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‘They Are Living, Only You Perceive Not.’

A decade has passed since the horrific act of terror committed against the Ahmadi Muslim Community in Lahore on 28 May 2010. Anas Salman is a young Muslim who witnessed the atrocious attacks on one of the mosques, Dar uz-Zikr. Read his eye witness testimony below.

By Muhammad Mussawar Ahmed

One of the most brutal attacks ever encountered by this community was the Lahore attacks of Pakistan on 28 May 2010. As we reflect upon a decade since those martyrs who sacrificed their lives in this inhuman act of terrorism, it is difficult to understand the pain that the families of the affected went through. The attack took place in two Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore, Pakistan whilst the peace-loving Ahmadis were busy in Friday prayers. The responsibility of this attack was claimed by Tehreek e Taliban, Pakistan. The attack was carried out in two different mosques (Dar ul-Zikr & Bait al-Noor) at the same time. The initial attack was followed up by making the people inside the two mosques hostages for hours . The saddest part of this brutality was that the attackers entering the mosque murdered everyone they found alive indiscriminately. Moreover, a lack of proper support from authorities made it even easier for these perpetrators to shed blood of innocent Ahmadis without fear.

However, it was the courage of our courageous Ahmadi brothers who eventually overpowered two of the attackers in Model town mosque and handed him over to the police. An eyewitness and survivor of the attack named Anas Salman, a Khadim who now lives in the UK, explains this whole experience in the following words:

“It was one of those days which I can never forget. I got up from the office and went to Garhi Shaho mosque (Dar ul-Zikr) for Jumma prayer. When I reached there, I offered my first set of ‘sunnat’ prayers and as soon as I finished my prayers, I heard gunshots. The Murabbi sahib who was delivering the sermon asked the worshippers to stay calm. Soon, we noted that bullets started getting fired from one of the mosque hall windows on the left and some people got injured.  People started running to save their lives towards the right corner of the hall. Murabbi sahib started reciting prayers in loud voice but all of a sudden, the door behind him was blasted with a grenade and he embraced martyrdom in front of my eyes. A terrorist entered from the destroyed door and started firing. I was in the second last row, so I ran towards the back door with others and came to the open hallway.

As soon as we came to the hallway, one of the terrorists there blew himself up in a suicide blast. We tried to run to save our lives by hiding in the toilets, rooms and underneath the staircase. During that time, we continuously heard the gunshots. When I looked around, I saw myself surrounded by around 30 people which included children as well. People were in a state of shock and some were calling police, whilst others were calling their loved ones to say final good byes. I also tried to call my mother but the network was busy. I was worried about what would happen next. Suddenly, one of the attackers fired at us from the opposite ceiling of the hall. Many people got hit and I also got hit with two bullets: one on the upper chest and the other penetrated my arm. I wanted to talk to my mother one last time but the network didn’t allow it. I laid there in despair waiting to embrace death. Luckily there was a basement beside that staircase. When I realised that I am still breathing after 15 minutes, I gathered my strength and asked all others to go into the basement. It was half past 3 and we could still hear the gunshots. After some time, my phone rang and I could hear my mother’s voice on the other side. I got emotional after listening to my mother and started crying. However, the reply my mother gave shook me and raised my morale. She replied back by saying: ‘Son, you are God’s property and whatever He will do for you will be better’. These words really gave me a boost and I asked her to give the phone to my father. She said that he is in ‘sajda’ and is not getting up. I asked them for prayers and said goodbye.

Bullet holes in the walls of one of the Mosques in Lahore.

Bullet holes in the walls of one of the Mosques in Lahore

We could still hear firing and gunshots, so we stayed in the basement and started praying. At around half past 5, we heard chants of ‘Allah o Akbar’ and the announcement asking us to come out as everything was alright now. However, these voices were suppressed by a loud bomb blast. We felt that the ceiling of the mosque would fall upon us but we remained safe. Later on, we realised that it was systematically plotted by terrorists due to which they managed to kill more people. At around half past 6, we again heard similar chants but we did not move. However, after a while, our Khuddam brothers knocked on the basement door and called us out upon which we came out. We were thankful to God that we got saved but as soon as we saw the scenes of bloodshed and brutality in the mosque, I fell on the ground unconscious and was taken away by our Khuddam brothers to the ambulance.”   

