Uproar as Oxford Uni Pakistan Society is accused of discrimination and bigotry against Ahmadis
By Barfi Culture Team
15th May 2018

They are supposed to be the country's best and brightest. But the leaders of Oxford University's Pakistan Society (OUPS) are now accused of discrimination and bigotry, with some calling for its President to resign.

Last week on May 12th, Oxford University hosted the first UK screening of a film on Dr Abdus Salam, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1979. He was the first Pakistani to do so. The film recounts his life and achievements.

This is where the controversy started.

Some members had wanted the OUPS to host the screening and asked them months ago. But they say OUPS leadership were reluctant to get involved because Dr Salam called himself an Ahmadi Muslim.

The Nobel Prize winner is virtually unknown in Pakistan because of its repressive laws against the Ahmadiyya community, a stance for which it has been repeatedly criticised.

Ahmadis were declared 'non-Muslims' under Pakistani law in 1974 and the community faces constant discrimination and ostracization in Pakistan.

The OUPS said nothing until the day of the screening, when it posted a message on Facebook urging members to attend. And that was only after it faced intense criticism for ignoring the film.

The OUPS was further embarrassed when the screening was attended by Oxford's most famous Pakistani student, Malala Yousafzai.

Why is this significant?

Critics worry the discrimination and bigotry against Ahmadis in Pakistan is taking root in Britain too.

In 2016, a shopkeeper from Glasgow, Asad Shah, was murdered by Tanveer Ahmed from Bradford for being Ahmadi. In Pakistan, Tanveer Ahmad is celebrated amongst some religious preachers.

A mosque in South London was also found to have leaflets urging Muslims to kill Ahmadis recently.

After the screening

After the screening the OUPS apologised for not getting involved:

"We regret we couldn't co-host Dr Salam's documentary. We made the decision to co-host on May 8th 2018 but unfortunately this decision was not conveyed to the organizers in time. We realized our mistake and made sure the members of the Pakistan Society were aware of the event and we encouraged them to attend."

"We categorically want to state that we consider Dr. Abdus Salam a hero of Pakistan and the Ahmadiya community as an integral part of Pakistan. We want to issue an unconditional apology to anyone that we might have caused hurt to. We have also reached out to AMSA (Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association) and have agreed to collaborate in the near future."

Not enough

But one of the organisers of the screening, Mashal Iftkhr, herself a Sunni Muslim, disputes the OUPS version of events. In a letter posted online yesterday she said:

"The current President, Haroon Zaman, has been aware of our intention to hold this event since January 2018. Following inexplicably long silences in spite of repeated contact attempts, we had been informed that Oxford University Pakistan Society did not want to cohost the event and did not want to be affiliated with the event or promotional material in any way at all. When asking for a reason, we have either been ignored entirely or been informed that the event would risk “controversy” and no further details were elaborated."

She added:

"The deep intolerance and bigotry that Ahmadis face on a daily basis is unfathomable to those of us who are in a greater position of privilege. It is all the more disappointing that this miasma would be perpetuated here in UK by Pakistani Muslims who face bigotry and prejudice themselves."

Signatories to the letter, current and alumni members of OUPS, accuse OUPS of "discriminatory behaviour" and say unless it takes immediate remedial action, its president Haroon Zaman should resign.

They also pledge to escalate matters to University authorities otherwise.

Barfi Culture contacted Haroon Zaman and the OUPS for a response but have not heard back.

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