Ahmadiyya Community — [Annette Brooke in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 20th October 2010.

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Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 2:30 pm, 20th October 2010

I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman and, as I have been arguing, such inclusiveness is the hallmark of the Ahmadi faith.

We thought that it was important that Britain send a strong message to Pakistan after the attacks in Lahore, saying that we were appalled by what had happened and that more must be done to support Ahmadi worshippers in that country. At the time of the attacks in Lahore, we were concerned that the British Government should highlight both Pakistan's duty to protect Ahmadis and the poor treatment that Ahmadis receive in Pakistan. As my right hon. Friend David Miliband said when he was my party's foreign affairs spokesperson:

"It is when the international community has taken its eye off the ball in Pakistan that instability has increased...Internally, Pakistan has a duty to protect minority groups and needs the support of its allies to do so."

Rafiq Hayat told me that he agreed with that sentiment and I hope that the Minister can join us in expressing the Government's views to the Pakistan Government in his speech later in the debate.

I am concerned that the discrimination against Ahmadis that is embedded in the Pakistani constitution can be construed by militants as giving them legitimacy. The Pakistani Government are already facing many difficulties with al-Qaeda and other militant groups, and the British Government need to work hard to convince them to help to fight global Islamic terrorism. As the June issue of Terrorism Monitor notes:

"As the Pakistani Taliban are trying to spread their war on the Pakistani state, they are likely to continue to target minorities like the Ahmadis in their efforts to create instability."

If we do not persuade mainstream politicians in Pakistan to stand up for the Ahmadi Muslim community, we risk further Islamicist militancy. Moreover, if the militancy continues in Pakistan, it not only threatens Ahmadis but the whole international community. After all, any increase in Islamicist activities also affects us here in the UK, so it is in our own interests for the Government to seek to persuade Pakistan's Government to show more tolerance to the Ahmadi Muslim community.

I therefore urge the Minister to ask his colleagues to raise this matter with Pakistani Ministers in the course of their regular meetings and to keep the new all-party group informed of any progress. The truth is that the Pakistani extremists' hatred of Ahmadis is already being exported. In fact, it is here in the UK today.

Last week, south London local newspapers carried front page articles about discrimination against and intimidation of Britain's Ahmadi community. The police are appealing for information about inflammatory leaflets that have been distributed across south London, apparently by Khatme Nabuwwat, as part of a targeted ideological campaign, and they have said that an investigation into alleged hate crimes is ongoing. They have also said that a teenage Ahmadi girl gave them a statement, claiming that a leaflet that was written in Urdu said:

"Kill a Qadiyani and doors to heaven will open to you".

Another KN leaflet, entitled "Deception of the Qadiyani", was recently displayed in the window of the Sabina Hair and Cosmetic shop in Mitcham road, Tooting. When the local Guardian newspaper confronted staff at the shop to ask why they had put up the leaflet, a worker said:

"These people are not Muslims. I did it myself. They don't believe that prophet Mohammed is the last prophet."

Many Ahmadi shopkeepers are worried about the future of their businesses after clerics demanded a boycott of their shops. Imam Suliman Gani, of the Tooting Islamic Centre, apparently pleaded with the owner of the Lahore halal meat shop in Tooting not to sell his business to an Ahmadi man, saying:

"Since the Qadiyanis are routinely deceptive about their religion, there was a potential risk of Muslims being offered meat that wasn't necessarily halal."

Yet another leaflet that was posted on the wall of the Streatham mosque called for a boycott of the Lahore halal meat store.

The discrimination is increasing. An Ahmadi butcher who came to London in 2001 after fleeing Pakistan has just won an employment tribunal after being sacked by the owner of the Haji halal meat shop in upper Tooting. The owner, Azizur Rahman, had put pressure on his employee to convert to the Sunni Muslim faith. Apparently, Mr Rahman said that pressure was placed on him

"by the head of the Sunni sect who had helped Mr Rahman to gain admission for his daughters to a single sex school for girls."

Mr Rahman also claimed that he had been influenced by a conference hosted by KN at the Tooting Islamic centre in March, where worshippers were ordered to boycott Ahmadi-run shops. During that conference, the KN's Abdul Rehman Bawa said:

"I don't know why our sisters or mothers are talking with these Qadiyani and making friendships...Don't make friends with them...They are trying to deceive you, they are trying to convert you from Islam to Qadiyanism."

According to the local Guardian newspaper, the owner of one Tooting halal butchers shop said that his trade had virtually halved in three months, and claimed:

"Some people refuse to come here just because I am Ahmadi. They use words against me like 'Kafir', which means I am not Muslim. I've lived here for 13 years and lots of people know me in Tooting, but this situation has become so much worse now."

Furthermore, the Tooting Islamic centre was at the centre of another controversy, when an election hustings in April was disrupted by anti-Ahmadi protests. The Tory candidate was mistaken by a group of fundamentalists for the Liberal Democrat candidate, who is an Ahmadi, and he had to be locked into a room for his own safety.

I appreciate that not everything that appears in the newspapers is the whole truth and that the real story about anti-Ahmadi activities in this country may be more complicated and untypical. I also do not want to focus on Tooting any more than anywhere else, because I have lived in the Tooting area all my life and there is nowhere else in the world that I would prefer to live. My own experience is that the vast majority of mainstream Muslims are wonderful people and respect their local communities in peace.

We are still a long, long way from a Lahore-style attack happening in south London, but the emergence of anti-Ahmadi activity is a great concern. I ask the Minister to address the issue of how groups originating in Pakistan are encouraging illegal discrimination and inciting hatred in this country, and to raise it with colleagues at the Home Office and other agencies, including the police. None of us wants to see the Pakistani attacks repeated anywhere else. The Pakistani Taliban and groups such as KN have no place in a tolerant society and Ministers must exploit all this country's diplomatic skills to work with the Pakistani Government.

In the UK, most of the time, people from different religions live side by side, even though we each believe that the other worships a false prophet. I include the vast majority of the mainstream Muslim community in that. Muslims are among the most peaceful, tolerant and understanding people in our community, and I say that as a south London MP with a very diverse constituency. However, for the sake of Ahmadis here and in Pakistan we must work towards a greater understanding of the Ahmadi Muslim community.

I hope that the Minister can make a commitment today to raising our concerns with his colleagues in the Home Office and the Foreign Office, with the police, with the Pakistani Government and with the Commonwealth. I also hope that our new all-party group will contribute towards a greater understanding of Ahmadis, because our aim is for the whole world to share and respect the Ahmadi slogan, "Love for all and hatred for none".