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National self-fashioning and the religious minority

After his death in 1908, Ghulam Ahmad was succeeded by his companion, Noor-ud-Din, and thereafter in 1914 by his son, the second Ahmadi Khalifa, Bashir al-Din Mahmud Ahmad, who led the Ahmadis until his own death in 1965. Where Ghulam Ahmad had been a charismatic leader able to inspire his followers, his son served the cause of Ahmadiyyat with his organizational skills and thus ensured the continuation of Ahmadi Islam by setting it on a secure bureaucratic and financial foundation. From his base in the town of Qadian in the Punjab, he also engaged in Indian politics, actively involving himself, as noted earlier, in the Kashmir issue in the 1930s (Copland 1981; Awan 2010:38ff; Lavan 1974:145-160; Khan 2012), and again in discussions over partition in the 1940s along with other members of the Indian Muslim elite, some of whom were also Ahmadi and included politicians of international stature such as Sir Zafrulla Khan.31 When it became clear that Qadian was to remain in India and not become part of the new nation of Pakistan, Mahmud Ahmad left 313 men, given the title of Dervishes,32 to protect the birthplace of Ahmadi Islam, and oversaw the migration of the majority of Ahmadis to Pakistan (Spate 1947; Tinker 1977; Qadian: a test case in 1947 DO: 142-323; Ahmad, I. 1999:148).33 Pakistan at this time was a secular Muslim state and the Ahmadis were able to purchase land from the government on which to build their new hometown, Rabwah, meaning ‘higher ground’ or place of refuge, near the city of Lahore.34

Despite the explicit declaration made by Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, first governor-general and first president of the Constituent Assembly, that all would be equally free to practice their faith as full citizens in the new Pakistan, the political and religious developments in Pakistan since 1947 have made this an unrealizable goal.35 Religio-political groups hostile to the Ahmadis from pre-partition India as well as those who simply saw in the Ahmadi issue a strategic opportunity, produced and used available opportunities to advance their own political and religious ends at the expense of the Ahmadis. In 1953 this led to riots in the Punjab, sparking fears of an imminent civil war, which compelled the government of the day to impose martial law for the first time in the new nation state (Minattur 1962; Report of the Court of Inquiry into the Punjab Disturbances of1953, 1954, henceforth Report of the Court of Inquiry). In 1974, during Bhutto’s premiership and following violence which began at the train station in Rabwah between Ahmadi men and the student wing of the Jama‘at-i-Islami36 and then spread across the Punjab, the Ahmadis were declared a non-Muslim minority (Malik 2002:14ff; Khan 2003; Rahman 2015,2016).37 Then in 1984, during the reign of the military dictator Zia ul Haq, Martial Law Ordinance XX, popularly known as the antiAhmadi laws, was passed amending Pakistan’s Penal Code Sections 298-B and 298-C, with the latter often referred to as the ‘blasphemy law' (Khan 2003). This ordinance has been used to target and persecute Ahmadis and, increasingly over time, also members of other minority faiths in Pakistan. As a consequence of this legislation, the fourth khalifa left Pakistan in April 1984 and relocated to London.

His successor, the current khalifa, was also based in London which effectively became the global centre of Ahmadiyya Islam from 1984 until 15 April 2019 when the khalifa relocated to Islamabad in Tilford, Surrey.38

To summarize, then, at partition in 1947 the Ahmadis went from being a minority within a minority in India to becoming a minority sect in a Muslim majority state. Despite their relocation to a new home, however, the political hostilities that had embroiled the Ahmadis in disputes in colonial India, the opposition to them led by the Ahrar and the increasingly virulent publications against Ahmadi doctrines continued to cause difficulties for Ahmadis in Pakistan, and in 1953 these culminated in riots that left many dead and led to the first imposition of martial law within just a few months of the drafting of the first constitution of the nascent state (Report of the Court of Inquiry 1954). The Ahmadis may have established their home in Pakistan, but they were viewed by many as an internal enemy whose loyalty to the nation could not be relied upon. They became, in other words, the source for many of what Appadurai would, some decades later with reference to globalization, theorize as the fear of small numbers (Appadurai 2006).

