Monday, April 16, 2007

Lal Masjid (contd.) Part II

What exactly is the history of Lal Masjid?

The News informs us:

According to CDA records Lal Masjid is the oldest mosque built in Islamabad … The mosque was constructed by CDA. The construction was funded by the Finance Ministry and the mosque belongs to the Auqaf Department… Maulana Abdullah was appointed the first Imam of Lal Masjid.

Just who was this Maulana Abdullah?

Surprise, surprise, not only was he the father of these two firebrand brothers currently behind the Lal Masjid ruckus - Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi - but he had also been a privileged personal favourite of General Zia-ul-Haq.

The journalist Amir Mir tells us that Maulana Abdullah was ‘a highly politicized Deobandi mullah who remained critical of all the governments except that of General Zia’s.’

During the 1980s Abdullah was famous for delivering fiery speeches in support of the Afghan Jihad. With the approval and patronage of the government and the ISI, the Lal Masjid soon became a centre for Deobandi jihadis going to fight the Soviet occupation troops. Other Deobandi militants – such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen - were also patronised by Maulana Abdullah. Leaders of these extremists groups would regularly come to deliver sermons and raise funds in the mosque.

Amir Amir further informs us that:
Maulana Abdullah [became] a devoted supporter of the Taliban and the al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, with whom he had reportedly developed special ties. In a newspaper interview, Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi, the younger son of the late Maulana Abdullah, confessed that his father had special ties with Osama bin Laden and the two had met on several occasions.

As fate would have it, Maulana Abdullah met a violent end on 17 October 1998 when he was assassinated - shot dead as he crossed the courtyard of the Lal Masjid - by suspected Shia militants. As is the case for most tit for tat sectarian killings the culprits were never found.

After Abdullah’s death his two sons - Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi – took over the running of the mosque along with two madrasas, Jamia Hafsa, for female students and Jamia Fareedia for males. They continued preaching an uncompromising and extreme form of Islam.

Abdul Aziz remained the official khatib in this government-owned mosque until 2005 when he was sacked for issuing a Fatwa declaring that no army officer killed fighting the Pakistani Taliban could be given a proper Islamic funeral.

While Abdul Aziz is a proclaimed offender in number of cases the regime has proclaimed its inability to nab him. It blames this helplessness on the grounds that he is protected by hundreds of baton wielding female students.

It is believed that there are around 7,000 students studying in the male and female sections of the religious seminary. Some 70 per cent of these are said to be from Waziristan and other Pashtun tribal areas.

Despite regime protestations, journalists like Umer Farooq (‘The Firebrand Cleric And His 'Lal Masjid' Polemics’) have a different take on the current state of affairs.

The impunity with which this new fundamentalist group is pursuing its agenda has led many observers to believe that Abdul Aziz and his baton wielding female students have the support of some powerful segment of Pakistan government. Abdul Aziz doesn't deny this. He told Asharqalwsat [a UK-based Arabic newspaper]that a lot of people from the administration and police are coming to us and extending secret support.

However, this is not the only reason why people think that the fundamentalist group enjoys the backing of powerful people from within the government. The precision and dexterity with which Abdul Aziz and his brigade of female students have so far handled the so-called movement to enforce Islamic law in the country has compelled many analysts to believe that there is a mastermind pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

So what is really taking place in Islamabad?

Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing is for certain: In Pakistan what meets the eye and what the hidden reality is, are often two different things.


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