Claiming and reclaiming the mosque

January 4, 2015

Maulana Abdul Aziz launches his counter-operation from the pulpit

Claiming and reclaiming the mosque

Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid are once again in the limelight, thanks to Maulana Abdul Aziz’s rhetorical remarks on the attack on children in Peshawar. A group of civil society activists led by Nasir Jibran has been sitting in front of Lal Masjid in Islamabad for the past few weeks "to reclaim the mosque". Aziz and the students of Lal Masjid threatened the protestors which led to registration of a case against him. A local court also issued arrest warrants of Maulana Aziz on December 26, 2014.

Hafiz Ehtesham, spokesperson of the Lal Masjid Shuhada Foundation issued a statement the same day saying that Maulana Abdul Aziz would resist arrest. "We have shown patience so far. But, now we are also considering encircling the police station to get a case registered against Altaf Hussain for demanding demolition of the mosque," he says. If the civil society does not end its sit-in in front of Lal Masjid, "we would be forced to come out. This will lead to collision which will be dangerous," he says.

Earlier on December 19, Aziz himself hurled serious allegations against the civil society activists during the Friday prayer sermon at the Lal Masjid. "If I am arrested, the administration will not be able to control the protest rallies all over Pakistan. And if they kill me, there will be suicide attacks that surpass the reaction that followed death of my brother Ghazi Abdur Rashid," he is reported to have said.

He also criticised the civil society people demonstrating and lighting candles for those who died in the Peshawar attack and said they should also have felt pain for the 86 madrassa students killed in Waziristan and other deaths in military operations.

Maulana Aziz also suggested that a united force of Pak Army and Taliban should be established to fight the infidels.

Legally speaking, Maulana Abdul Aziz is not official Khateeb of Lal Masjid since 2004 when the administration withdrew his notification as Khateeb after he issued a fatwa against the army and its operation in Waziristan.

"In 2004, the Lal Masjid clergy issued a fatwa calling on people to join militant resistance against the army in Waziristan. They declared that those fighting Pakistani forces were martyrs and urged people not to give Islamic burials to the soldiers killed fighting the militants," reads a report prepared by the Lal Masjid Commission, set up following the army operation against the mosque.

But the administration in Islamabad has failed to implement its own decision and the Maulana has been frequently delivering sermons at Lal Masjid especially during the Friday prayers.

He was arrested on July 4, 2007 during the Lal Masjid operation and released on April 16, 2009 on the directions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The very next day on April 17, 2009 he delivered a fiery sermon at Lal Masjid to thousands of worshippers.

His release came only three days after the then President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Nizam-e-Adl regulations, an ordinance imposing Shari’a in the Malakand division, effectively ceding administrative and judicial control of the area to the Taliban led by Mullah Fazlullah.

In his sermon, Aziz reportedly took credit for the Taliban’s successes in Swat. "What we have seen in Swat and the tribal areas is the result of the sacrifices in the Lal Masjid."

In 2012, the Shuhada Foundation filed a contempt case in the Supreme Court, seeking appointment of Maulana Abdul Aziz as khateeb of Lal Masjid. But the administration has not issued his notification as khateeb of the mosque yet. "Administration will not issue any notification nor stop him from leading the prayers at the Masjid. This is a controversial issue. We can only handle it with full support from the higher authorities. He is not a small fry. The police haven’t arrested him even though warrants have been issued against him because everybody foresees a fall out," says an official of Islamabad administration, on condition of anonymity.

In December 2011, the government allotted 20-kanal land for Jamia Hafsa construction in H-11 sector of Islamabad. The seminary is being run at a plot in G-7 sector of Islamabad which officials say is owned by the government. An official of Jamia says that more than 3000 girls and 2000 boys have been studying at the seminary.

"The monthly expenditure of the seminary is close to Rs2.5 million which is being fulfilled by friends of the Jamia. During the last few weeks, at least 5000 former students of Maulana Aziz have joined us here at seminary. They are here to provide us support in tough times," says an official of Jamia.

Police in Islamabad is in no mood to arrest Aziz. They have not raided Jamia Hafsa. Maulana Aziz has been releasing video messages frequently on different issues from the seminary. The students of the seminary are also angry. Operation against the Masjid in 2007 resulted in the worst wave of terrorism in the country. This incident also led to the strengthening of Taliban under one umbrella organisation.

Maulana is a well-known supporter of Taliban in Pakistan and has always fought their case. During the ‘peace talks’ between the Pakistani Taliban and government in early 2014, the Taliban nominated him as their representatives but it was Aziz who ultimately sat in the committee that negotiated with the government.

During the last 10 days or so, Abdul Aziz has been using social media as a means tool to spread his message. His has released four videos on social media during the last one week or so. The first is directed to Altaf Hussain. The second video, nine minutes long, contains his message for Interior Minister after police raided a branch of Jamia Hafsa in his native town in Rojhan Jamali in the Rajanpur district of Punjab province. He warns that such incidents would be dangerous for the country.

Claiming and reclaiming the mosque