The brazen attacks on mosques belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community might be dismissed by some as an example of sectarian conflict in Islam – but it is here that lay the roots of what later became the war on terror.
For the targeting of the most benign and peace-loving Islamic community that lives by a code of Love for All, Hatred for None, is the culmination of decades of persecution.
Extremists fuelled by hate-filled sermons against Ahmadi Muslims have previously attacked and desecrated mosques, murdered Ahmadi Muslims in workplaces or homes and discriminated against us in all spheres of life.
In Pakistan, laws have been passed denying us the right to call ourselves Muslims – with severe punishments if we ‘pose as Muslims’ by issuing the call to prayer, or exchanging the Islamic greeting of Salaam – which means peace.
Even Nobel Prize-Winning scientist Professor Abdus Salam, who was a leading member of the Ahmadi Muslim community, was not spared. These laws remain on the statute books and legitimise violence and discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims. The latest incidents are a stark reminder that these laws must now be repealed forthwith if Pakistan is to take its place in the international community as a responsible nation.
The extremists have vilified Ahmadi Muslims as ‘agents of the West’ to carry out all manner of atrocity against us for decades- while the powers that be have looked on. Thousands of Ahmadi Muslims have fled – many to the West where they have integrated and led peaceful lives as beacons of how Islam is compatible with life in the 21st century.
But now the fire of hate that was kindled by the extremists is raging out of control and what was first simply a targeting of a minority community like the Ahmadis has led to brazen attacks of Ahmadi mosques, Shia mosques and Christian churches. Western nations have been targeted as well as their interests.
What we witnessed today appears to be unprecedented and shocking - but it is the shape of things to come. As long as governments sit wringing their hands in impotent angst against the machinations of religious extremists, attacks on these soft targets will continue.
Instead of capitulating to the demands of extremists, governments should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to the imposition of a particular religious model over another. Freedom of faith- as required by Islam and enshrined by human rights- should be held as a model of good practise.
I fear that this is a cry in the wilderness. For too long I have witnessed the hijacking and manipulation of my faith by extremists who have seized the agenda and seem to be holding governments to ransom.
Ahmadi Muslims represents a renaissance of Islam- a chance for peace to find a way. Let it not be shot down in flames.
Rafiq Hayat is Head of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK