The Islamabad administration gives a new piece of land to Maulana Abdul Aziz to shift his focus from re-entering Lal Masjid
An almost four-month siege of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid by the law enforcement agencies finally came to an end earlier this month after Maulana Abdul Aziz and his supporters agreed to leave the mosque for two months with the indication from the district administration to start working on the re-allotment of a sizeable piece of land for Jamia Hafsa, a seminary run by the cleric’s wife.
Aziz’s family, and a few hundred students of the seminary moved to the old and temporarily-run Jamia Hafsa in Sector G-7 of the city a few days ago, after Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, leader of the sectarian outfit Ahl-e-Sunnah-Wal-Jamaat (formerly Sipahe Sahaba Pakistan), played a role in persuading Aziz to leave the mosque for the time being. While the administration denies any role Ludhianvi might have had in the talks, Aziz admits that Ludhianvi had a role in bringing them to the table.
“This is a temporary solution. We agreed to stay away from the mosque for two months; and according to a written agreement, after these eight weeks, I will be free to come to Lal Masjid, lead prayers and deliver Friday sermons,” Aziz tells The News on Sunday. He says his supporters will wait and see what measures the administration takes during this time towards allocating a piece of land for Jamia Hafsa. “We acknowledge the role Ahmad Ludhianvi played in helping solve this issue,” he says.
The district administration, according to a senior official, is working on a plan to allot some land for the girls’ seminary and appoint a new khateeb for the mosque during the time.
Earlier, there was a long deadlock between Aziz and the administration and a what had been a busy public road next to the mosque remained closed. Several other clerics and religious leaders had tried to mediate but failed. The administration had been cautious and sought a non-violent solution. During this period, the administration also tried to keep people away from the mosque.
Lal Masjid saw a severe military operation in 2007 after Aziz and his brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi were seen promoting extremist ideology. Their female vigilantes had attempted to forcibly close massage centres in the capital. Lal Masjid had vowed to enforce Shariah and a strict model of Islam across Pakistan.
In 2019, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had cancelled the administration’s allotment of a 20 kanal piece of land to Jamia Hafsa in H-11. When the administration started evacuating the building Aziz and his followers forced their way to Lal Masjid in February this year. Aziz returned to the mosque and tried to take over from where he was deposed by the Musharraf government during the siege of Lal Masjid which lasted from July 3 to July 11, 2007. He had left the state-administered mosque following allegations of propagating hate speech and extremism. Since then, Aziz has been running a small mosque in G-7, while demanding the construction of Jamia Hafsa at the allotted site in the H-11 area.
Lal Masjid saw a severe military operation in 2007 after Aziz and his brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi were seen promoting extremist ideology. Their female vigilantes had attempted to forcibly close massage centres in the capital. Lal Masjid had vowed to enforce Shariah and a strict model of Islam across Pakistan. Dozens of seminary students, as well as Rashid were killed in the operation. The military had also demolished seminaries adjacent to the mosque – Jamia Hafsa (a seminary for women) and Jamia Faridia (a seminary for boys) linked to Deobandi ideology. The brothers had publicly supported Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, an organisation officially declared a terrorist outfit and involved in attacking public places across the country.
Over the past four months Aziz and his followers had been ignoring standing operating procedures prescribed by the government to deal with coronavirus. On Women’s Day, they had removed posters carrying messages of women empowerment from some nearby walls.
There is a view in the district administration that by giving him a new piece of land, they will be able to prevent him from returning to Lal Masjid. “We cannot stop Aziz from preaching his ideology but we definitely will not allow him to return to Lal Masjid, [a mosque] which attracts tens of thousands,” says a senior official.
The writer is a staff member and can be reached at [email protected]