1974 Anti-Ahmadiyya Riots 

From WikiAhmadiyya, the free encyclopedia on Islam and Ahmadiyyat
Ahmadiyya delegation to National Assembly 1974

Anti-Ahmadiyya riots broke out across Pakistan in the summer of 1974, resulting in the deaths of dozens of Ahmadi Muslims. The violence began when a group of non-Ahmadi students attacked the rail station at the predominantly Ahmadi town of Rabwah. The Samdani Commission was established to investigate the cause of the attacks, but Justice Samdani's findings were kept secret. The government and authorities often failed - or refused - to protect the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community or prosecute mob leaders. Much of the violence was instigated by anti-Ahmadiyya religious clerics and the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto finally bowed to their pressure, amending the constitution on 7 September 1974 to declare Ahmadis heretics and non-Muslims.

Timeline of events


22-24 February: Islamic Summit

The heads of the world's Muslim states gathered in Lahore, Pakistan for a summit at which the Saudi delegation allegedly campaigned for Ahmadis to be declared non-Muslims.

11 April: World Muslim League religious edict

The Saudi delegate to the World Muslim League, Mujahid Al Sawwaf, proposed Ahmadis be declared non-Muslim - a resolution unanimously adopted. 

22 May: Attack at Rabwah Rail Station

The Jamaat-e-Islami student association from Nishtar Medical College arrived by the Chenab Express at the rail station of the predominantly Ahmadi town, Rabwah on 22 May. Jamaat-e-Islami had long been an organisation actively hostile towards the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The group had led anti-Ahmadiyya riots across Pakistan in 1953 and promoted the death penalty for 'apostates' while actively declaring Ahmadis to be apostates. 

Numbering 200, students arrived carrying anti-Ahmadiyya placards, chanted anti-Ahmadiyya slogans before some stripped themselves naked and began to chase and harass the Ahmadi women present at the station. Finally preparing to leave, the students shouted they would return again in one weeks time. 

24 May: Caliph instructs peaceful, forgiving response

Addressing thousands at Rabwah's Aqsa Mosque during his May 24 Friday sermon, the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community preached tolerance and to respond peacefully:

The teaching we have received regarding praying for others should not be forgotten. It is not our job to be angry. It is our job to swallow our anger. It is not our job to take revenge and retribution but it is our job to forgive. It is our job to pray for those who are our extreme enemies.

- Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, Friday Sermon 24 May 2015

29 May: Second attack at Rabwah Rail Station

The 200 students from Jamaat-e-Islami returned a week after their first attack. This time, a group of a few dozen Ahmadi youths retaliated and a fight broke out, lasting for three hours. The Chenab Express finally carried the Jamaat-e-Islami students away to Faisalabad, where a crowd were waiting to greet them as heroes. Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, the first foreign minister of Pakistan and later the president of the UN General Assembly and the International Criminal Court, described the incident:

In the middle of 1974, they devised a plan which was aimed at provoking anger and rancour against the Ahmadiyya community, which unfortunately succeeded only too well in its immediate purpose. An incident was staged at the Rabwah railway station which was so managed that a party of students who belonged to an organisation bitterly hostile to the Movement succeeded in provoking a number of Ahmadis, who happened to be present at the railway station when the train carrying the students arrived, into a conflict in which slight injuries were inflicted on some of the students in the party. At the next stop of the train, preparations had already been made to receive the students as heroes who had suffered grievous injuries in the cause of Islam at the hands of the members of the movement.

The utterly false and misleading accounts of the incident were further embroidered in the press next morning with the addition of such false, fictitious and horrifying details that the students had been cruelly maimed, that some of them had their tongues cut out and that others had their genitals cut off. This sent a wave of horror throughout the province and all sorts of premeditated atrocities were let loose against the members of the Movement.

- Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Ahmadiyyat: The Renaissance of Islam

The crowds preparing for the students at Faisalabad waited with goats. They cut the tongues from the animals and showed them to the crowds, claiming they had been cut from the boys. In reality, although up to 19 students visited hospital, medical reports from the incident show nobody suffered more than the most minor of injuries. Nevertheless, photos were taken and distributed by the national media of the blood-soaked students and one newspaper wrote on its front page:

It is the religious duty of all Muslims that...the Qadianis be completely boycotted, that they maintain no relationships with them and do not buy and sell products made by them. We strongly demand from the prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, without delay declare the Qadianis a non-Muslim minority.

