On October 2, Pakistan’s National Assembly passed the Electoral Reforms Bill 2017 into law, to allow the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) disqualified prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to be reelected as the party’s leader.

In addition to being touted as undemocratic by opposition parties, resulting in the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) challenging the amendment in the Supreme Court, the bill has been met with a severe backlash over changes made regarding Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of prophethood), the belief that the Prophet Muhammad was the final messenger of Allah, as enshrined in Pakistan’s Constitution.

The Electoral Reforms Bill 2017 hanged the wording in the candidate nomination papers from  “solemnly swearing” that they believe in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat to “declaring” it

The Electoral Reforms Bill 2017 changed the wording in the candidate nomination papers from  “solemnly swearing” that they believe in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat to “declaring” it. It also omitted clauses 7B and 7C of the Conduct of the General Election Order 2002.

The Pakistani Constitution’s Second Amendment in 1974 excommunicated the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect by mandating belief in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat as integral to Islam.

Islamist military dictator Ziaul Haq added Ordinance XX to Pakistan’s Penal Code, which barred Ahmadis from “posing as Muslims.” It sanctioned prison sentences if members of the community used Islamic titles or greetings, recited the Islamic scriptures in public or gave the Islamic call to prayer.

Through the 8th Amendment to the Constitution in 1985, Zia also introduced separate electorates based on religion, with those claiming to be Muslims having to sign a certificate of faith in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat and deny affiliation with the founder of Ahmadiyyat.

While another military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, overturned the separate electorates in the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002, clauses 7B and 7C created a supplementary list of voters for Ahmadis, requiring all Muslim voters to “sign a declaration regarding his belief about the absolute and unqualified finality of the prophethood.”

Even though the oath was reinstated in its original form and Articles 7B and 7C were restored, the ruling party has been under severe pressure for “undermining Islam.”

Among those castigating the PML-N was cleric Fazl-ur-Rehman from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), who said that an “early grave awaited anyone who tried to amend the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause. Similar threats had been issued by other Islamist parties, who along with many banned jihadist outfits, vowed to launch a protest movement.

Senior columnist and Secretary General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) I A Rehman, who wrote a piece titled Joint electorate? Not quite in Dawn’s September 17, 2002, edition, told Asia Times that the ruckus over the omission of 7B and 7C is “pure political blackmail.”

He said, “Ahmadis have been constitutionally declared as non-Muslims, but they are equal citizens of Pakistan. The amendment that excommunicated them was wrong, but that’s a separate argument. Their rights as Pakistani citizens need to be upheld.”

He added: “All political players are uniting to create an atmosphere conducive to violence to achieve their own political goals.” 

Already on the back foot following the dismissal of Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N’s leaders have been in damage control mode, with Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif asking the person responsible for overlooking the “clerical error” to be “kicked out from the cabinet” and Nawaz creating an inquiry committee under Climate Change Minister Mushahidullah Khan and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal to probe the matter.

Iqbal maintains that any change in the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause of the Electoral Reforms Bill was never considered.

“Khatm-e-Nabuwwat is the base and pillar of faith. No Muslim can compromise on a Khatm-e-Nabuwwat matter – it is a sin to even consider it,” he said, calling for an end to political rowing over the issue now that the clause has been restored to the original form.

But the interior minister also called out those issuing death threats and fatwas (edicts) aimed at non-believers.

“If we start handing out fatwas on who is an apostate and who is Muslim, there will be chaos. It is only up to God to decide who is going to heaven and hell,” he told the National Assembly.

“It’s a positive step to stay that wajib-ul-qatl (liable to be murdered) fatwas shouldn’t be given by anyone and everyone, but it’s interesting that they’ve only done it after there were fatwas against them and their party leaders,” Ahmadiyya community spokesman Saleem Uddin told Asia Times.

Saleem Uddin maintains that the Ahmadis have become a convenient political scapegoat.

“Any normal democratic state gives the right to all of its citizens to take part in elections. We’re not asking for the right on religious grounds, but simply as citizens of Pakistan.

“The hoopla over ‘solemnly swearing’ or ‘declaring’ one’s belief is meaningless. We won’t sign up in either case. The real issue is that once you have already declared us non-Muslims, why do you need a separate list for us? This is why we don’t participate in elections, because we want the same law to apply to all citizens.

“But as usual, instead of safeguarding our basic human rights, all parties concerned are paving the way for the already prevailing death threats against us.”

However,  JUI-F Deputy Secretary General Amjad Khan told Asia Times that his party chief Fazl-ur-Rehman’s comments were taken out of context.

“What he meant to say was anyone who takes such a step would invite a backlash. If it is the government they would see mass protests, if it’s an individual then we have the law underlining their punishment,” he said.

“There is a law in Pakistan which is a part of our beliefs. As Muslims, we love Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) more than our own parents. What would you do if someone abuses your mother? This is a part of our belief. Every drop of our blood is filled with love for the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him),” he maintains.

“The reason why we don’t want Pakistan’s blasphemy law to be abolished is because if someone, Allah forbid, insults our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), we have the law to take care of them. We want the UN to implement a similar law internationally.”

A PML-N leader privy to the drafting of the Electoral Reforms Bill told Asia Times that the reason why Articles 7B and 7C “escaped the attention” of the cabinet and the parliamentarians that voted it into law is that the separate voters’ list has been superfluous.

“Now they’re just taking the voters’ data from NADRA [National Database and Registration Authority], which clearly mentions the religious identity of all voters,” he said.

However, well over a week after the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause was restored, the government is still feeling the heat.

This has resulted in Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif – who last month admitted the presence of terror groups in the country and reiterated that Pakistan must get its house in order – distancing himself from interactions with Ahmadis by revealing on a TV show how he recently asked two young boys whether they belonged to the Ahmadiyya community before posing for a picture with them.

Similarly, PML-N leader Captain Muhammad Safdar, who is Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law, launched a tirade against “Qadianis” (a derogatory term for Ahmadis) in the National Assembly on Tuesday, calling for a ban against the community members’ induction into the armed forces. He also tabled a resolution to rename Quaid-e-Azam University’s physics centre, which has been named after Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate.

Safdar’s outburst came a day after he had arrived in Islamabad from London to appear before an accountability court over a corruption reference prepared by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against the Sharif family.

“Look at him giving lessons on Islam and Khatm-e-Nabuwwat. First prove your own credibility and look at the charges against you,” Saleem Uddin said while reacting to Safdar’s address in the National Assembly, which the Ahmadiyya spokesperson dubbed a “convenient diversion” from NAB allegations.

“If they want to prevent Ahmadis from joining the army, throw Akhtar Hussain Malik’s achievements out as well and take away his accolades. Make announcements against the accomplishments of Abdul Ali Malik, Zafrullah Khan and Dr Abdus Salam and then throw us away from all important state positions.”

Since 1984, 258 Ahmadis have been killed because of their faith. In addition, countless mosques and graves have been desecrated, and the community’s literature has been banned.

I A Rehman doesn’t see an end to the scapegoating or the violence anytime soon.

“The solution will take a long time. These are Zia-ul-Haq’s doings, undoing which will take a long time,” he said.

“First we need to look at our Constitution and be prepared for honest self-reflection and look at which clauses are harmful and need revision. It’s not a matter of just an issue or two – a massive revamp is needed.”