There's a lot of buzz going on about the elections in Pakistan. This year's general elections in Pakistan marks a turning point as its democratically elected government completes its five-year constitutional term for the first time in its country's history. However, on Pakistan's Election Day members of the Ahmadiyya community will be sitting at home with their televisions turned off yet again, unable to cast their votes to take part in this historic moment.
Discriminatory laws implemented under General Zia-al-Haq have alienated the Ahmadiyya community from Pakistan's electoral process since 1985. And this year's election is no exception, as four million Ahmadis will forgo voting in the elections because of their refusal to give up their Muslim identities and beliefs
The Ahmadiyya community, which self-identifies as Muslim, has a controversial legal status in Pakistan. Here's where the major point of contention lies-- Majority of Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad is last in the succession of prophets. However, Ahmadis believe Ghulam Mirza Ahmed, who founded the community in 1889, received divine communication that made him a reformist prophet after Muhammad. Majority of Muslim sects find this idea to be blasphemous. For this reason, Ahmadis are legally considered non-Muslims in Pakistan since 1974.
Qasim Rashid, national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and a human rights activist, said sitting out the elections is a form of protest against extremism in the government.
"You don't combat extremism by acquiescing to it, you combat extremism by having the moral courage to stand up to it," he said.
Consequently, Ahmadis have been effectively disenfranchised from voting, Rashid said.
In order for anyone in Pakistan to vote, they must declare their religion on the voting ballots. However, to vote as a Muslim, citizens must additionally declare their belief in the finality of Prophet Muhammad and deny the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed.
"No Ahmadi is going to declare [the person] who they believe to be Imam Mehdi and the messiah, a false prophet or a liar," Rashid said.
Because Ahmadis refuse to sign the declaration of faith, they ultimately have to label themselves non-Muslim in order to vote.
"Ahmadi Muslims are not willing to do [this either] because we are Muslims," Rashid said. "We read the kalama (profession of faith) 'la illaha ilillaha illalahu muhammaddar rasullah,' there is no God but Allah and Prophet Muhammad is his prophet. The same kalama that Islam requires."
In addition, Ahmadi voters who refuse to sign the declaration are removed from the joint electoral roll and placed on a supplementary list as non-Muslims. However, they still have the ability to vote on all general assembly seats.
Dr. Faheem Younus, an Ahmadi physician originally from Lahore, Pakistan who currently lives in Maryland and is also an outspoken Huffington Post blogger on Islamic issues, said he does not understand the purpose of the supplementary list other than a means to marginalize a group of people.
"What is the purpose of creating a list that only dehumanizes four million people," he said. "Imagine if there was a section of the voting list [that required you to say] I am not a Muslim [in America], and God-forbid, God-forbid you have to send curses upon Prophet Muhammad. Can you imagine that? It gives me goose bumps to even say that."
The anti-Ahmadi sentiment in Pakistan began in 1985, after Zia-al-Haq's Islamist regime introduced the Ordinance XX clause. The ordinance banned Ahmadis from using titles and descriptions reserved for Muslims. In addition al-Haq ordered the separation of electoral rolls for Muslim and non-Muslim. This allowed non-Muslims, which legally included Ahmadis, the right to vote for only five percent of the National Assembly seats allocated to minority representation.
However, in 2002 President Pervez Musharaf reversed this decree after he received pressure from the international community to reinstate the joint electorate. Under the joint electorate, all Pakistanis were able to register to vote on ballots that did not require mentioning their religious affiliations.
"Now trust me," Younus said. "I was secretly very happy after jumping through all these hoops [that] now I will be able to vote just like everybody else."
However, this policy lasted only four months before Musharaf succumbed to the pressure of religious clergy and signed an order that required Muslims to sign a declaration of faith. If they refuse they are branded non-Muslims and moved to a supplementary electoral list. This exemption is directed exclusively towards Ahmadis.
"Today the law is equal for everyone except Ahmadis," Younus said. "We are always the one last exception that nobody likes to talk about."