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The War Within Islam ( 20 Jan 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Realities of ‘Laal Masjid’ Islamabad

By Naeem Tahir

January 21, 2012

Many of the religious-minded civil and military bureaucrats based in Islamabad and     Rawalpindi used to send their daughters to the women’s Islamic seminary run by Aziz. Aziz   had become a vital asset of the establishment, sitting right in the heart of Islamabad

“...and as for those who built a place of worship (masjid) out of opposition and disbelief, and in order to cause dissent among the believers, and as an outpost for those who warred against Allah and His Messenger aforetime. And they will surely swear: ‘We purposed naught save good.’ And Allah beareth witness that they were liars” (Surah At-Tauba, Verse 107).

The Laal Masjid (Red Mosque) of Islamabad and the action on it in July 2007 seems to be hardly understood. The realities have been unfolding gradually. These are unfolding even now. Most of the people do not realise the significance of what was happening in the Laal Masjid. There is a strong publicity and propaganda machine in motion to establish it as a massacre of innocents and put the blame on the government, or the army as a favourite target. Many others believe that the action was necessary much before, and although belated, it saved the country from an impending disaster of huge magnitude.

In order to understand the realities as they unfolded during the last four years, we need to look at several researched reports of which most may not have been seen by the general public. The general public usually retains the ‘first’ impression and sticks to it due to psychological inertia. This first impression phenomenon has been a favourite of organised propaganda agencies to cover up the truth. A recent example of it was the Indian propaganda machine’s classical manoeuvre to make the Samjhota Express blast a handiwork of Pakistanis. The facts surfaced much later in the Nasik court decision in a case filed by late Hemant Karkare, the chief of the Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad. So the ‘first impression’ intentionally created is getting negated by the real facts. Therefore, to reach a fair perspective, the facts need careful review.

According to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) records, the Laal Masjid is one of the oldest mosques in Islamabad. ‘Maulana’ Muhammad Abdullah, a government lower rank employee, was appointed its first imam. Abdullah was critical of all governments except Zia’s with whom he was very close. The brutal dictator, General Ziaul Haq, had very close relationship with Muhammad Abdullah. Abdullah is said to have been a supporter of the sectarian outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). This outfit has been banned for involvement in sectarian killings of Shias.

The ‘Laal Masjid’ was built in 1965 and was named for its red walls and interiors. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), the Red Mosque played a major role in recruiting and training ‘local mujahideen’ to fight along with the ‘Afghan mujahideen’. The clerics managing the Laal Masjid enjoyed patronage from influential members of the government, prime ministers, army chiefs, and presidents. Several thousand male and female students lived in adjacent seminaries. The sources of funding had been mysterious. Abdullah was a veteran jihadi who had fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, so his organisation had strong contacts with such radicals as Mullah Omar, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, Tahir Yaldochiv, and Osama bin Laden. He had a particular connection with Sheikh Essa who played a pivotal role at a later stage in the strategy of the Laal Masjid revolt. Sheikh Essa was based in North Waziristan. His full name was Abu Amr Abd al-Hakim of Egyptian origin. He was the most visible and accessible al Qaeda figure for the Punjabi, Pakistani Pashtuns, and Afghan militants.

Abdullah was assassinated in 1998 due to sectarian animosities. His sons, Abdul Aziz Ghazi and Abdul Rashid Ghazi, took over the mosque as if it was a right by ‘inheritance’! Both the brothers turned the mosque into a centre of hardline teachings.

In 2001 the Taliban suffered defeat in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda struggled to survive. At the operational level Sheikh Essa pioneered the dialectical process in Pakistan in order to strategise the Asian theatre of war. That dialectical process aimed to orchestrate a clash between the secular forces and the so-called ‘Islamists’ in Pakistan, so as to arrive at a point where the Pakistani state apparatus would either remain completely neutral in the US war in Afghanistan or be forced to support al Qaeda. The first object was to gain complete control of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, both bordering Afghanistan, and from there fight the NATO forces. Sheikh Essa, 70, had earlier taken part in the revolt against Anwar Sadat and was a scholar of theology. Sheikh Essa was also held in high esteem by the Punjabi militants. They listened to his interpretation of ‘takfeer’ (the practice of one Muslim declaring another Muslim an unbeliever) mesmerised. His teachings paved the way for the dialectical process in Pakistan, which urged a war between diverse segments of Muslim society. Soon, disgruntled elements of Pakistani jihadis, more especially the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) became his followers. There were several others who have been named in detail by the distinguished journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in his book. Shahzad was mysteriously murdered last year.

Many of the religious-minded civil and military bureaucrats based in Islamabad and Rawalpindi used to send their daughters to the women’s Islamic seminary run by Aziz. Aziz had become a vital asset of the establishment, sitting right in the heart of Islamabad.

Sheikh Essa felt that a revolt by the Laal Masjid would be the beginning of his interpretation of an Islamic revolution in Pakistan. So Sheikh Essa focused on Aziz. Aziz was convinced to read Essa’s book, Al-Wala Wal Bara. After reading the book, he was asked by Sheikh Essa: “Do you still believe that the Pakistan Army is a Muslim army?” He forcefully reminded Aziz of his duties as a Muslim scholar, “If you refuse the call of takfeer on the Pakistan Army, God will never forgive.” In a typical way, Essa monopolised the will of God by saying this but succeeded in mesmerising Aziz. He decided to follow. It meant jeopardising his connections with and support of the establishment but on the other hand he thought that he will lose his faith.

Soon the beginning of the revolt was to take place when Aziz issued an edict (fatwa).

The writer is a culture and media management specialist, a researcher, author, director and actor

Source: Daily Times, Pakistan