I remember clearly the moment when I realized for the first time that I was a criminal.
It was the autumn of 1993 in Rawalpindi, where I went to college. It was the living room of a friend of mine. We must have been having our usual contests of who can impress the other with the best trivia and unusual facts as teenager do, when my friend triumphantly stated
'If an Ahmadi says Azan (the Muslim call to prayers) he can be jailed for three years'.
I must have left a long gap between his trivia and whatever astonishing fact he expected me to return.
'Its in a book in my father's library'. He said. Obviously thinking that I didn't believe him. 'Its in the Pakistan Penal Code.'
I changed the subject. I must have thought of something to say. I can't remember much from that day, apart from a sense of anxiety that I usually felt in certain situations.
My friend did not know that I was an Ahmadi.
I told him about my faith a few months later. Surprisingly enough, he was OK with it. He was one of the rare few who remained my friends after knowing about my faith.
Such situations came way too often in my life. My family had to move from town to town due to my father's job. And each new move brought with it new classmates, new neighbours and new friends. All of whom would start wondering why I don't go to the nearest mosque for prayers. I suppose the grown-ups soon figured out the reason. It was however far too tricky for us children.
Most of my friend found out about my faith through gossip. I seldom had to volunteer the information and not many asked me directly. Being an Ahmadi in the post-Islamization Pakistan was dangerous. You could get beaten up or bullied in schools, by both the teachers and your classmates. I remember a classmate who would just casually walk up to me and punch me in the back saying that it was an act of 'sawab' (to be rewarded by God) to hit a 'kafir' (infidel). It was of course done as a crude joke, so I did my best to avoid him.
In another school, our science teacher would spend a whole hour explaining to us that Qadianis (Ahmadis) are kafirs. He knew fully well that there was a Qadiani 12 year old in his class. Fortunately, not many in my class knew that it was me. Funny thing is, that I liked that teacher because I like science and he was good at teaching it.
I knew that the dictator, General Zia had passed laws against us Ahmadis, and due to these laws, our 'Huzoor', the Khalifatul Masih had to leave Pakistan. We used to listen to his sermons through audio-tapes which were played at various prayer centers and Mosques that we used to attend for our Friday prayers.
But I was not aware of the real implications of these laws until I heard my friend pronounce the three year jail term for reciting the Azan.
I must have recited the call to prayers hundreds of times in my childhood. It is one of the first things we Ahmadis are taught as children. A Muslim must know the words as without the Azan, a congregation cannot offer any of their five daily prayers. I also learnt how to read the Quran, even memorizing some long passages. I offered my prayers in the manner no different to my Sunni friends. I went to the Ahmadiyya Mosque which looked no different than the Sunni Mosques. Our Imams read the same Arabic prayers before and after their sermons. We had two Eid celebrations, a month of fasting which started and finished with all the other Muslim sects.
But according to the Pakistan Penal Code, I was a criminal since April, 1984. I was a non-Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution by birth, thanks to Bhutto's 2nd amendment in 1974.
It would only require one police report to ensure I was thrown in Jail. At 17 years of age, I was a habitual criminal. I broke the Pakistani law on a daily basis. This realization dawned upon me on an autumn day while I was having a cup of tea in my friend's living room. This realization did not leave my mind for the next decade or so. I finally got free of its burden by leaving Pakistan.
You can understand that I was never a fan of General Zia, The architect of Afghan 'jihad' and the benefactor of the monstrosity that we now call the Taliban. He took it upon himself to rid the country of this 'cancer' of Qadianiyat which was a threat to both his version of Islam and his idea of Pakistan. The 2nd amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan had already paved the way for his ordinance XX. His aim was to decapitate the Ahmadiyya organization by going after the office of the Khalifatul Masih, the worldwide spiritual leader of the Ahmadi Muslims. The verbage used in the law was obviously aimed to target the Khalifatul Masih. His plans were foiled when Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV, Mirza Tahir Ahmad left the country before a reason could be created for his arrest.
Zia died in a plane crash in 1988. But his laws survived the plane crash and the democracy which followed. No one dared touch any Islamic laws that Zia had enacted, including the notorious blasphemy and the Hudood laws. Even the liberal dictator, General Musharraf left these laws well alone. A dictator can suspend the constitution as many times as he likes, but its Islamic clauses remain valid at all times.