The scene outside of Dar ul-Zikr, Lahore, on the day of the attack.

More than 80 worshippers were brutally martyred and another 120 were severely injured. Most of the victims were buried in the town of Rabwah, the official headquarters of Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan. The attack was condemned by many main stream media outlets and politicians but none of them attended the funeral services or visited the affected. Independent organisations claimed that this type of atrocity is primarily targeted to Ahmadis easily due to their constitutional ‘non-Muslim’ status. Today, on this day of 28 May 2020, we pledge allegiance to the martyrs of 28 May through our heartiest submissions. It is hard to believe that those terrorists were chanting slogans of Takbir while killing innocents on the day which is declared Yaum e Takbir officially by the government of Pakistan. However, under the divine guidance of our beloved Khalifa, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmed (aba), this community showed an immense example of patience and composure. There was no protest recorded, no official statements being made and no reports were lodged. This blessed Jama’at rested its case with the highest of courts, that of Allah Almighty. Fellow Ahmadi brothers hugged and consoled each other by saying,

“Surely, to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V. 157)   

This agony created a state of restlessness in the community which was encountered by endless prayers seeking help and justice from Allah. Ahmadis all over the world became witness of this sacrifice that “O my martyr brother, you have set an example of the Sahaba of Uhud and enabled yourself to claim your place in the gardens of Jannah”. Huzoor (aba) also comforted the Jama’at on this occasion with the following words:

“Allah the Almighty is certainly capable of taking revenge from those who have tried to cause this collective harm. He knows better how He will show His Power, how He will catch those who commit this mischief and oppression. But may Allah make these people, who are repeatedly challenging the honour of God and are increasing in oppression, a sign and example for people; Insha-Allah, it will happen.” (Friday Sermon, 28 May 2010) 

Today as we witness the completion of these ten years of this incident, we can surely feel that this sacrifice did not restrict the progress of this blessed Jama’at. In fact, this community qualified themselves among the ones following the footsteps of the Holy prophet (sa) and the Sahaba (ra) as per the hadith. Today every Ahmadi can surely feel the wounds those takbir slogans inflicted them with. The love for ‘Takbir’ however, will still be there.

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Precedence to Faith: A key to successful marriage

In This Week with Huzoor broadcasted by MTA on 12 March, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba presided over Virtual Amila Meetings with Majlis Ansarullah Australia and Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya Nigeria. During the virtual meeting with Australia’s Majlis Ansarullah, an office-bearer asked a question to Huzooraba on the topic of marriage.

Huzooraba was asked about increasing domestic issues and marriages breaking up despite of active departments of Rishta Nata, Islahi committee, Umur e Amma and Tarbiyyat. Some of these issues end up resulting in divorces and hence the rate of divorces is increasing.

Huzooraba gave a very clear and comprehensive response to this question and provided guidance to the office-bearers. Huzooraba mentioned that this issue is not related only to Australia, but this is an issue faced by the whole world. Huzooraba highlighted that he has addressed these issues several times in his Friday Sermons and especially in addresses to Lajna Imaillah (Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association). Huzooraba highlighted that he has provided guidance previously to Khuddam (Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association) and Ansar (Ahmadiyya Muslim Elders Association).

Huzooraba mentioned that the main reason for an increase in many divorces is that materialism and worldliness has increased, whilst people’s level of patience and forbearance has become less. The fault lies on both sides, men and women. Huzooraba highlighted that though the couple take an oath to give precedence to faith over worldly matters, however, they do not heed to the saying of the Holy Prophetsa that when you seek matrimonial matches, faith should be given precedence over materialism, beauty and wealth.

