In Your Name, Allahumma
I landed in Pakistan on 1 August, 2019 for the purpose of work. As an employee of Yellow Cabs based in Kamloops, BC (Canada), I was commissioned by the owner, Mr. Abdul Rashid, to head the dispatch office for the cab company located in Saddar, Rawalpindi. While there, I came across a poster advertising an Islamic conference on the topic of Khatm an-Nubuwwat (the finality of prophesy). I noted several of the phone numbers listed on that poster and contacted them via WhatsApp where I posed a question relating to the topic of the finality of prophesy: "Since the institution of prophesy is a divine blessing, why has this the best Umma been deprived of that divine blessing with the apparent cessation of the institution of prophesy, whereas in the previous Umma of Israel prophets were raised up among them in the hundreds if not thousands, one after the other?" One of those individuals whom I had contacted (whose phone number was listed on the poster) was a well-known mufti of the area, a certain Usman Rizvi. He also happens to be the khatib at the famous Allah Wali Mosque in nearby Tench Bhatta, Mughalabad locality, and affiliated with Manzar ul-Islam Foundation. The Mufti replied that he would not engage me on social media, but that if I was serious about discussing this issue I should meet him in person. Therefore, we made arrangements to meet at my residence which was attached to the company's office in Rizwan Arcade (Saddar, Rawalpindi). During this meeting, I gave my position in writing to the effect that prophesy has not ceased absolutely, but that a part of it remains in this Umma, namely, the Mubashshirat (true visions). We agreed to debate on this point and I was invited to do so at the Allah Wali Mosque on 19 October 2019 after the conclusion of the Isha prayer. However, when I arrived at the designated setting on the designated date, the Mufti announced to the entire congregation gathered for Isha prayer that they were invited to hear a debate on the finality of prophesy with a "Qadiani". Subsequently there was a great excitement leading up to the scheduled debate, and dozens of regular mosque-goers gathered near the room where the debate was to be held. They began shouting religious slogans, creating an atmosphere of intimidation. While seated in the room waiting to commence the debate, suddenly the Mufti's team arrived and transformed the room into a professional studio, with professional lighting and cameras to record the debate. Several other individuals were seated in the room to livestream the debate through their phones on Facebook. I did not object to any of this, though my consent was never sought for it, nor had it been mentioned in the written and verbal agreements that had been made days earlier when the Mufti and two of his students visited me at my residence. Further details of that debate, which was four and a half hours in duration, can be found here.
At the conclusion of the debate, the Mufti or the mosque administration arranged for me to be securely deposited back to my residence. Approximately twenty days later, on 10 November 2019, the police suddenly appeared at the office in the evening and ordered everyone present in the office, including myself, to accompany them to the police station. I and my colleagues were totally unaware as to why we had apparently been detained. It was only when I arrived at the police station and one of the officers began playing a recording of the debate I had participated in earlier did I realize this was some sort of religious case. I immediately requested the police to release my other colleagues as they had absolutely nothing to do with the matter. After being interrogated regarding myself, those colleagues were released. Meanwhile, some police officers interrogated me quite informally and without asking any serious or relevant questions. They then decided to formally charge me with blasphemy. In the shadows, I some some individuals with lengthy beards wearing prayer caps who were apparently there to register their statements against me. I was unable to identify them. The next day, I was taken to court to appear before the civil magistrate, Abdus Sattar Awan. I was then put in judicial remand and sent off to Adiala Jail. Upon arrival there, I was wearing a dark colored frock. Some of the jailers commented that this was the type of dress that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian used to wear. Considering me a "Qadiani", a jailer then hit me twice on the back of my neck, leaving a red mark which happily did not remain long. I was then escorted to the Special Para where all blasphemy accused and convicts were housed. There I was put in a cell with three other individuals. The next day my jail ticket was prepared and I learned that I was being charged with 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which reads:
"Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings, of any class of citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both."
Leaving aside for the moment whether such a law is justified or a gross violation of the basic human right of freedom of speech and expression, it is indisputable that I neither insulted nor attempted to insult the religion or religious beliefs of any class of citizens of Pakistan. On the contrary, it was my opponent in the debate, the good Mufti, Usman Rizvi, who repeatedly used insulting and demeaning language directed at the figure of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, respected by myself as a great Islamic reformer and by millions of others in Pakistan known as Ahmadis or "Qadianis". But ironically, it was I who was arrested and charged, a clear indication of the persecution and discrimination that Ahmadis/Qadianis, or in my case, alleged "Qadianis", face in the so-called Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Some time later, the police decided to tag another offence to my charge sheet, namely, 298-C of the PPC, which reads:
"Person of Quadiani group, etc., calling himself a Muslim or preaching or propagating his faith. Any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves 'Ahmadis' or by any other name), who directly or indirectly, poses himself as a Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, by words, either written or spoken, or by visible representation, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine."
While 295-A is general, this latter so-called criminal offense (298-C), is clearly discriminatory and a manifest violation of the basic human right of freedom of religion. According to Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Pakistan is a signatory: