Police demolished minarets at an Ahmadi place of worship in Sialkot on Saturday, after a group of protesters threatened to do so themselves, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The police approached the community on Friday after a local cleric complained that three worship places for Ahmadis had features that resembled mosques, namely minarets and verses from the Quran written on the walls.
The minarets and verses were covered up, apparently to the police’s satisfaction, but a baying mob gathered at one worship place the next day and demanded that the minarets be torn down. The police did so. The group of protesters is now demanding that similar action be taken against two other worship places within a couple of days.
The cleric whose complaint led to the action told The Express Tribune that he had approached the police after he attended a Khatm-i-Nabuwwat Conference on September 7, marking the anniversary of the passage of anti-Ahmadi laws, where a speaker said that Ahmadis were not allowed to build minarets or use verses from the Quran at their places of worship.
Sections 298-B and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code outlaw Ahmadis from calling their place of worship a masjid, claiming to be Muslims or preaching their faith to others.
Sialkot City Circle DSP Hamid Mukhtar, who led the police operation, said that the complaint had been filed by Abdul Hameed Chishti, a local cleric belonging to Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Pakistan, who had demanded the removal of the minarets, verses and Kalma at three worship places.
Advocate Parvaiz Cheema, spokesman for the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiya Sialkot, said that they met with several police officers and district government officials and discussed the matter. They then visited the three worship places on Friday evening.
At the Baitul Zikr Ahmadiya in Sialkot Cantt, two two-feet high minarets at the entrance were hidden from view through the erection of a wall around them. At the main Ahmadi worship place in Sialkot, known as Kabutranwali Ibadatgah, the police were shown where Quranic verses and the name of the place – containing the term ‘masjid’ – had been painted over in the 1980s. The police, said Cheema, had objected that the paint was wearing off, so a fresh coat of white cement was applied. Two small minarets were also covered with cement.
At the Baitul Zikr Mubarik, they also covered the Kalma and Quranic verses with white cement. Cheema said that the police and district government officials had expressed satisfaction that the complaint had been addressed.
But on Saturday, a rally led by former Azad Jammu and Kashmir minister of religious affairs Sahibzada Hamid Raza stopped at Kabutranwali Ibadatgah and demanded that the minarets, covered by cement, be razed. They warned that they would do so themselves if they had to. The police complied with their demand.
DSP Mukhtar said that Hamid Raza and Chishti had led the rally at which hateful and provocative speeches against Ahmadis were delivered. He said that a report had been sent to high-ups and they would decide whether to take any action in this regard.
Cheema said that the protesters had been highly abusive of Ahmadis and their faith and this constituted hate speech. He said Sialkot was one of the biggest cities in the country for the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiya, which had 100 administrative units and a similar number of worship places in the district. He expressed concern that these other places of worship would also come under attack.
Fear and loathing
Chishti, the complainant in the case, told The Express Tribune that they had identified minarets at two other Ahmadi worship places in Sialkot that must be demolished. He said that they had set a deadline of Tuesday for the demolition, failing which they would take matters into their own hands. He said Ahmadis should be grateful that Muslims were allowing them to live in their country, so they should live their lives as Muslims wanted.
He said that local Muslims had known that the minarets and verses at Ahmadi worship places were many years old, but at a Khatm-i-Nabuwwat conference in Sialkot on September 7, they had learned that this was illegal. That was why they had acted, he said.
Jamaat-i-Ahmadiya Pakistan spokesman Saleemuddin said that the action in Sialkot was a direct result of the anti-Ahmadi conferences that were held in September. “The police have a responsibility to protect Ahmadis instead of subjecting them to discrimination to appease clerics and bow to their demands,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2013.