In this newly established country, and following the violence of partition39 (1947 DO 142-323, Qadian: a test case), the refugees from India had to begin to construct a new identity as citizens of a new state. For some of those who had opposed partition, such as Jama’at-i-Islami’s40 founder, Maududi, himself born into a family with close links to the Chisti Sufi order, and the Ahrar, the new identity as loyal Pakistanis was in part created by demarcating themselves as Pakistani Muslims against both the Hindus in neighbouring India and, within Pakistan itself, in contrast to groups such as the Ahmadis whose designation as Muslims could be challenged and who, therefore, were not to be trusted as loyal to the state. For the former members of the Ahrar, a minor political party founded in Lahore in December 1929 with its base in the Punjab in colonial India, taking on the Ahmadis was a means to regain some of their former political significance by organizing crowds and orchestrating the protests against them that not infrequently turned violent. It was from the Ahrar that the organization Khatm-e-Nabuwat was to develop as a group whose sole rationale for existence was and continues to be the elimination of Ahmadi Islam (Kamran 2015).

One of the ways in which the founders of Pakistan sought to establish the new state was through its constitution. This proved to be a matter that divided those who considered Pakistan should be a Muslim majority secular state from those who considered it should be an Islamic state. As Kennedy (1992:769) notes:

It took Pakistan nine years to adopt its first constitution. One major reason for the delay was contention over prospective Islamic provisions in the document. The first task of the Constituent Assembly was to define the basic directive principles of the new State, and in March 1949 the fruit of this exercise, the Objectives Resolution, was passed. It contained the following provisions dealing with Islam: ‘The Government of Pakistan will be a state ... Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed; Wherein the Muslims of Pakistan shall be enabled individually and collectively to order their lives in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah’.

However, the Objectives Resolution and other Islamic provisions in the 1956 constitution were ones whose manner of implementation was left ill-defined, and thus they were for all practical purposes unenforceable (Kennedy 1992:770). The same continued to be the case through the subsequent constitutions of 1962 and 1973, and this did not change until Zia ul Haq took power in a coup in July 1977. Zia set about creating a Federal Shariat Court (FSC) to examine, among other things, ‘any law or provision of law’ to ensure that it was not repugnant to the Qur’an and Sunnah (Kennedy 1992:772).41 Zia also set about a process of Islamization for Pakistan, and in 1984 Article 260(3) was added to the 1973 constitution, defining for the first time what it means to be a Muslim. Such a move, the categorical definition of what a Muslim is, was one that the 1954 Report of the Court of Inquiry had ruled to be, on the basis of the understandings of the ‘ulama of Pakistan themselves, an impossible task. In this report, the judges Munir and Kayani, respectively president and member of the Court of Inquiry, wrote:

The question... whether a person is or is not a Muslim will be of fundamental importance, and it was for this reason that we asked most of the leading ulama, to give their definition of a Muslim, the point being that if the ulama of the various sects believed the Ahmadis to be kafirs, they must have been quite clear in their minds not only about the grounds of such belief but also about the definition of a Muslim because the claim that a certain person or community is not within the pale of Islam implies on the part of the claimant an exact conception of what a Muslim is. The result of this part of the inquiry, however, has been anything but satisfactory, and if considerable confusion exists in the minds of our ulema (sic) on such a simple matter, one can easily imagine what the differences on more complicated matters will be.


There followed a list of definitions from some ten ulama, after which Munir and Kayani concluded:

Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulama, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulama, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim but kafirs according to the definition of every one else.


By 1985 the mood of the country had shifted; the more secular and liberal reasoning found in the 1954 Report of the Court of Inquiry was no longer in vogue, and the constitution had been further amended explicitly to classify the Ahmadis as non-Muslim (Redding 2004:769, fn. 29). The 1985 constitution also, again for the first time, incorporated the Objectives Resolution into the text of the constitution, with far-reaching implications (Kennedy 1992:774).42