- Nawa-e-Waqt, 1974

In the following days, Pakistan's Prime Minister initiated a tribunal investigating Rabwah's May riots, led by Justice Samdani of Lahore's High Court. Initially, the tribunal had been public before later being held privately, in camera. When the tribunal came to an end, Samdani told newspapers his findings would be published imminently: 

It was possible that certain evidence would have proved prejudicial to the security of Pakistan, but later on when it was found that no such matter cropped up during camera proceedings the tribunal permitted the publication of the evidence taken in camera.

Justice Samdani, Dawn 1974

Despite Samdani's expectations, his report was not made available and remains classified to this day. Sir Zafarullah noted: 

For reasons undisclosed the report of the inquiry has not been published so far. This lends colour to the speculation that the administration does not come out too well in the report.

- Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Ahmadiyyat: The Renaissance of Islam

In 2012, Samdani granted an interview to a research paper by Yale University in which he stated of the Rabwah attacks:

Claims of violent beatings of non-Ahmadi students by Ahmadi students were wildly exaggerated and mostly inaccurate.

- Justice Samdani, The Exclusion of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan

31 May: Caliph responds to nationwide reprisals

The anti-Ahmadiyya movement across Pakistan quickly began escalating into a deadly campaign of mob violence. During his Friday Sermon on 31 May, the Caliph responded to the crisis by highlighting those Ahmadi youths who had retaliated during the riot on 29 May had disobeyed his instructions and should repent to God for becoming involved in violence:

Our position is that we are obedient to Allah and His prophet. We have been commanded to answer foul language with prayers and if we have been given pain by anyone we should in return provide them with comfort. This is why in my last Friday sermon I advised particularly the youth they should never cause pain to anyone and should not participate in brawls and riots.  

The event in question occurred at the station on May 29. At the present time, there have been two accounts presented to the world: one is the completely false concoction that - as one daily newspaper has written - 5,000 Ahmadis carried out the attack under a planned scheme etc. There is no doubt that this version of events is completely false. The second account is: a few men, who degraded their status, disobeyed God and His prophet, by allowing themselves to fall into the enemy's trap by participating in the riots. This cannot be denied, because it happened. 

Even if enemies exaggerated our ten men to have been 1,000, this doesn’t absolve those involved in rioting of their share of blame. They committed a mistake and the Ahmadiyya community and I can only express our disgust for and condemnation of their actions. It is my job to give guidance to them and I have fulfilled my duty. Whether or not they understand is up to them, but the truth we must all accept is - regardless of who made the mistake - the mistake has been made. They have unwittingly participated in a well-executed plan, causing a great deal of anxiety to the community and they have also caused the country to show weakness. I do not know who was involved but - for their own good - I advise all of them to offer a minimum of 10,000 prayers of repentence, to repent, to ask for forgiveness from Allah by humbly bowing down to Allah until He forgives them.

- Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, Friday Sermon 31 May 2015

1-3 June: Escalating anti-Ahmadiyya Violence

Deadly riots and looting against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community commenced immediately after the 29 May attacks. Lasting more than a month, violence erupted in Gujranwala, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Topi and Sargodha. Dozens were killed, with over twenty Ahmadi victims, however some who lost their lives were non-Ahmadi staff employed by Ahmadi business or homeowners. Homemade bombs were thrown at Ahmadi houses. Ahmadi businesses received threats, many were set ablaze. Individual Ahmadis were beaten on the streets. Anti-Ahmadiyya clerics demanded the government remove all Ahmadis from public positions. Ahmadi children were boycotted by their classmates, some schools were closed in Punjab. Adults faced a full economic boycott, Ahmadis wouldn't even be sold groceries, water or medicines. There were forced conversions. Politicians, students trade unions, intellectuals and the media all joined the anti-Ahmadiyya campaign. The North West Frontier Province’s government even went so far as to publish a resolution suggesting Ahmadis no longer be allowed to play a role in the political or administrative structure of the country. In some towns Ahmadis were exiled, never to return. 

Initially Pakistan's government made efforts to calm the tension. A government spokesperson released a statement after the Rabwah incident saying:

The government would not brook any exploitation of the incident by any one in a manner calculated to affect public tranquillity.

