It is hard to write this. It is hard and scary because it is being written by someone that comes from a world of comfort and privilege. It is being written without having faced any threat to one’s own being. While coming from such a cushioned living, we hope that we’re able to see what it is like for those that aren’t offered the same luxuries that we usually are; that of being who they are without having to face any repercussions. What must it be like to live as someone that has consequences attached to merely their way of life? What must it be like to have your very self questioned every step of the way?
In the second week of September, Hum-Aahang arranged a talk titled “Citizen or Minority?” in order to discuss the recent events regarding Ahmedis and the increased hostility towards them. The panelists were Dr. Ali Usman and Usman Ahmed. Dr. Qasmi is an Associate Professor at the University of LUMS, who also has a published book by the name The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan. In it, he traces this issue of Ahmedi exclusion back to when it started, and talks about the persecution Ahmedis face due to State Laws and attitudes.
He went on to explain how the Ahmedis then became “the most vulnerable community”. The laws that were passed against them then became enough reason for targeted behaviour towards them and being singled out more than ever before. It was here where the recent dismissal of Atif Mian was touched upon, and was mentioned that this incident did not occur in a vacuum; it is symptomatic of something that has been going on for a longer period of time.
Usman Ahmed then picked up from where Dr. Qasmi left off. Usman is a human rights activist, and works on and with issues that Ahmedis face in their daily life. It was due to this that we were offered a more personal and real look into what happens to these people.
Usman narrated several stories from the Ahmedi communityabout instances of persecution and sectarian violence that they had experienced.Each one of these was somehow worse than the last, and by the time he had narrated a few, many in the room were in tears and unable to comprehend exactly what went wrong, and where.
He talked of a young boy that was forced to play by himself for three years at school since everyone refused to interact or play with him on account of his faith. It was here that Usman, along with everyone else in the room questioned just how deep this hatred went for it to be forced onto children as well.Usman talked about how “Ahmedis are denied any actual meaningful existence”. We couldn’t imagine what that would be like. There were several other instances of violence and relentless persecution against Ahmedis; one of how a young boy in his teenage was harshly beaten just for wearing a shirt with Bismillah on it. The trauma resulting from this incident caused the boy to develop a mental illness, and Usman talked about how the mother of the boy talks of death being easier since she wouldn’t have to see her son suffer the way he does.
It was these stories that stunned the room into silence, and each of us wondered what it must be like to be on the receiving end of this. So many of us that come from privileged backgrounds found it inconceivable that these things happen, and the glaring reality of having them told to us made it more real than we’d like to accept. We wondered why it is that in order for oneself to be considered a Muslim, we must denounce Ahmedis every step of the way. We couldn’t fathom why we couldn’t just let them be, and we couldn’t imagine for the life of us what it is that compels people to act that way, sometimes even ourselves. As Usman said, “everyone decides their truth”, and our truth at the time was that something terrifying has happened, keeps happening, and no one seems to be able to stop it.
These stories were not told to us on the news, in the paper, or through a distant word of mouth. These stories were being told to us by someone who witnessed first-hand the consequences of peoples actions. We could no longer be detached observers feeling sympathetic only in the moment. We had to relive what those people had gone through, and even then we could not have imagined how those people felt at the time.
It was hard to write this, and it was scary, but more than anything it was unbelievable. There is nothing more to be said on this because even with all of one’s imagination, we couldn’t possibly know what it is like to be treated this way. We hope there comes a time where writing about things like this are not hard or scary because they are a thing of the past.
We hope these things become a memory recalled with utter disbelief yet relief that things are not so anymore.