Shahzad Ahmad had a successful career, a family and the prospect of a bright future in his native country, but there was one problem. He belonged to a religious minority in a country where intolerance and persecution are rife.
Ahmad applied for political asylum in Germany citing persecution on the basis of religion as a reason. He belongs to the Ahmadi sect, a religious minority in Pakistan. Though Ahmadis recognize themselves as Muslims, they were declared ‘non-Muslims’ in 1974 via a constitutional amendment. A decade later, Ahmadis were barred from even identifying themselves as Muslims.
Ahamdis face persecution in many Muslim states
Currently, there are about half a million Ahmadis in Pakistan, though some independent estimates put their number between two and four million. The Ahmadi sect has 10 to 20 million followers worldwide and face discrimination in a number of Muslim majority countries like Indonesia, Algeria and Pakistan.
Shahzad Ahmad, now 32 years of age, had faced persecution at many stages of his life in Pakistan, but due to his happy-go-lucky attitude, it didn’t matter much. But then, there came a point when it started to matter. Ahmad’s perspective changed after he became a father and realized that he doesn’t want his children to go through what he had witnessed throughout his life.
Speaking to InfoMigrants, Shahzad said that back in 2015, before he decided to travel to Germany and seek protection here, he was actually searching for a house in Karachi. His business was prospering and the children were growing up, they needed a bigger house. “We went to see a house one day and the estate agent, upon seeing my wife in a particular gown inquired if we were Ahmadis. When I said yes, his attitude changed. He insulted me and my family and we were told to leave and forget about renting a place in that neighborhood,” he said. According to Ahmad, the incident left a very severe psychological impact on his entire family.
Shahzad Ahmad told InfoMigrants, “in Pakistan, we are basically referred to as ‘kafirs’ which means non-believers.” According to him, Ahmadis are discriminated against in all walks of life, be it admissions in schools and colleges, job opportunities etc. “Ahmadis are put in a situation where they are either required to denounce their beliefs and faith, in writing, or they must face the consequences of belonging to a community which is declared non-Muslim in the country’s constitution,” he added. These consequences mean persecution, physical as well as emotional.
Pakistan on a US watch list for severe violations of religious freedom
It is to be noted that in Pakistan, Ahmadis are not allowed to recite the Koran by law. They are barred from religious gatherings of other sects such as Sunni Muslims; they cannot call their worship places ‘mosques’ and are prohibited to distribute any religious literature. Leaders from the Ahmadi sect claim that such moves are not only responsible for attacks against its members, but are also directly responsible for the existent sectarian divide in the country. Also, Ahmadis are quite often defendants in criminal charges of blasphemy, which is punishable by death in Pakistan. In January 2018, the US placed Pakistan on a special watch list for severe violations of religious freedom.
“The Mullahs - religious leaders - have played a significant role in spreading hatred against minorities in Pakistan,” Ahmad told InfoMigrants. It is a fact that religious elements play an important role in the lives of people in the south Asian nation. Intolerance is rampant and persecution of almost all minorities is a reality. Ahmad blames the state for the state of affairs, “unfortunately, in Pakistan, it is the state that is responsible for amending the law declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims and then allowing the spheres for far-right elements to prosper.”
After initial difficulties, Shahzad Ahmad is finding his feet in Germany. Ahmad’s asylum application has been accepted and he is currently on a three-year visa. The migrant has set up his own business in his hometown of Giesen and is also volunteering with an NGO. Despite being successful in his home country, he had to leave it and start all over again in a new country. Ahmad is far from where he wants to be, but here in Germany, he can work to build his future without being worried about his or his children’s lives.
*The protagonist does not want to disclose his real name or his picture, so InfoMigrants has used 'Shahzad Ahmad' instead.