The Holy Prophetsa said: Some people marry for beauty, others for rank, and others for wealth; but you should marry a good and pious woman.”

Huzooraba said that if people were to keep this in mind when getting in the matrimonial journey, there would be fewer problems and issues.

Huzooraba said: “The influence of materialism is also impacting our Ahmadi society”. The world around us is distancing from leading a simple life. There has been an exponential growth and surge in materialism due to the impact of social media as well, which results in people setting very high worldly expectations from one another.

Huzooraba addressed the allegation made against Islam about arranged marriages and that the breakdown of a marriage is due to an incompatible match, this is not correct. This is due to a general increase in the divorce rate in the world and hence it is reflected in Jama’at as well.

As per the Office of the National Statics of England and Wales, there has been an increase of 18.4% of divorces between couples between 2018 and 2019.
Whilst discussing the topic of divorces and highlighting the importance of moral training Huzooraba highlighted the importance of ensuring moral upbringing and giving precedence to faith. Such precedence results in a successful marriage and this has been witnessed time and again. Those who marry by giving precedence to worldly matters end up facing issues. Huzooraba mentioned that it is true that there are some cases where the girls or boys are treated unjustly. In some cases, girls get married to boys settled aboard (in reference to Pakistan and India) but the intention is to somehow travel abroad and then they break off their marriage.

Huzooraba reminded the respective office bearers to work together to focus on the moral training of their members. The office bearers should remind the members that despite pledging to give precedence to faith over worldly objectives, yet people break this pledge. There is a decline in patience and forbearance in men and women.

In the end, Huzooraba mentioned that the most important thing is to improve the atmosphere inside the homes and instil these principles in the homes. All marriages should be done by praying and supplicating to Allah and not in haste. If we try sincerely these issues can be eliminated.

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The Immigration Misconception

Late last year, in response to a journalist asking whether the economic fallout of COVID-19 could lead to military conflict, the head of Britain’s military said “Yes, I think we are living at a moment in time where the world is a very uncertain and anxious place”. The alarm bells were rung.  As this threat flickers and flares, we must remember that war affects us all. Conflict extends beyond the bombs, bullets and battlelines. Those displaced by violence and chaos will seek out a better life and a new home; as we meet the wearied faces of immigrants, migrants and refugees, we will be called to act.

But should our actions be of compassion or concern? As the world lurches towards further uncertainty, we must be ready with our answer.

Immigration has become a dirty word, muddied by racism and lazy xenophobia, yet it raises justified security concerns. From the Latin verb immigrare, meaning ‘to remove, go into, and move in’, the word immigrant captures the journey: removal from a homeland, entering into foreign land and eventually settling in. It’s the entering and settling that some people snarl and seethe at. People are quick to label those who do not support the welfare of migrants as right-wing or racist. However, there are a number of concerns that are legitimate:

 

The Economic Concerns

Why must the public’s hard-earned cash be put towards something other than themselves? Why must the taxpayer pay for the support and welfare of foreigners?

These are honest questions. At a time when our economic growth is blunted by record levels of unemployment and the general public is living in narrower margins of comfortability, concerns over where our money goes is rightly justified. Underlying this concern is the fear that opening-up our borders will dry us out. That those who come here for a better life will leech the social benefits we might offer, abuse the system, and leave very little for those that remain in need. Ultimately, the cost of welcoming immigrants will come at our own personal expense.

However, a 2018 report on the economic realities and social impact of migration found that “migrants consume fewer benefits and receive less from the public purse in comparison to natives in similar circumstances.” Non-refugee immigrants in Canada for example “use less unemployment benefits, social security and housing support than domestic residents, despite the employment rate for migrants being lower”.

But public money is still being spent. If there are more people dependent on welfare, there’s little left to go around, right? Well, no.

Professor Ian Goldin, lead author of the report, found that “If immigration had been frozen in 1990 […], the [UK] economy would be at least 9 per cent smaller than it is now. That is equivalent to a real loss in GDP of more than £175 billion over 15 years”.

