A Head-On Encounter With Anti Ahmadi Hate in London
On Thursday September 24th, 2020, at the age of twenty-one, I had my first major face-to-face encounter with sectarian intolerance. By September 27th, I had filed a police report against the man who had intimidated me. On March 1st, 2021, I decided to document my experience of the entire ordeal on Twitter. To my surprise, my story resonated with a lot of people.
Now, weeks after that post, I want to reflect on the responses I received (both positive and negative) and elaborate on some of the details which were either omitted or glossed over in that original thread, within the wider context of minority-sect abuses, both in the UK and overseas.
So, let’s start at the beginning. As in, before this incident even occurred. My name is Kafi, and I was born in London. I am the daughter of two migrant parents, one of whom was an asylum seeker. I don’t like to hold the title of asylum seeker with the same shame many seem to associate it with, because it is a testament to following that human survival instinct that is innately built into each and every one of us; we all want to feel safe and have the freedom to exist as we are.
Unfortunately, in the case of Ahmadi Muslims living in Pakistan, this is something that is almost entirely unattainable. Even in the town of Rabwah, where much of the Ahmadi community of Pakistan resides, there is an underlying sense of danger which comes with the simple act of existence. In 1974, the Second Amendment of the Pakistani Constitution essentially declared Ahmadis to not be Muslims due to our beliefs in regard to the finality of prophethood, and by 1984, President Zia Ul Haq passed Ordinance XX, which essentially criminalized Ahmadis who chose to proclaim, demonstrate or practice their faith in any way.
With such openly discriminatory laws in place, it is easy to see how the culture of anti-Ahmadi sentiment has rooted itself within Pakistan. It is because of this, that so many people have been forced to leave a land which they and their ancestors have once cherished and called home. But just like poison spreads through soil, this wicked ideology has begun to seep not only across the Indian Subcontinent, but far beyond it, too.
For those of us who call ourselves Londoners, we proudly refer to the city as a cultural melting pot. There is no denying that divides and cliques still exist over here, but in general, people from all walks of life can confidently call this place home. That’s why it’s even more saddening that these inter-sectarian conflicts have manifested themselves within migrant communities here in the West, including those who are second- or third-generation British Asians.
Up until then, I didn't feel like I had to defend my faith, or that it had ever put me in a dangerous situation. Because of this, I felt detached from the persecution, because it didn’t feel like it lived on my own doorstep. Suddenly, I was awoken to the very real realities of anti-Ahmadi hate that existed within my own community.
It began when I arrived at work, after getting off the very first train of the morning at around 5:20am. I greeted the security guard who had been placed at the store while our shutters were broken, a man likely in his sixties, and of Pakistani origin. He makes general small talk, but then the conversation took a turn.
In that moment, those four words had the power to make my blood turn cold, jolting me awake from the sleepy haze of the early morning. Instead of engaging any further, I tried to shut it down by telling him I am an Ahmadi, and we do not like to be called Qadiani (due to the word being used in a derogatory term, as a sort of slur). I try to walk away and get on with my work, preparing the store for opening, but instead he follows me and continues his rant.
I can only be thankful that I didn’t have to have such an encounter at an even younger age, when I would have been stunned into silence, and not have even attempted to defend myself. I would have probably been a nervous wreck afterwards, have waited far too long to tell anyone at all, maybe keeping it to myself entirely out of some sort of twisted shame for being targeted.
While I hate the idea of trying to claim victimization, I’ve grown to realize, especially after this incident, that there is a difference between self-victimization and being victimized. Not only that, but the narrative does not have to end after coming to terms with being the ‘victim’ of someone else’s poor behavior and aggression.
For me, it was just the beginning in trying to get some sort of justice. Not only for myself, but for each end every young Ahmadi who may not know how to act in such a situation. I wanted to give them the courage to speak up for themselves, and not allow anyone to degrade them for their beliefs. So, I went to the police, and reported him for verbally abusing me.
Kafi is a twenty one year old British Pakistani Muslim living in London. She has completed a BSc in Social Sciences and is currently studying towards an MA in Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @cup_of_kafi and on Instagram @cupofkafi