- Pakistan Government Statement, 1974

In another statement, the government claimed it had made every effort to protect Ahmadis:

Government lost no time in fulfilling its human and legal duty to provide full protection to every citizen irrespective of his creed.

- Pakistan Government Statement, 1974

In Punjab, the media were banned from publishing sectarian articles and warned against inciting hatred of the Ahmadis. In Sindh, the public were told: 

Any printed material which is likely to create and excite sectarian or religious hatred will be seized.

- Sindh Provincial Government Statement, 1974

4-12 June: Government position begins to turn

Pakistan's Prime Minister addressed the National Assembly on 4 June: 

We are so intolerant that we are unable to resolve our problems in a decent and democratic manner....we continue to pile up problem upon problem...to fight among ourselves, to get excited and tear each other apart with hatred, bigotry and animosity…Are we to allow cannibalism among the citizens of this country? Let us first finish with the trouble..

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, National Assembly 4 June 1974

On the same day, Pakistan's newspaper of record, Dawn, reported a number of religious and political leaders were arrested outside Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore for trying to inflame the riots. These included Abdus Sattar Khan Niazi, who had previously been arrested along with the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, Abul Ala Maududi, for inciting riots against Ahmadis in 1953. Members of the Ahrar or Khatme Nabuwwat (anti-Ahmadi organisations) such as Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and Agha Shorish Kashmiri were also detained. Muhammad Ahmad Rizvi was apprehended along with Shia leader Syed Muzaffar Ali Shamsi. The arrests underlined how Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami, Sunni, Salafi, Deobandi and Shia clerics had become united in the anti-Ahmadiyya campaign. 

However, within four hours the clerics were all released and within another week Bhutto's government changed its attitude altogether. Rather than punishing those who had incited riots, Bhutto rewarded them by holding a series of meetings with Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Agha Shorish Kashmiri, Muhammad Ahmad Rizvi, Syed Muzaffar Ali Shamsi, as well as Mian Tufail Mohammad, the president of Jamaat-e-Islami, on June 11-12. 

The Bhutto government's stance is alleged to have changed due to extreme political pressure. Bhutto's Minister for Law would later state in an interview:

It was a political compromise. There was a great deal of pressure...otherwise I don't think Mr Bhutto would have gone so far with a religious issue.

Abdul Hafiz Pirzada, Dunya News

The pressure allegedly came from the Saudi Arabia monarchy, according to a later interview with Bhutto's Finance Minister:

King Faisal's ardent desire was to be a leader of Islam. It was within his power that the practice of not allowing non-Muslims to perform Hajj [religious pilgrimage to Mecca] should apply to Ahmadis also. Now, how to tell who is Ahmadi and who is not Ahmadi? The only way was to write on the passport of Pakistani Muslims that they are not Ahmadis. It was for this purpose that that amendment was made.

- Mubashir HassanMTA

With Pakistan's economy failing and oil-rich Saudi Arabia its source of money, Bhutto was left with no choice. The fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community would later highlight the Saudi's motivation:

The institution of caliphate in the Ahmadiyya community stood in their way. You cannot have two Caliphs. So we had to be extinguished. We had to be declared non-Muslims.

- Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, A Man of God

The riots continued in the weeks ahead with no intervention from the authorities, who were even accused of actively assisting by cutting the communication systems of the headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Rabwah. Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan writes:

In the widespread disorders that followed upon the Rabwah incident, as it came to be known, a number of Ahmadis were killed, maimed and injured and there was large-scale looting and destruction of the properties of Ahmadis. In not a single instance did the police or the civil authorities intervene to extend their protection to the victims of the violence, no investigation was made into any of the numerous outrages committed against the persons and the properties of the Ahmadis, no one was arrested or tried in respect of any of them and no compensation was awarded to any Ahmadi for the loss inflicted upon him. 

“There were several instances in which the police openly and actively encouraged the unruly and disorderly elements to do their worst. At Sargodha, during the preparation of large-scale outrages against the Ahmadis, the then Chief Minister of the province was present in the town and, though apprised of what was going on and made aware of it by observing the columns of smoke rising above the gutted buildings, did not stir his little finger to check the course of the outrages. The same was the attitude of the Deputy Inspector General of police who was also present in the town in attendance upon the Chief Minister. Some of the guardians of law and order explained their inaction and their dereliction of duty as having been imposed upon them by orders from on high.

- Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Ahmadiyyat: The Renaissance of Islam

13 June: Government announces it will rule on religious status of Ahmadis

Bhutto addressed the nation on state television and promised to take the issue of whether Ahmadis are Muslims or not to the National Assembly

God willing, the decision on the Ahmadi issue will be taken during our stay in office...I could become a hero if this issue was solved by me immediately.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, 13 June 1974

A special committee comprising of Pakistan's entire National Assembly was formed by July to discuss the religious status of Ahmadis, with Bhutto setting a deadline of September 7 for the decision.  The committee's first act was to ensure the proceedings of the committee would remain secret, announcing: 

The proceedings of the committee shall be secret. Violation of this secrecy will amount to a breach of the privileges of the committee, which are the same as the privileges of the National Assembly and punishable as contempt of the committee.

Pakistan National Assembly, 1974

5 August: Caliph testifies

The Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community planned to send his younger brother [and later his successor] Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad to testify at the National Assembly, but Bhutto refused the plan:

I think perhaps [Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad] thought I might be better prepared for the debate that would ensue than the established scholars of the Community...They were much more deeply educated than I was and enjoyed a considerable advantage over me in religious studies, but perhaps they were less able to confront in debate people who they did not know. I, on the other hand, knew most of them - some quite intimately. Another reason perhaps was that he liked the way I argued. He considered me quite persuasive. He had also read various articles that I had written and liked the way I had dealt with the issues. However, whatever his reasons were he kept them to himself. He told me to be mentally prepared for the task. 

I think [Bhutto] suspected that I would be sent and that I would be able to handle the Attorney General and mullahs better than the head of the community and there he was so wrong. I assure you that it was impossible for me to present the case so beautifully, so calmly, without excitement and so convincingly.

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, A Man of God

The proceedings from the National Assembly were kept secret for almost forty years. Finally, they were published - decades after Pakistan had lost interest and by which time almost the entire generation involved had passed away - but even then the original audio records have not been made available, amid government claims they were burnt in a fire. The memorandum which the Ahmadis presented to the committee and which was considered the most notable part of their evidence is also absent and the proceedings themselves are heavily redacted, with large portions of the Caliph's statements and his quotations from the Quran and ahadith supporting his case redacted. 

The Caliph testified for several days, but those present suspected they were participating in a show-trial:

The entire Ahmadiyyat which was created and concocted by them was unreal. It was a phantom created with malice from Ahmadiyya writings which were distorted and misconstrued so that wrong conclusions could be drawn from them. Not a single Ahmadiyya doctrine was touched or repudiated or demolished. On the contrary they went on building up their phantom of Ahmadiyyat, which was a concoction of their own and then started condemning it. It was as though they had moulded a figure in wax as in some voodoo or black magic rite and then stuck pins in it in the belief that Ahmadiyyat would be mortally wounded, but the figure they had moulded was not Ahmadiyyat it was a figment of their imagination, it bore no resemblance to Ahmadiyyat so it could not hurt us because it was not us.

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, A Man of God

Ironically, at one point the government's Attorney General, while interrogating the Caliph, exclaimed:

Even if you were declared a non-Muslim minority, will they stop you from prayers or in believing that you are a Muslim? No, no, nobody can stop you from propagating either.

Attorney General Yahya Bakhtiar, National Assembly 1974

7 September: Bhutto & The National Assembly declare Ahmadis to be non Muslims

Yale researcher Sadia Saeed describes in her paper Political Fields and Religious Movements: The Exclusion of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan how elected Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) told her they were left with no choice on how to vote. MNA Sherbaz Mazari said he 'voted with the crowd in fear of Bhutto'. Raja Tridev Roy, a Buddhist MNA was too embarrassed to vote on an Islamic issue, describing it was 'beyond my ability and my responsibility'. MNA Gul Aurangzeb wanted to abstain from the issue but said:

In the parliament there was no question of anybody opposing Bhutto’s orders and nobody was willing to face the public outside. In my country if you do not agree with the mobs, you are declared a traitor

MNA Gul Aurangzeb, The Exclusion of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan

By September 7, the decision against the Ahmadis was formalised and Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, drafted the second constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims, which was approved unanimously by Pakistan's upper and lower houses. 

