Pakistan Reader# 119, 12 July 2020
Pakistan This Week looks at major developments - the return of Maulana Aziz (of Lal Masjid fame) to occupy another seminary in Islamabad, and the controversy over the construction of Islamabad's first temple.D. Suba Chandran
Lal Masjid Maulana returns again; the administration yields to him, again.
In the News
On the night of 6 July, the Lal Masjid fame Maulana Abdul Aziz along with his wife and students (from Jamia Hafsa) occupied another seminary – Jamia Fareedia in Islamabad (block E-7). He also announced the removal of seminary’s principal Mr Ghaffar, and started another crisis, as he did in February 2020 with the Lal Masjid. The police blocked the seminary.
Dawn reported Maulana’s son in law saying that Jamia Fareedia was built by Maulana Aziz’s grandfather in the 1970s and the current principal Mr Ghaffar along with the government were trying to take over the seminary and remove Aziz. (“E-7 seminary in Islamabad becomes site of unexpected conflict,” Dawn, 7 July 2010). According to news reports, Aziz appointed Ghaffar to administer Jamia Fareedia, but the former lost his control over the later, and also to the seminary.
The government through the Ulema negotiated with the Maulana; on 10 July, Aziz had left Jamia Fareedia and moved back to Jamia Hafsa.
Issues in the background
First is the confidence of Maulana Aziz to occupy a State-owned mosque in Islamabad and declare himself to be its khateeb. During January-February 2020, the Maulana entered the Lal Masjid, along with the girl students to take possession of the premise, and made himself the khateeb. The State cordoned off the mosque, and started to negotiate with Maulana Aziz. (“Tense situation prevails as Maulana Aziz occupies Lal Masjid,” Dawn, 8 February 2020). His primary demand then was: "he should be recognised as the khateeb (prayer leader) of Lal Masjid and the government should pay Rs30 million in lieu of the construction cost of Jamia Hafsa in H-11 and allotment of a new plot in the CDA limits against the cancelled H-11 plot.” (“Lal Masjid standoff persists as Maulana Aziz refuses to budge on demands,” Dawn, 21 February 2020)
Second is the repeated failure of the capital administration to maintain its writ over the mosque and the land around it. When Maulana Aziz and his female students occupied the Jamia Hafsa entering into it by breaking the seal, in February 2020, the administration instead of coming down on him, allowed the proscribed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) to negotiate a settlement with Maulana Aziz. Later, in February, Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi was asked to negotiate with Maulana Aziz. According to Dawn, Maulana Ashrafi met with the Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah, before meeting Maulana Aziz. (“Lal Masjid standoff persists as Maulana Aziz refuses to budge on demands,” Dawn, 21 February 2020).
In June 2019, the administration tried the same thing, when Maulana Aziz occupied the mosque with his female students. The district commissioner approached the Ulema to mediate with him; following which a three months ban was imposed on Maulana Aziz from not entering into the mosque. (“Lal Masjid’s khateeb removed, Maulana Aziz’s entry banned for three months," Dawn, 26 June 2019) It did the same thing in July as well.
Third is the presence of armed men around Maulana Aziz, with heavy weapons. In February 2020, the situation became tense, with armed men (to protect Maulana Aziz) inside the mosque, and the State forces outside it. Though the weapons were licensed, does a prayer leader needs machine guns as a protection?
Fourth, is the ownership over the mosques and seminaries. Mosques and seminaries have become a source of power to whoever controls them. It provides access to students. It also provides access to the administration. It also provides access to a larger audience. It also provides access to funds from within and outside Pakistan.
Constructing a temple in Islamabad: Legal and Political trouble/support
In the news
On 7 July, the Islamabad High Court observed that the construction of a place of worship requires mandatory approval of the regulator (in this case, the Capital Development Authority in Islamabad); however, the Court, dismissed objections over the government allotment of a plot to build a temple in Islamabad Sector H.
Strong support to the construction of the temple, came from Hafiz Mohammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, the Chairman of Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC). On 10 July, he said: "We denounce the Controversy over construction of the temple. This [making it controversial] by extremist clerics is not correct. PUC will call a meeting and will also present its point of view to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).”
According to Dawn, “the government allotted the plot measuring 3.89 kanals for the temple in January 2017. The plot was handed over to the Islamabad Hindu Panchayat (IHP) in 2018.” (“IHC disposes of pleas against Hindu temple construction,” Dawn, 8 July 2020)
The Capital Development Authority, earlier during the first week of July, had stopped the construction of the temple, as there was no formal building plan that has been approved by the administration. However, the bigger opposition has come from the religious right and the radical groups. They have opposed the construction of a Hindu temple in an Islamic State. A section has gone and vandalised the compound wall that has been erected by the temple administration.
During late June 2020, a Parliamentary delegation of the religious minorities approached the Prime Minister for his support to build the first temple in Islamabad. Imran Khan has approved a grant of 100 million rupees towards the same. Seeing the opposition, the Prime Minister has now approached the Council of Islamic Ideology to find out whether the State can provide support to construct a temple in Pakistan.
Issues in the background
The primary issue is the opposition from the religious right and the radical groups that are against providing any political, legal and societal space to the religious minorities inside Pakistan. A section is against not only the Hindus but also include the Christians, Ahmadiyya and even the Shias.
Second is the one step forward – two steps backward strategy by the State. In this case, the PTI government saw this (construction of a temple in Islamabad) as an international message from Pakistan underlining tolerance and support for the minorities. The spirit behind the PTI government is to allow the construction of the temple should have been based on the same.
Third is the repeated surrender of the State when the radical groups go on an offensive relating to any of its strategies. The same thing happened to the PPP government in Sindh, when it tried to introduce an act against child marriage in Sindh so that forced conversions could be prevented.
Fourth, is the support at the streel level. There is a section, however small within Pakistan to stand up against the radical onslaught on the minorities. Unfortunately, they have a better presence online and in the social media, than in the print and electronic media, and most importantly, on the streets. This is where the radical groups win – on the streets.