Ahmadi prayer centre and house demolished in Punjab (video)
by Kamran Chaudhry

The vandalism took place in the city of Sialkot. For years, Sunnis wanted the demolition of the centre, opposing its renovation. For Catholic clergyman, "It is very sad that neither the prime minister nor the president visited the Ahmadis after the attack. We condemn violence against anyone and express our solidarity with the persecuted community.”

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s Ahmadi community has called on the authorities to provide them with protection, after vandals demolished an old prayer centre and the home of one of their members in Sialkot, Punjab.

On Wednesday, the city’s Ahmadis were shocked by two incidents. At around 11 pm, some 30 to 35 staff of the local municipality tore down a house as police looked on. A bit later, around 4.30 am, a crowd of more than 600 men vandalised a nearby Ahmadi place of worship. During the incident, the attackers chanted slogans of fidelity to the prophet (Khatm-i-Nabuwat).

“For years we have been asking the administration [to demolish the prayer centre],” said Hafiz Hamid Raza, local leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Party, whose national leader is former cricket champion Imran Khan.

For him, “No religion can allow the presence of minarets in prayer centres. We thank city authorities and all the Sunni organisations that participated."

"As Muslims, it was our duty to complete the work,” he added. “We want to demolish other minarets. May Allah crush the fitna [corruption, ed] of the Ahmadis. They are enemies of Islam and Pakistan.”

"Allah Akbar [Allah is great],” he warned. “If anyone dares to condemn or register the case against our activists, we will block the whole city."

The Ahmadis (about 2 per cent of the Pakistani population) are a religious movement inspired by Islam that arose at the end of the 19th century whose founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, saw himself as a prophet. Since he came after Muhammad, Sunni Muslims see them as heretical.

Among Pakistan’s various groups, Ahmadis are the most persecuted. According to a 2018 report, 260 Ahmadis were killed between 1984 and 2017, 27 religious sites were demolished, 33 closed, 22 burnt or damaged, and 17 forcibly occupied. Four members of the minority were murdered just last year.

Saleemuddin, spokesman for the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan, condemns the "barbaric act" carried out in the month of Ramadan.

In a note published yesterday, he points out that "both [demolished] buildings have great historical significance for the Ahmadis around over the world. They had been renovated only a few weeks ago. The municipal committee of the city of Sialkot opposed the restoration and decided to close the buildings ".

"The Ahmadi community,” he explains, “was in the middle of the legal dispute to gain access to the building, when the local administration started to demolish the structure without the permission of the court, only to appease the extremist factions.”

"This shows that state institutions have surrendered to those elements that exploit religion to obtain gains on the basis of their own interests. In the past, other Ahmadi places of worship have been attacked, and no perpetrator has ever been brought to justice ".

Speaking in the Senate, Quratulain Marri, a Muslim, condemned the episode. "I am appalled and I am ashamed. We have failed to fulfill Jinnah's vision about Pakistan. We allowed what happened with the Ahmadi place of worship in Sialkot. We should all hang our heads in shame." Ali Jinnah was the founder of Pakistan and an advocate of respect for all minorities.

"Whether you consider them Muslims or not, that’s not the issue,” she went on to say. “They need more protection if they are not considered Muslims. And we have a duty to protect minorities."

Fr Abid Habib, former general coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Religious Major Superiors, warns of growing intolerance in the country.

"It is very sad that neither the prime minister nor the president has ever visited the Ahmadis after any attack,” he said. “We condemn violence against anyone and sympathise with the persecuted community.”