Ummad Farooq speaks out against sectarian violence in Pakistan, weeks after his brother was murdered for being an Ahmadi
I’m sitting across the table from Ummad Farooq in a small Sunderland café as he eats a 30p sweet mince pie. There is not much to make him stand out from any other student. He wears jeans and a hooded top and occasionally asks permission to answer messages on his mobile. It’s difficult to imagine that a few weeks ago he was shot in the face, whilst on a visit to Pakistan, during a brutal attack in which his brother and uncle were killed.
Ummad has lived in Sunderland for just over a year and recently completed his MBA in finance at the University of Sunderland. In November, Ummad attended his graduation ceremony at the Stadium of Light.
“Before this I had only done an accountancy course, so this is the first graduation of my life and a life achievement,” says Ummad. “Of course there was sorrow, because we had planned for my father and uncle to come and see me and that wasn’t possible as my father is still ill. I missed my family but I am glad my friends came. Overall, I was extremely happy.”
“We have been receiving death threats for two years. I would be abused in the street. At school, some people wouldn’t talk to me. People put up posters across the road from our home abusing us.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim sect Ummad belongs to have faced the constant threat of persecution since the Pakistani government declared them heretics in 1974. Until recently, his father was a leader at a mosque in Karachi, while Ummad’s elder brother, Saad, worked as the Student Secretary, helping young people gain an education. Their high profile positions made Ummad’s family targets for extremists.
“We have been receiving death threats for two years,” says Ummad. “I would be abused in the street. At school, some people wouldn’t talk to me. People put up posters across the road from our home abusing us.”
In October, Ummad returned to Karachi for Saad’s wedding, but his family were aware of the threats they faced.
“We knew there were dangers so we kept the wedding a secret from everyone who wasn’t invited,” says Ummad.
The wedding, on October 15, passed without incident. Four days later, the family attended Friday prayers before heading home in their car, with Saad following on a motorbike.
As Ummad recounts what followed, his voice remains calm, but his eyes are full of emotion. “We heard a gunshot nearby. We didn’t realise they had shot my brother, so my father sped the car up and we all ducked our heads low. A motorbike pulled out in front of us and my father instinctively stopped the car to avoid hitting the bike.”
The men on the bike were the same gunmen who had just shot Saad. They began firing into the car. Ummad’s father was shot five times. Ummad and his uncle were also shot.
“The bullet went right through me,” says Ummad. “I have never experienced such severe pain before. I was covered in blood, my white shirt turned red.”
Ummad’s family realised Saad was missing and turned their car to find Saad, who was lying on the road, shot in the back of the neck. Ummad’s injured father had to drive his family ten miles to the nearest hospital, where Saad was declared dead.
“After the attack, the gunmen were seen both outside our house and outside the hospital, so we were told we had to move to a different hospital. We weren’t given an ambulance. We had to arrange our own transport. My father was injured, so we told him not to look at Saad, but as we left he insisted on seeing him one last time.”
A few weeks later, Ummad’s uncle also passed away from his injuries.
“I lost my only brother, so of course I feel angry, but as Ahmadi Muslims, we say our main motive is to bring peace to the world, so we do not think of revenge. Prayer is the only weapon we use.”
Ummad’s face bears the evidence of his family’s ordeal. A small, red scar slashes his eyebrow, whilst there is a little dark swelling above his right cheek. His injuries were caused by a bullet that lodged beneath his eye and threatened to take his sight permanently. Pakistani doctors were unable to help Ummad, so friends in Pakistan raised funds for him to travel to the UK, where specialists at the same hospital that recently treated Malala Yusufzai – the fourteen year old girl shot by the Pakistani Taliban for championing girl’s education – removed the bullet.
“My vision’s improved since the operation, but it’s still blurry. I won’t be playing cricket any time soon,” says Ummad, 22. “The doctors say I have to watch my blood pressure now, so I’m not allowed to do any sport or go to the gym.”
Despite his family’s tragedy, Ummad avoids feeling bitter. “I lost my only brother, so of course I feel angry,” he says, “but as Ahmadi Muslims, we say our main motive is to bring peace to the world, so we do not think of revenge. Prayer is the only weapon we use.”
Ummad’s family have moved away from Karachi. For now, Ummad is living with friends in Sunderland. “I love it here and I want to stay,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever go back to my old home.”
As we stand to leave the café, Ummad tells me that if I need anything whilst I’m in Sunderland I shouldn’t hesitate to ask him. Ummad has been constantly polite and hasn’t once given the impression he feels sorry for himself. Those who meet him may well struggle to imagine why anyone would want to shoot a person like Ummad.