This is least surprising when we consider that immigrants are twice as likely to start their own businesses than British-born individuals in the UK. It’s a similar story in the US, where 30% of businesses are founded by migrants, and 40% of Fortune 500 companies belong to immigrants. In other words, immigrants do generate wealth—they’re an economic strength, not a burden. They can be vectors of growth and prosperity.

This does not promise the goodwill of all immigrants however. It is therefore important for immigrants to be responsible citizens and aspire for self-sufficiency. In equal measure, host-nations should not prevent the paths to progress in society, and for their own economic benefit, encourage the professional development of immigrants. Thus, the lessons remain clear: there is economic value for all when opening up our borders.

But there is a growing disconnect between the positive economic impact and the increasing negative perceptions of immigration.

 

The Social Disconnect

The narrative surrounding immigrants strikes fear and mistrust. One example is the racialisation of child grooming gangs. Whether it was the controversial claim that 84% of grooming gang offenders were Asians, or Labour’s resigned shadow equalities minister writing that Britain “Has a problem with British Pakistani men raping white girls” — the media has been saturated with a negative view of foreigners and their actions towards society.

However, a new Home Office report published in December 2020 found that the link between Pakistani-heritage men and child abuse is untrue. The report states:

“Research has found that group-based child sexual exploitation offenders are most commonly white. Some studies suggest an overrepresentation of black and Asian offenders relative to the demographics of national populations. However, it is not possible to conclude that this is representative”

The idea that such depraved behaviour is a feature of Pakistani character, or of any ethnicity, is a modern racial myth — a dishonest representation and smearing of minority communities. Criminality does not belong to one ethnicity; it is not the result of culture or religion, but the moral collapse of human nature which we all share.

The distrust of immigrants is rooted in the idea that foreigners have certain values and aspects of culture that should be unwelcomed in any modern democratic society. Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said in the past that Islam has caused the Muslim world to be “centuries behind the West” and has a “fatal religious conservatism”. Such language presents Islam and Muslim migrants as a threat to civilised society.  It is unsurprising then that a 2016 poll found that nearly two thirds of Britons think Islam is incompatible with British values.

But we mustn’t be swayed by sensationalist rhetoric. It is vital to seek an honest understanding when assessing the people at our borders. Since the Muslim population in Europe could double by 2050, depending on migration, it is important to know their principles and beliefs when assessing their entry.

 

Islamic values: Who is the Muslim migrant?

In a fractious early Arab society, Islam provided a collective identity, defined not by tribal differences, but rather unified in the recognition of the responsibility Muslims had to create peace in society.

 

اِنَّمَا الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ اِخۡوَۃٌ فَاَصۡلِحُوۡا بَیۡنَ اَخَوَیۡکُمۡ وَ اتَّقُوا اللّٰہَ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تُرۡحَمُوۡنَ ۝

“Surely all believers are brothers. So make peace between brothers, and fear Allah, that mercy may be shown to you.” [Holy Qur’an, 49:11]

 

… وَ لَا یَجۡرِمَنَّکُمۡ شَنَاٰنُ قَوۡمٍ عَلٰۤی اَلَّا تَعۡدِلُوۡا  ؕ اِعۡدِلُوۡا ہُوَ اَقۡرَبُ لِلتَّقۡوٰی …

“… And let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness…” [Holy Qur’an, 5:9]

 

Far from stifling societal progress, Islam gives impetus to pluralism, anchored not just in sentiment but also in jurisdiction. After 13 years of viperous attacks and persecution, the Holy Prophetsa was given divine permission to migrate to Medina. Upon arrival, the Prophet of Islamsa drafted the Charter of Medina, a document establishing the law of the land and recognising the city as a multi-religious state. It bound all people—be they Muslims, Jews or pagans—as being equal citizens of the same city-state. It respected the religious sensibilities of all and established collective responsibility towards peace in a city that had been previously mired in tribal warfare.

