Pakistan Times publisher Sheikh Najam Ali has been looking over his shoulder every day for a month since running an ad that proved controversial in the local Muslim community.
The ad, announcing a local Ahmadiyya celebration and describing the faith as Muslim, prompted death threats from anonymous callers, cancellations from advertisers and the removal of his papers in bulk from various distribution sites, he said.
The ad and subsequent coverage of the event has drawn criticism from some Muslims who say Ali has insulted them by giving authenticity to a sect that they consider non-Muslim.
Members of the Ahmadiyya faith, an estimated 70 million worldwide, follow Islam’s main tenets.
But contrary to mainstream Muslims, they don’t recognize Muhammad as the final prophet. Instead, they believe another prophet followed in the 19th century named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who came in the spirit of Christ to revive the religion of Islam, said Mohammed Zafarullah, a local imam for Ahmadiyya followers.
Established in 1889 in Punjab, India, the faith is considered non-Muslim by Pakistan’s constitution and heretical by some Muslims.
The Pakistan Times isn’t the first Urdu publication to be targeted in the U.S., says the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Last year, the publisher and editor of the Urdu Times as well as the editor in chief of the Pakistan Post, both based in New York, received threats for their coverage of alleged criminal activities by Pakistani-Americans living in New York City and opinion pieces by Jewish authors.
Ali should have known better than to run the ad in a paper read mostly by Muslims and Pakistanis for whom the mention of the Ahmadiyya faith raises memories of an age-old dispute, said Atif Fattah, the co-host of a local Muslim radio show, called Serat-e-Mustaqeem, or The Righteous Path.
He’s told listeners who called into his show about the paper’s coverage to pull their support if they didn’t like it.