LAST week three funerals took place on three successive days. The dead came from different backgrounds, belonged to different places and professions. Common to the three was their faith.
They were Ahmadis — and that was good enough reason for the unknown gunmen to kill them.
The first to be shot dead — on Sept 8 — was Dr Abdul Mannan Siddiqui at Mirpurkhas during a midday round of his hospital wards. Seth Yusuf, a Nawabshah trader, was shot dead the next day as he headed home after saying his prayers. The third funeral was Sheikh Saeed's who was shot, like the other two during the day while at his pharmacy in a lower middle-class colony of Karachi.
Ahmadis as a community are not new to murder. It is only that more of them are now being murdered than ever before and more brazenly as the murderers enjoy a kind of impunity. None of them has ever been caught and convicted. The tragic irony of it all is that the 1974 amendment to the constitution declaring Ahmadis “not Muslims”, which was intended to settle the 'problem' for all times to come, (as the PPP leadership then claimed and still boasts of) had in fact exacerbated it. According to the Ahmadiyya central office since 1974, 105 Ahmadis have been murdered. Among them have been scientists, doctors and educationists. In the 26 years, before the amendment (1947 to 1973) their number was only 18. The destruction of their properties and places of worship increased in even larger proportion.
This month's gunning spree (three wounded are still struggling for their life) followed soon after a prime-hour discussion on one of the more popular television channels commemorating the 1974 amendment. That programme ended with a verdict by a participating mufti of an extremist school that for deviating from the conventional view of the finality of the prophethood of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) the Ahmadis deserved to be murdered. A condescending compere followed it up with a lyrical oration heaping insults on the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement.
If festering prejudice needed an impetus to murder, the compere of the Sept 7 programme and his chosen scholars provided it. A measure of understanding, perhaps, can be shown to politicians and priests when they are persuaded to whip up religious emotions to the point of violence only to divert the attention of the people from other woes. But the mass media that stands for full freedom of expression with matching social responsibility should not be seen as joining them.
The union of international journalists must have studied the contents and tenor of the broadcast in question before advising its counterpart here to abide by its code of honour and isolate the odd offenders rather than invite intervention by the government. Sensibly, the freedom to project one's own religious views does not imply the freedom to instigate violence against others. This stipulation must stand at the core of both the ethics of the media and the law of the land.
The three men murdered were peaceable, law-abiding citizens. Those who knew Seth Yusuf, as the people of Nawabshah indeed had for 50 or more years, would not have ever thought of doing him the slightest harm. He was a God-fearing man in his seventies. His murderers were obviously strangers who were either indoctrinated or paid to kill him only because he was the chief of the district's Ahmadiyya community.
Young Sheikh Saeed's elder brother and his uncle, a professor of medical sciences at the Jinnah Postgraduate Centre, were gunned down at the same place and for the same reason in the last two years. This is a situation in which even an indifferent investigating agency could get a clue as to the identity of the killers only if it felt concerned, if not about the dead, then about its own credibility.
Most poignant has been the death of Dr Abdul Mannan Siddiqui. Tributes to him flowed freely and generously. To the lawyers of the district he was a benefactor of mankind. The hospital staff looked up to him more as a father than as an employer. The head of the district police thought he was a great man the like of whom are not born everyday. The association of the doctors summed it all up Mannan's murder is the murder of humanity.
The treatment of the humblest of mankind often took the deceased doctor to the far end of the desert. Holding frequent and free medical camps at Nagarparkar, the farthest outpost on the border with India, was his wont. The ranas and waderas would swear by his professional integrity and humanitarian concerns.
It is a pity, but should cause no surprise, that no leader of the government had spoken on Mannan's death — to condemn the killers or to commiserate with the bereaved. The lone and powerful voice has been of Altaf Hussain, the MQM chief. His instant condemnation of the killers and tribute to Dr Mannan for his selfless service to humanity came like a gust of fragrant breeze blowing through a stillness laden with the stench of prejudice.
After specialised studies in America, Mannan was planning to settle down there when his father Abdur Rehman Siddiqui (also a doctor) reminded him that
his first duty was to his own people. Mannan hurried back and went on, as if in vengeance, to raise his father's humble clinic to the standard of a modern hospital that was free for the poor. He was the only son of his late father. It hurts deep inside when the life of a man, who is the age of your son, is cut short. Mannan was just 44 as is my son. It is now up to his admirers and the patients he healed to keep alive the legend of his and his father's service of 60 years.
As for the devout anchorman and his ponderous scholars, they may have to go to Mirpurkhas and the desert beyond to learn that the worth of a man lies not in schism but in service. After all it is a Dutch and Christian woman who takes care of the lepers here whom the faithful shun.
To kill a man for his belief is inhuman and cannot be Islamic for Islam is a religion of humanity. And it is for our leaders to realise that by employing religion in the service of politics they have made this Islamic Republic into a world metaphor for dictatorship, brutality and terror where the youth are trained to kill and women, by many accounts, are buried alive.