The Holy Prophetsa was a Muslim migrant himself. He had entered a new society and established principles of cohesion and integration. These are the true teachings of Islam. Thus, a Muslim migrant who follows Islam sincerely, will carry the values of interfaith harmony, community and integration — in reverence to the Holy Prophetsa.

On the concept of charity, the Holy Prophetsa had advised Muslims that “the upper hand is better than the lower hand”. Meaning, giving charity is far better than taking it. This simple saying captures the essence of self-determination and dignity that Islam inspires in Muslims: to establish themselves in a position that betters those around them. Hence, the notion of Muslim migrants, entering this country, threatening societal peace, and being unmindful of others, is an imagination that goes against the teachings of Islam.

Unfortunately, these principles are not practised by some. In committing acts of violence and terror, those who claim to follow the teachings of Islam, do the most to subvert it. To protect society from extremism, terrorism, and radicalisation, security measures are justified. In a 2018 address at the annual convention in Germany, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad – Khalifatul-Masih Vaba said:

“If there is any doubt or suspicion raised about the character or backgrounds of certain immigrants, the authorities should be vigilant and monitor them until they are satisfied that they do not pose a risk to society. Some may consider this an intrusive policy, yet protecting society from danger and maintaining the peace and security of the nation are paramount objectives for any government.”

Commenting on the German government’s policy to make community service mandatory to asylum seekers, His Holinessaba said “It instils a belief that it is the duty of each person to serve their society and to help the members of the community. Accordingly, the German Government deserves praise rather than criticism for this policy.”

Thus, we shouldn’t shy away from justified policies that ensure integration of immigrants and the safety of society in general. Ultimately, the values of loyalty to one’s nation, respect for others, and the desire to contribute to society, is an expression of a Muslim’s faith. If governments wish to implement such measures, it should not be a cause of concern to any Muslim.

 

A Place to Call Home

Early this month, a high court ruling heard of the squalid and cramped conditions asylum seekers were placed in at the Napier army barracks in Kent during the pandemic. It was only after a fire broke out that the situation was brought to light. The asylum seekers spoke of the dire conditions: being left without electricity, heating and drinking water since the fire; sharing rooms with 14 other people, having food poisoning from eating raw food. It brings back thoughts of the Windrush scandal three years ago, where people were detained, denied legal rights and threatened with deportation — despite many of the immigrants having arrived in the UK before 1973.

In this country, immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, are far too often met with hostility and banishment. Though we must remain vigilant against terrorism and other external threats, we don’t have to abandon a moral conscience to do so. Most are simply looking to escape violence, find a home and make a better future for themselves and the ones they love.

As the threat of war rattles on, we need to recognise our past failures to those who reach our shores. We need to understand that mass immigration and refugees is a direct consequence of our involvement in wars and supplying weapons. We need to recognise the work of immigrants and their value to society. Immigrant doctors, nurses and others in healthcare are especially risking their lives to heal this country back to health; if we trust them in moments of our own vulnerability, we should trust them in theirs.

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The Greatest Tyrannies Are Always Perpetrated In The Name Of The Noblest Causes

I have never been able to understand the die-hard attitude of those who believe they can say whatever they like without fear of reprimand or sanction. Society would not be able to function without limits placed on actions—it is only sensible to extend those limits to words too, and of course, we most certainly do impose such limits on what you can say. You cannot, for instance, shout racial slurs, you cannot slander someone in public, and you cannot cause injury to protected minorities for all these greatly disturb the peace of any society. Is disorder, hatred, and deep grudges worth the right to cause offense?

I understand the passionate plea for freedom of speech; for most of our history—and in many parts of the world, the present—we have not given ourselves the freedom to speak our minds without fear of censorship. It is often those that are suppressed the hardest that spring back with the most force, however, the response to one extreme surely cannot be another extreme. Yes, saying anything that hits your tongue: however bare, unfiltered, crude, rude and provocative is an aspect of extremism. There is no other way to describe it. To cause anguish to millions by injuring their sentiments by way of words is not “freedom” and to impose, in order to protect the peace of a land, limits upon what can be said or written is not “backward” it’s just common sense. When did respecting that which others hold dear become the mark of a society who has not yet advanced into a mature civilisation?

