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Rabwah is an Arabic word meaning “an elevated place”.

This is what Wikipedia says about Rabwah (also known as Chenab Nagar) but personal impressions are all the more relevant; and I know it be a different place.

During our trips to River Chenab, the only picnic spot in the vicinity of our college, we would hear the whispers about this sleeping town. On growing up, I would often visit the deserted streets of the town but hardly came across the hustle and bustle that was quite the signature of a Punjabi lifestyle.

The myth about this ghost city was finally broken when I had the chance to visit it on a Friday afternoon. Members of the Ahmadi community were out in the streets, filling them with life.

Despite living under the constant threat, the Ahmadis were still holding on to Jinnah’s Sri Nagar speech in May 1944.

The debate here is not about the fate of Ahmadis in Pakistan, for the matters of faith are, thankfully, not to be decided by humans alone. Whosoever ends up on the right side of faith, is an occurrence that is subject to an unpredictable future, but what remains Abrahamic about this group is the persecution that ensues.

Not a single day goes by, when an Ahmadi is not discriminated on the basis of his religious belief, so how could this 26th day of May be an exception?

Dr Mehdi Ali Qamar is today’s count for the self-righteous in Pakistan.

A graduate of Punjab Medical College, Mehdi did his residency from the 10th Avenue’s famous Maimonides Hospital of New York and was currently teaching at the Ohio University. His half-a-century age had ignited in him, the flair of public service, for which he chose Pakistan, a land that he still considered his home. After lining up things for the three week medical mission at the Tahir Medical Centre of Chenab Nagar (Rabwah), he flew alongwith the family and started the camp.

On the second day of his mission, Dr Mehdi was exiting the Ahmadi graveyard after paying respects to his deceased relatives and community members, when unidentified men shot him dead.

All this, while his wife and two-year-old son watched in horror and his other two sons slept peacefully. A little later, the sun appeared on Rabwah and the day started in the Islamic Republic, quite routine.

Though no one has claimed responsibility, sooner or later, some Lashkar or Jaish will make a call and own the killing; after all, nothing unites us better than hatred.

Apparently, Mehdi’s crime is the one of his faith, a matter in which most of us, from this part of the world, have little to opt.

It all started in March of 1953, when violence engulfed Punjab and claimed over a dozen lives. The disturbances were stirred when the Pakistani state, headed by Khwaja Nazim-ud-Din, refused to succumb to the clergy’s demand for a systematic purge of Ahmadis. Loot and arson was contained after the military was called in but this left a question mark on the survival of minorities in the infant state. As things normalised, an inquiry commission was set up to find out the reasons behind the violence.

The committee, headed by Justice M R Kayani and Justice Munir, held over a hundred sessions and after an exhaustive five weeks, issued a detailed report. The content of the report is every bit, an incisive analysis, but its essence can rightly be summed up in the following paragraph:

“Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulama, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulama, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim but kafirs according to the definition of everyone else.”

But we, as a nation, decided to look the other way and in 1974, the Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims.

However, this, as a matter of interest and reference, must be kept in mind that immediately after the Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims, all the forces that rallied for getting them off Islam, instantly joined hands against the Shias.

Dr Qamar Ali Mehdi was no ordinary doctor. While he held the Young Investigator Award by the American College of Cardiology and was identified among America’s Top Physicians for the year 2003-2004 and America’s Top Cardiologists for years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. He also held the Physician Recognition Award by the American Medical Association. His bespectacled bright face smiled next to his profile that read:

“I believe in delivering the best possible patient care, maintaining the highest professional standards, contributing to the progress of the institutions I am affiliated with. My first priority is to deliver my professional responsibilities with competency, honesty and integrity.”

And with competence, honesty and integrity, he did.

I am sorry, Dr Qamar Ali Mehdi, I failed to protect you but I raise my voice against this persecution. I forgo my safety just so that tomorrow I don’t die unheard.

All the notions of a right wing government next door may not be as dangerous as the silence at this rise of ultra-right indoors. The hours of choice are narrowing every second and there remains no option but a totalitarian Pakistan, rising up against extremism. If, today we decide to stay silent about an Ahmadi killing, tomorrow we will be forced to stay quiet on another persecution, setting up a vicious cycle in motion that will leave all our cities as silent as Chenab Nagar (Rabwah), the elevated place.

Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.

-W. B. Yeats

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