Religious persecution, according to Rafael Palomino, professor at the Complutense University of Madrid, is an infringement of religious freedom with the aim of "the disappearance of its practitioners". Persecution can take many forms and expressions.
On the occasion of the religious persecution suffered by Ahmadi Muslims around the world, a telematic conference was held to address the subject in depth under the title 'Religious persecution in today's world'; with the participation of Qamar Fazal as spokesperson and introducer, Rafael Palomino Lozano himself, professor of International Law as well as of Ecclesiastical Law and Philosophy of Law at the Complutense University of Madrid, and the journalist Óscar Gómez.
The event began with a Qur'anic reading by Qamar Fazal, who explained that the recurring theme of the Qur'an is freedom of conscience. "Whoever wants to believe, let him believe, and whoever does not want to believe, let him not believe", he said, quoting the Koran.
Ahmadi Muslims have been persecuted since their beginnings, mainly in Pakistan, home to 2-5 million Ahmadis, which has the largest Ahmadi population in the world. Hazrat Mirza Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian in India recognised himself as the messiah of his time as he claimed that Allah had sent him a message. In his books he recognised himself as the messiah of all religions, not just Islam, and in his more than 82 writings he sought peace.
Ahmadis refer to his way as "the true Islam" which was revived by the promised messiah and Imam Al-Mahdi and according to the prophecies of the saint and prophet Muhammad.
In April 1984 General Zia-ul-Haq, then military president of Pakistan, issued Decree XX. It criminalised all Ahmadis, who could be imprisoned or even sentenced to life imprisonment or death. They could not consider themselves Muslims, could not practice their beliefs and could not use Muslim vocabulary, which amounted to outright harassment.
Many Ahmadis suffered long periods of imprisonment and were even banned from voting. For more than 30 years, no Ahmadi has been represented in any assembly, national, provincial, district or even local. Ahmadis have no representation in the Rabwah Town Council, their own town and centre where 95% of the residents are Ahmadis.
They have also suffered destruction of mosques, assassinations, desecration of their graves and a host of other difficulties in leading a normal life. Ahmadi life has been complicated in Pakistan, but also in countries such as Bangladesh and Algeria.
Journalist Óscar Gómez said that during his trip to Pakistan a year and a half ago he conducted a series of 27 interviews with Ahmadi Muslims. One of the most shocking stories he told was that of a 23-year-old girl who will not be able to fulfil her dream because of her creed. Her dream was to study biology, she was already one foot close to being what she wanted to be, but the university discovered she was an Ahmadi and expelled her not only from that, but from all other universities.
Professor Rafael Palomino explained that "there can be more manifestations of persecution (...) It is enough to deny legal personality or the status of association to a religious group in a country so that they cannot establish a place of worship, so that they cannot have a mosque, so that they cannot have a synagogue, so that they cannot meet".
He then launched into a question worth noting, "can religious persecution be eradicated?" The negative answer may not please us, but it is a reality. The professor explains that when this happens the world will end, i.e. it is "the human condition that often leads us to injustice, to persecution, to immorality." He mentioned that what can be done today is to gain awareness that religious persecution is a form of injustice.
He referred to a map from 2015, a report on the situation of religious freedom, which shows many countries where there is a lot of religious persecution. Where you can be imprisoned or sentenced to death. He also mentioned that in heavily populated countries, such as China, India, Pakistan, among others. He made it clear that there is a lot of religious persecution.
The professor ended his speech by mentioning a report published a week ago by the NGO Open Doors. This report, the World Watch List 2021, lists the 50 countries where Christians suffer the greatest and most extreme persecution; a list headed by North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan and Eritrea.
Oscar recalled his trip to Pakistan, which he made together with Qamar, with happiness, but with a bitter taste, in which he highlighted the spirituality and the connection with the people he was able to talk to.
The journalist wanted to immerse the seminar participants in his journey through photographs showing how he experienced the persecution of the Ahmadis, the poverty in which they are submerged and the stories of overcoming the 27 interviewees told him.
One of the remarkable images was of a man explaining how the terrorists who attacked his mosque hugged each other to further detonate the explosives they were carrying. He explained that right on the pillar behind him, cracks can still be seen from the shrapnel from that life-threatening deflagration, which had a huge impact on them.
Each of the stories told, such as that of the man who entered prison at the age of 82 and was released at the age of 87 just for having sold a book of Ahmadi poetry, stirred the emotions.
Religious persecution, as the professor said, will not cease, but each and every one of us can do our bit to raise awareness of it and try to bring about change.
Atalayar asked spokesperson Qamar Fazal about his opinion on the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China. The Ahmadi spokesman mentioned that he did not want to compare them, as this is a geopolitical issue and not an issue of persecution for mere religious proclamation as in the case of the Ahmadi Community. This differentiation, however, cannot conclude that any kind of religious persecution, be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim or whatever, is not unjust. Freedom of religion is human freedom.