It is for this reason that when I, along with almost everyone I know, saw the Charlie Hebdo front cover, I was horrified. The question isn’t what’s offensive about it, it’s where to begin! The cover of Charlie Hebdo depicts the Queen kneeling on the neck of the Duchess of Sussex (in a sick parody of George Floyd’s murder) with the words “Why did Meghan leave Buckingham? Because I could not breath” in bold next to the cartoon. Most people are outraged by this, and rightly so: it’s a step too far which cuts deep into issues that have torn entire countries down the middle.

When Charlie Hebdo published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammadsa the entire Muslim world was outraged. Most western politicians offered their solidarity to Charlie Hebdo as they believed it was “championing” freedom of speech—perhaps now people can comprehend how Muslim sensibilities were hurt. When vile depictions of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa had been published before, the head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul-Masih Vaba [Fifth Caliph of the Messiah], stated:

“We tell the world that any kind of vulgar expression about any sacred person of any religion does not constitute freedom in any way at all. You apparently champion democracy and freedom of expression, but play with the sentiments of others; this is neither democracy nor freedom of expression. Everything has a limit and some code of conduct. Just as there are codes of conduct in all professions, there is also a code of conduct in journalism. Just as no matter what kind of government there is, it has its rules and regulations. Freedom of expression certainly does not mean that sentiments are trifled with, or are caused to be hurt. If this is the freedom that the West is proud of, then this freedom does not lead to advancement, rather it leads to decline.”

The true issue at the heart of the so called satirical depictions in the journalism, if you can call it that, of Charlie Hebdo is causing such a rift in society which causes hatred to grow. Indeed, Islamic teachings are categorical on the matter of hurting the sentiments of others—the Holy Qur’an teaches Muslims to not insult the gods of others for it will lead to them returning such words and a cycle of animosity will begin. True freedom of speech and expression were enshrined in law to safeguard the rights of those who were oppressed; the objective was never for those who ridiculed for their own pleasure to go unchallenged.

Words do injure—injure in such a way that destroys the peace of a country. This is something that the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Promised Messiahas, foresaw and made many efforts to stop his countrymen abusing and insulting each other. In his view this would sow the seeds of discord for generations to come. In his book The British Government & Jihad, the Promised Messiahas explains the harm inflammatory language and publications are causing in aiding the spread of hostility, he then suggests:

“For an experimental period of a few years, every group should be strictly forbidden from using vicious language against other religions, be it explicit or implicit, in their writings or in their sermons. They should, however, be permitted to recount the virtues of their own faith. This will prevent the cultivation of new plants of hatred and as ancient tales fade away people will be inclined towards mutual love and reconciliation.”

Similarly in his grand writing on inter-faith harmony, the Promised Messiahas explains:

“O my dear countrymen, I have not expressed this view to offend you or to hurt your sensibilities in any way. But I do desire to submit, in all sincerity, that those who have made it their second nature to vilify the Prophets of other faiths and consider this unjustified behaviour to be a part of their faith commit an act of unwarranted interference in others’ affairs. They not only sin against God, but they are also guilty of sowing the seed of discord and enmity among mankind. Now answer me with hand on heart: if someone abuses another’s father or accuses another’s mother of unchaste conduct, will this not be tantamount to assailing the honour of his father himself? If anyone retaliates with similar abuses, will it not be appropriate to say that in reality the blame lies with the person who initiated it? In that case he himself would be the offender of his parents’ honour.”

These words were written over 100 years ago and they contain great truth. Those who ridicule others and hide behind the slogans of “championing freedom of speech and expression” are not the well-wishers of even their own people, for they sow the seed of animosity amongst their own neighbours.

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