By Saad Sayeed
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A mob led by right-wing Muslim clerics tore down the dome and minarets of a 100-year old Pakistani mosque belonging to the marginalized Ahmadi community, officials and the community said on Thursday.
Ahmadis are one of the most persecuted groups in Sunni-majority Pakistan, with Islamists and religious hardliners labelling them heretics, while harsh Pakistani laws ban them from calling themselves Muslims or using Islamic symbols.
Saleemuddin, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community, said a mob stormed the mosque complex in Sialkot, near the Indian border in Punjab province, overnight. He put the number at several hundred.
He said there was collusion between the mob and local government officials, but police denied such accusations.
Asad Sarfraz, a police official, said municipal government officials were at the mosque complex removing what he called “illegal renovation”.
“An emotionally charged mob of people belonging to different groups and segments of society reached there and damaged several parts of the building,” Sarfraz said.
Sarfraz said about 60-70 people were involved and authorities were attempting to identify the attackers.
Saleemuddin denied the renovation work was illegal and said the community had obtained permission from the local government to upgrade the building. He shared an application approved by the municipal government with Reuters.
A social media video of the attack’s aftermath shows a crowd cheering a local cleric, who then claims to have ransacked the mosque.
“I want to thank the Sialkot administration, the DPO (District Police Officer), DC (District Commissioner), the TMA (Town Municipal Corporation), from the bottom of my heart,” said the cleric, from the majority Sunni community.
“Because as Muslims it was your responsibility to complete this work.”
The Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims but their recognition of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in British-ruled India in 1889, as a “subordinate prophet” is viewed by many of the Sunni majority as a breach of the Islamic tenet that the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last direct messenger.
(Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Nick Macfie)