Ambreen Hai: Reflects on Hampshire Life report about Pakistani

Published: 8/17/2018 9:42:49 PM
Reflects on Hampshire Life report about Pakistani

Thank you for the excellent piece in the Aug. 3-9 Hampshire Life on Ahmadis and Saadat Virk (“Saadat Virk embraces the present in America but thinks of his past in Pakistan”).

I grew up in Pakistan, and have taught at Smith College for 22 years. Though I am not of the Ahmadiyya faith, and am not religious, I have many memories of Ahmadi friends, and of the troubles imposed on the community in Pakistan.

I’ll share one: in 1993, when I was still a graduate student at Yale, I had to renew my Pakistani passport in order to maintain my visa to continue staying in the U.S. To renew my passport, I had to fill out a form that required all Pakistani citizens to sign a statement affirming that Ahmadis were not Muslims. I remember feeling very upset by this, and by the coercion I felt under by the Pakistani government.

What right did I or anyone have to declare someone else not a Muslim? I felt it was very, very wrong, but could find no way to protest, given the authoritarian regimes that Pakistan has long had. I share this because I suspect there are others like me who are or were Pakistani citizens (I am now a U.S. citizen) who feel similarly, that this is persecution of a religious minority, that a government should not declare an entire community as wrong, and should not coerce its citizens to declare the same under threat of losing their passports.

I was concerned to read at the end of the article that Mr. Virk and his wife are now planning to return to Pakistan because they want their children to have arranged marriages. Many Pakistanis strive to come here for economic opportunity. Safety is an even bigger reason. Is it really worth giving that up to return to a country that does not treat one as an equal citizen?

Arranged marriage is a controversial issue — it works for some but not for all. Let me just say that it’s not so terrible for people to choose their own partners. Many Pakistanis prefer to do so, as did I. I hope the Virks will consider staying.

Ambreen Hai



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