Such constitutional reforms, however, were not unique to Pakistan. In some other nation states that became independent in the mid-twentieth century, such reforms are ones that have in recent decades been associated with an increase in violence targeted at internal minorities, some of whom may even come into existence as a consequence of constitutional reform. Geschiere, for example, notes how the 1972 Cameroon Constitution incorporated language that was inclusive and clearly intended as a nation-building exercise. By contrast the revisions in the language used in the 1996 Cameroon Constitution makes it the prerogative of the government to recognize specific groups as indigenous or as a minority, depending on the political situation. This constitutional change has had significant impact on the rights of some Cameroonians to take part in the political process and for their access to land, jobs and even protection from violence (Geschiere 2009:51). Such constitutional changes have gone hand in hand with ethnic discrimination and a rise in violence against those who now no longer belong in the nation state as they once used to. For Geschiere, the distinction that is crucial to understanding belonging and how this has changed from the 1970s to the 1990s in parts of Africa is one between autochthons and others. Autochthons are those who can claim to be the first inhabitants of the land and as such are the ones who ‘really’ belong in the state and should be entitled to the protections and rights of full citizens, while all others are later arrivals with lesser claims to the resources of the state. Yet, as definitions of belonging are always political, it is possible ‘to go to bed as an autochthon and wake up to find that you have become an allogène’ (Geschiere 2009:96). Geschiere further links the rise in autochthony thinking with the decentralization that has followed the era of post-colonial statebuilding and is associated with greater mobility and globalization. For Geschiere, the uncertainties generated by a world on the move has, rather than allowing for a positive embracing of cosmopolitan possibilities, encouraged a greater scrutiny of notions of belonging and locality-based identity formation. It has resulted in uncertainty and produced fears about who really belongs and who does not. The resulting quest for a purified and exclusive group of those who truly belong is a modern phenomenon leading to the ‘constant redefinitions and shifts that inspire . . . violence in efforts to achieve an impossible purification’ (Geschiere 2009:114). Where, in the Cameroons and in the parts of Europe considered by Geschiere, belonging is based on claims of autochthony, in Pakistan, a state that came into being by virtue of a refugee movement, autochthony is replaced by religion as the key to defining who really belongs (Geschiere 2009:1). In this vision of a purified Pakistan (a country whose name literally means a ‘the place of the pure'), only Muslims are real Pakistanis, and even then only Muslims from particular Islamic traditions can be unquestionably loyal Pakistanis.43 The move towards this position, one that Mohsin Hamid (2018) fears has resulted in a situation where ‘in the land of the pure, no one is pure enough’, and away from Jinnah’s secular vision of Pakistan as outlined in his 1947 speech before the First Constituent Assembly on August 11, is one that has been facilitated by revisions of the state constitution.

In Pakistan, therefore, one consequence of the constitutional reforms has been to further legitimize the exclusion of minorities, including the Ahmadis, from public life, and to deny them access to land, education and employment. Pakistan is now a nation for Muslims, and among Muslims for those who are Sunni before all others.44 This marks a significant change to the situation soon after partition, in 1953, when anti-Ahmadi violence broke out in the Punjab. In the year following, it was made explicit, in the Report of the Court of Inquiry, that the Objectives Resolution played a significant part in the demands of the ‘ulama that the Ahmadis be declared non-Muslim and that Ahmadis in high level government, military and administrative posts be dismissed. As noted above the demands of the 'ulama were carefully scrutinized and, in the more liberal secular spirit of the times, the report concludes that they were not ones that merited assent by the government. It was this position, so resolutely taken in the 1950s, that was reversed in the mid-1980s, and while there was violence directed against the Ahmadis both in the 1950s and in the 1980s, the difference is in the extent to which the state, through institutions such as the judiciary, was prepared in the 1950s, to support the rights of minorities in the name of democracy and the international standing of the country, and in the 1980s, to facilitate and acquiesce in the discrimination against the Ahmadis in the name of Islam.

In other, more directly political, ways the Ahmadis were also politically disenfranchised when Zia, through Presidential Order No. 8 of 1984 (Clause 4A), added to Article 51 of the Constitution, gave non-Muslims their own electoral constituencies and separate representation (Malik 2002:19). As the Ahmadis did not accept that they were not Muslim, they were not prepared to stand or vote in elections as a non-Muslim minority. This constitutional amendment was not repealed until 2002, and while it meant that the Ahmadis had no electoral representation during this time, they were not the only religious minority group to be discriminated against by this constitutional amendment: Pakistan’s Hindus, Christians, Parsis and Sikhs were also affected. However, while the Electoral Commission of Pakistan has allowed for Ahmadis to vote since 2002 without having to register as non-Muslim, this has not changed anything in practice. Despite the abolition of ‘this discriminatory requirement and segregation between Muslims and non-Muslims. . . . Ahmadis are reportedly still forbidden to register on the general voters’ list, and must still register on a separate list maintained solely for Ahmadis’ (UNHCR 2017:32). Ahmadis have in recent years described being physically intimidated to prevent them from voting (USSD 2018:21 ), and separate lists have been maintained for those wishing to vote, as a letter from the Election Commission of Pakistan dated 17 January 2007 (with the heading ‘Preparation of Separate List of Draft Electoral Rolls for Ahmadis/Qadianis’) makes clear (HRC and IHRC 2015:106-107).

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