Monday, September 12, 2016

Dream of Pakistan's Cap (Part 2)

Ahmedis in Pakistan

It is past 10am on a Sunday in January, but the host team - Fazl-e-Umar - is nowhere to be seen at Rabwah's cricket ground. A teenager arrives, looks around, and starts doing push-ups. Naveed Ahmad, the 36-year-old club captain, arrives soon after. He makes a series of brusque phone calls telling his team-mates to hurry to the ground. Eventually the team straggles in, in ones and twos, and in uniforms that are several shades of white and off-white. One player has a cap in the colours of the German flag; others wear blinding white sneakers. The T-shirts hang off the younger players' lanky frames, their bodies unsullied by the sedentary lifestyles so common in Punjab.

Many of these players grew up in Rabwah. Some moved here from other cities. Abdul Hai, a 31-year-old real-estate dealer from Lahore, comes down to Rabwah for the cricket season. Faisal and his younger brother, Rafay Ahmed, are expected to arrive soon; they are playing for Fazl-e-Umar today.
Rabwah is home to Pakistan's Ahmadiyya Muslim community. It lies just past the city of Chiniot, the languid Chenab River, and a series of oddly shaped, craggy red rock hills - a town that has literally fallen off the map. It was renamed Chenab Nagar in 1998, but the name hasn't stuck. Rabwah has all the signs of the newfound urbanisation sweeping Punjab; ads for Schengen visas and magical cures to increase one's height abound. It also bears signs of the changes wrought by years of attacks on the Ahmadiyya sect: buildings with high walls - it is markedly visible where the new bricks were added - and barbed wire, armed patrols and security cameras. Dozens of Ahmadis have made Rabwah their home in recent years. Some arrived in coffins. Others were fleeing mobs and militants.

For over 40 years, the sect has been the target of a wide-ranging campaign of systematic abuse and discrimination, fuelled by the state's 1974 decree that, at a stroke, made Ahmadis non-Muslims. The Pakistani clergy and right wing believe Ahmadis dispute a key tenet of Islam - that Muhammad was the last Prophet - while Ahmadis believe that the founder of their movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is the second coming of a promised messiah, and not a new prophet. In 1984, Pakistan effectively made it illegal for Ahmadis to practise Islam, equating their doing so to an act of blasphemy. 

Blaspheming against Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the blasphemy law is often used to target Ahmadis.

With all but state-sanctioned approval, militants have attacked Ahmadi mosques (in 2010 one attack in Lahore killed 94) and the right-wing clergy and hard-line religious groups have embarked on a campaign of assassinations, blasphemy cases, a social and economic boycott, and general widespread discrimination. If the dream of playing cricket in Pakistan is passed down from one generation to the next, so are the reins of the anti-Ahmadi movement. Pakistani children are told at school that Ahmadis are non-believers and blasphemers. Every key government form - from a passport application to voter registration - requires Pakistani Muslims to sign a declaration rejecting the Ahmadiyya faith. The community is largely absent from public life: they do not practise their faith openly, refuse to contest elections or vote because they object to the separate electorate for Ahmadis, and are legally barred from practising Islam or calling themselves Muslims. Countless Ahmadis have left Pakistan after the sect was excommunicated, finding new homes in Europe, the US and Canada. 

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