and youth

The Ahmadiyya press at Rabwah is denied the freedom of the press that everyone else enjoys in Pakistan. The Ahmadiyya daily Alfazl was a disallowed publication for 3 ½ years. Ahmadi editors, publishers, printers were booked in a record number of police cases. They suffered arrests and prosecution for years. These difficulties continue to date.

In 1999, the government even changed the name of Rabwah, against the wishes of its inhabitants. This was a frightful blow to the basic rights of its residents. This was undertaken by the government of Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, who is ruling Punjab once again.

Last but certainly not least is the case of the Rabwah town council. The government has implemented such rules and procedures that Ahmadis not only cannot contest the local government elections, but they also cannot even vote. As such, not a single councillor in the town council of this Ahmadiyya town is an Ahmadi. The council does not represent the town’s population; so they pay no heed to the plight of the town. Its water supply, sewage system, state of cleanliness, etc are in a deplorable state. Apart from 2 or 3 kilometres of the roads in the city centre, the rest areas if they are in a war zone. The daily Ausaf, Lahore of May 31, 2009, gave the following headlines to its story on Rabwah:

The report is sought over Ausaf report on the deplorable state of Chenab Nagar

No drinking water, substandard sewage system, worn-out roads, negligence of TMA

Heaps of filth stink and depots of filth help in breeding poisonous mosquitoes, flies and other insects

Rabwah continues to suffer not only municipal neglect but also persistent tyranny from the state. It is a mirror of the plight of Ahmadis in the entire country.

Change of name of Rabwah

The Punjab Assembly passed a resolution on 17 November 1998 to change the name of Rabwah. The government of Punjab issued a notification on 12 December that Rabwah town was re-named ‘Nawan Qadian’ with immediate effect. On 14th February 1999, another notification was issued that in suppression of the earlier notification, the Nawan Qadian was renamed as ‘Chenab Nagar’. Some details of this cruel decision are noteworthy and are given below.

            Rabwah was raised over a barren plateau on the right bank of river Chenab half a century earlier and is known the world over by this name among Ahmadis in 200 countries. The Arabic word ‘Rabwah’ is found in the Quran also, and means raised piece of land. The mulla targeted this name as a  symbol, on the plea that ‘Qadianis’ deceive the Muslims by the assertion that the name of their town is mentioned in the Holy Quran. The plea was ridiculous and unsupportable.

            The prime mover of the campaign to change the name was mulla Manzoor Chinioti, a cleric in politics, then an MPA from Chiniot. The events showed subsequently that he succeeded in getting the approval of the ruling party, led by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif, to change the name. The former of the two Sharifs was the Prime Minister of Pakistan at the time while the latter was the Chief Minister of Punjab in 1998. The conspiracy was hatched in secrecy and firm arrangements were put in place for an expedition and smooth passage of the resolution in the Punjab Assembly. Mr Shahbaz Sharif, the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly and even the mulla decided to absent themselves from the scandalous assembly session.

            The resolution to change the name of Rabwah was passed unanimously by the Punjab Assembly on a Private Members Business Day. However, only 67 members out of a House of 275 strength were present. No discussion took place in the Assembly, and no reason was given for the change of name. Mr. Hasan Akhtar Muakkal presided over the session, and he ensured that no discussion took place. All present from the treasury benches as also the opposition (PPP) voted for the change of name.

            The way the Punjab Assembly skipped the need of consulting the local population of the town (of which 95% were Ahmadis), whose name was being changed and in moving contrary to the wishes of the people involved, confirmed that it had no democratic conscience. One of the movers of the infamous resolution was Mr. Said Minhais, the PPP leader of the Opposition who otherwise would not tire protesting the human rights record of the government, but he did not miss to solicit his pound of political flesh at this occasion where human rights of Ahmadis came under attack. It was amazing.

            Ahmadis were stunned to hear the shocking news. The citizens of Rabwah condemned the resolution and protested over it. The daily Nation reported on 20 November that the Citizens Rights Committee (in Rabwah) called the resolution “Unconstitutional, unethical, malicious and against all norms of civilized society, which will trigger intolerance, narrow approach and fanaticism”.

            However, the religious bullies and bigots were delighted over their ‘victory’. They sent congratulatory telegrams to the Prime Minister, the President, the Chief Minister, the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition. Mulla Manzoor Chinioti declared that ‘this bang was bigger than that of the detonation of the Pakistani atomic bomb on May 28’, and he sent a letter to Mr. Shahbaz Sharif the Chief Minister, conveying, “Your name will be written (in history) in golden words for changing the name of Rabwah.” The daily Pakistan, November 25, 1998. A few days later, he stated that the change of Rabwah’s name was the fruit of his efforts of 36 years. The Sipah Sahabah (later banned for their terrorist activities) also welcomed the change. Mulla Ilyas Chinioti declared, “This decision of the government will prove to be the last nail in the coffin of Qadianis.” Sweets and Halva were distributed by the clerics in Chiniot.

            It is relevant to mention that at that time the President of Pakistan was Mr. Rafiq Tarar. Raja Zafar ul Haq was the Federal Minister of Religious Affairs. According to a statement in the press, both were members of the Majlis Khatme Nabuwwat. Mulla Manzoor Chinioti was the Amir of the International Khatme Nabuwwat Movement.

            What new name to be given to Rabwah, was the next problem. For this again, the government consulted mulla Manzoor Chinioti. Eventually, they decided to name it ‘Nawan Qadian’, and proceeded to issue the official notification. Chinioti, in his euphoria, did not realize the blunder he was making.

            The new name took most other mullas by surprise. They thought that Ahmadis would feel somewhat consoled by the word ‘Qadian’. This was enough to make the bigoted brigade beat their chests. They angrily rejected the new name and told Manzoor Chinioti to go back to Lahore and have the notification changed.

            The government, faced with great embarrassment, yielded to the plea of the mulla once again. They considered names like Chak Dhaggian, Mustafa Abad, Siddiq Abad, Chenab Nagar etc. The mulla returned to Chiniot and declared in a press statement that the place will be called ‘Chak Dhaggian’.

            Another notification was issued on 14 February 1999 by the government changing the name again, this time to Chenab Nagar. Perhaps nowhere else in the world, in modern times, the name of a town had been changed in total disregard of its population’s wishes.

            On the day of the Punjab Assembly’s resolution, Mr Nawaz Sharif was quoted in the press as: “We too need a system like that of Taliban in Pakistan”. A few days later the ‘daily Jang’ reported Mr. Shahbaz Sharif to have said: “We support granting all the rights to the minorities.” The same day the press carried the news that the government had refused permission to Ahmadis to hold their annual religions gathering (Jalsa Salana) in Rabwah. The hypocrisy of Mian Brothers was monstrous.

            In less than a year, the Mian Brothers were overtaken by fate to pay for their political sins. They were removed from office and put in prison where they remained for a year before being exiled for approximately seven years.