1974-1979: Aftermath

Bhutto hailed the amendment as 'correct and proper'. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abul Ala Maududi and other clerics made statements praising the prime minister. Even Dawn, an English language liberal broadsheet, had its editorials filled with support for Bhutto's decision, while a more conservative newspaper went as far as to write:

One special importance of this decision has been that on it the consensus of community has been in a substantially correct manner. Throughout the history of Islam, such an overwhelming, complete consensus has never been reached on any important topic. Other than the great religious scholars, holders of shariah, all the political leaders have agreed on this consensus. Other than these, all people of religious knowledge, the leaders of spirituality and practices had complete agreement. Excluding Qadianis [Ahmadis] all the rest of 72 sects, which are considered to be of Muslims, agreed and are happy on the solution of this affair. Among the leaders of the nation there does not appear to be any group which does not have a joyous attitude towards this decision.

Nawa-e-Waqt, 10 October 1974

The words were inadvertently reminiscent of a tradition of the prophet of Islam, Muhammadsa:

It was narrated from Awf bin Malik that the Messenger of Allahsa said: “...I swear by the One Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, my nation will split into 73 sects, one of which will be in Paradise and 72 in Hell.” It was said: “O Messenger of Allah, who are they?” He said: “The Community.”

- Ibn Majah

The only group openly critical of the decision were the Ahmadis and later the Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, would refuse the hospitality of Bhutto when invited for a meeting with the Prime Minister, who still desired Ahmadi support in future elections. 

In 1977 Bhutto was overthrown in a coup led by a general he himself had recently promoted, Zia-ul-Haq. Left in prison, he wrote:

Religion is a link between God and man and man and man. Political ideology is a link between man and man. For this reason the great religions of the world like Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the last of all religions, have outlived and outlasted political ideologies. If an unlearned adventurer in his quest for political power and perpetuation brings religion down from its celestial plane to a mundane level by converting it into a narrow political ideology, the adventurer endangers the link between God and man and man and man.

- Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, letter to daughter Benazir

Zia ordered Bhutto to be executed on April 4 1979. After Bhutto's execution, both his sons were murdered and decades later his daughter Benazir was assasinated. Decades earlier, the founder of the Ahmadiyya community had recorded a revelation stating:

With regard to the death of a certain person, God the Almighty revealed to me through the value of the letters of the alphabet, namely:  ‘He is a dog and he will die according to the value of the letters in the word kalb [dog], which amounts to fifty-two.’ This means that his age will not exceed fifty-two years and that he will die within the course of his fifty second year.”

- Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Izala-e-Auham

The fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community would later discuss this prophecy:

When Mr Bhutto was arrested…he was not in his 52nd year. He was probably 50 then. How long had he stayed in for, do you remember? Two years, two and a half years, so he was around 50 and the strange thing is that at the same time the community’s Caliph had not made an announcement regarding this, but everywhere Allah placed this thought in every Ahmadi’s head that this [prophecy] was about [Bhutto]. Still, about two and half years were left and no one knew what was going to happen. They started talking. 

Then a Maududi-newspaper published an appeal - in a Sindh newspaper, I don't remember its name. Anyhow, an appeal was made to the government that if you want to kill him then do it beforehand. Some said don't kill him or they will say that Mr Mirza has been proven truthful, so let him go. Others said don't kill him this year; do not let this year come. There was uproar everywhere. 

These events have been published and, through the hands of the same person who has made himself the biggest enemy of Ahmadiyyat today [Zia-ul-Haq], Allah shown the truth of Ahmadiyyat. He has put a stamp with his own hands that Ahmadiyyat is true. Through his hands the decision was to be made and the decision kept being delayed until the 52nd year came and when the 52nd came then in the history of Pakistan there is only one politician whose birthday has been celebrated - and only the 52nd one and the BBC announced that today is Bhutto sahib's birthday and he is stepping into his 52nd year and this was published in Pakistani newspapers that Bhutto is 52.

Qaid-e-Azam's birthday was never celebrated. Neither was Liaqat Ali Khan's. Only one politician in Pakistan's history had one of his birthdays announced and celebrated and none of his birthdays before. He had been there for so long since 1970. He was such a popular leader but they never thought of celebrating his birthday, until he turned 52 and then his birthday was celebrated. In this are there not signs? Isn’t the extraordinary destiny of Allah visible?

- Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Question and Answer Session