A week or two after starting university, I was talking to my parents about the new environment, my teachers and peers. Towards the end of the otherwise light conversation, I told them about a hostelite friend I’d made and they asked “Oh, so where is he from?”

“I don’t know…some place called Rabwa. I think it’s near Faisalabad.” As I said the last sentence, I saw the expressions on their faces change. I had no idea what the problem was.

“Is he an Ahmadi?”

“Uumm…yes. Why?” I inquired.

“Nothing beta, Ahmadis are not Muslims.”

“Okay. So what, Dad?”

“So nothing. I’m just saying.” 

This was one of the first awkward conversations about Ahmadis I ever had. I was confused; I had lots of non-Muslim friends before.  I knew who Ahmadis were; I knew they were declared non-Muslims in the second amendment to the Constitution in 1974. What I didn’t know was how much they were ignored-no, treated unfairly. I didn’t know they would be persecuted if they presented themselves as Muslims or even performed any Muslim religious practices, heck - used Muslim greetings. I never knew my Ahmadi friends would never disclose their religious identity to anyone because more than discrimination, it was a matter of personal safety.

This was all news to me, and very terrible news. Why was everyone so negatively biased towards these people? I’d seen people discriminate against Muslim sects other than their own, or against non-Muslims but this bias was whole new level and way fiercer than any I had witnessed before.  I had stood up for my Shia friends when they were made fun of in school for being a minority. I’d cringed every time someone expressed dislike towards Christians calling them “chooras”, but I had been completely unaware of this extreme dismissal of Ahmadis. Why? Just because they believed something different?

In a world full of discrimination against various groups, religious, political, racial or gender-wise, we need to talk. We need to talk about a lot of things and one of them is the Ahmadi community. Like anyone else, they grow up internalizing their religious beliefs and most of them conform to those beliefs just as much as a Sunni does to his own. Afterwards, when they suffer persecution for holding certain views, it not only hurts them, it also harms the whole society.  Pakistan is a country rich in diversity of all kinds and if any of us want it to survive, the least we can do is talk about co-existence.

The world is turning into a melting pot of cultures and religions, while Pakistan is still busy in fighting over issues that should have been resolved a long time ago. If we don’t learn to be tolerant towards others, there’s no doubt a storm of retaliation will inevitably sweep up this country for good.  Arguments on TV shows, public protests, casual discrimination and the fear of anything that is a little different from us; these are the things that are harming our nation day by day. It seems like instead of going forward to join hands and become part of the global village, we are going backwards into the age of ignorance, spreading hate and fighting wars, competing for superiority and writing the course of our own disintegration in the process.