On September 13, 2023, religious scholars from the majority faith communities and followers of the Ahmadiyya faith residing in Kartoo village in the district of Sheikhupura submitted a request to the District Police Officer. In the request, they stated that all the village residents live peacefully and harmoniously. They also mentioned that there has been a mosque (Beit al-Zikr) in the area for the past 60 years, and there are no objections to its construction style. Therefore, they urged that the minarets and prayer area not be demolished.
Kartoo village, located approximately 7 kilometres east of Naranj Mandi in the Sheikhupura district, is home to around 4,000 people. According to the 2017 census, there are 339 non-Muslim residents in this area.
According to Hameed Butter, a village resident, approximately 30 households in the village follow the Ahmadiyya faith. The remaining households are roughly divided between Sunni and Shia sects. In addition to mosques belonging to the Barelvi, Deobandi, and Ahl-e-Hadith sects, there is also a place of worship for Ahmadis in the village. There has never been any religious or sectarian dispute among the villagers.
However, two days later, some scholars began issuing statements of doubt, claiming they had signed the request without reading its contents. They apologised for this mistake.
A local young man who has requested to keep his identity confidential claims that when details of the request became public on social media, armed activists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) from the district arrived and took him to Sunni scholars, forcing him to record video messages.
Upon viewing these messages, it is clear that some individuals behind the camera are instructing scholars regarding the content of the statements.
On the night of September 24, the police acted, dismantling the upper portions of the minarets at the Ahmadi worship place and removing loudspeakers.
An official from the law enforcement agencies has stated that the decision to dismantle the minarets of the Ahmadi place of worship was made after considering “ground realities” and to “maintain peace and security” in the area under police supervision.
Hameed Butter mentioned that the police had concerns that an incident might occur on Rabi-ul-Awwal 12. Therefore, there was an attempt to convince the Ahmadiyya community to dismantle the minarets. The Ahmadiyya community’s stance was that if the state wanted to maintain peace and security, it could do so, but they would not voluntarily dismantle the minarets of their worship place, nor would they allow any crowd to do so.
The upper portions of the minarets were allegedly removed under police supervision during the night.
Some individuals affiliated with the Ahmadiyya faith believe that the police took this action under pressure from TLP. According to them, this pressure began when TLP protested outside the DPO office in Sheikhupura on August 28, demanding that by Rabi-ul-Awwal 11, all minarets of Ahmadiyya places of worship in the entire district be demolished; otherwise, they threatened to take action themselves.
These individuals claim that out of fear of this threat, the police took action to dismantle the minarets of Ahmadiyya worship places at five locations in Sheikhupura, including Kartoo, Nanu Dogar, Kalsian Bhutta, Beedad Pur Warkan, and one in the city of Sheikhupura.
Hafiz Khalid Chishti, a local leader of TLP, denies his organisation’s members’ involvement in destroying any Ahmadiyya places of worship or minarets.
However, individuals from the Ahmadiyya community are not willing to accept this explanation. They believe this organisation has orchestrated the recent nationwide violence surge against them.
On the Rabi-ul-Awwal 12, videos on social media showed the destruction of minarets and other religious symbols at Ahmadiyya places of worship in Jhelum and Okara. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) shared these videos and alleged that some individuals associated with TLP had caused damage to these worship places.
Ghulam Habib Awan, an expected candidate for the upcoming general elections from the Sheikhupura constituency and a senior leader of TLP, claims that Dr Muhammad Shahid Gajr, the district head of TLP, instructed him that if the law enforcement agencies did not demolish the Ahmadiyya worship places within the legal deadline by Rabi-ul-Awwal 11, their supporters would take matters into their own hands-on Rabi-ul-Awwal 12.
Local journalist Mian Mazhar Nawaz, who closely follows this matter, believes that the situation did not seem to be heading towards an amicable resolution through dialogue and understanding. Therefore, the police dismantled the minarets of the worship places themselves. In his view, the current conditions in the area are peaceful, but he acknowledges that it is uncertain what may happen regarding this issue.
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According to Aamir Mahmood, the spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan, there have been 39 incidents in the past year where minarets of Ahmadiyya places of worship were destroyed in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. In most cases, the police were responsible for these actions, while in some instances, mobs carried out the destruction.
Critics of these police actions consider them unlawful and argue that a court order is necessary for any such actions to take place. The Lahore High Court’s decision on August 31, 2023, regarding this matter is available.
Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh of the Lahore High Court ruled, “Minarets built before 1984 cannot be demolished. Despite that, if the police are carrying out such actions, they should be questioned about their legal basis and foundation.
Article 260(3) of the Constitution states that Ahmadis/Qadianis are non-Muslims, but they cannot be deprived of their Pakistani citizenship rights, nor can their fundamental rights be taken away, as guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Article 4 of the Constitution also affirms that all citizens are entitled to equal treatment under the law, regardless of religion. Every citizen is afforded legal protection and is entitled to their rights under the law.
Published on 5 Oct 2023