“BE patient, you the people of God. You are here to please Allah Almighty and not for enjoyment. So bear with fortitude the inconvenience of waiting for your turn,” Ehsanullah, a fourth-year medical college student, consoled those queuing outside the venue for the Jamaatud Dawa’s two-day ijtema (congregation) on the sprawling lawns of Minar-i-Pakistan.
The participants were getting impatient as they waited in long queues at the five entrances to the venue, where JuD emir Hafiz Muhammad Saeed had begun his address at the concluding session.
The ijtema was an annual activity until the party, then named Lashkar-e-Taiba, was banned in 2002 after an attack on the Indian parliament allegedly carried out by its henchmen. From the ashes of the LeT (claimed to have since been confined to Kashmir) emerged Jamaatud Dawa. For the first time, the event was being held in the Punjab capital since the inception of the outfit in the mid-1980s, and after a break of almost 12 years.
|Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, waves to his supporters during congregation at Minar-i-Pakistan ground. — INP|
Security arrangements were extraordinarily tight as organisers feared threats especially to the party’s leadership, which openly advocates jihad in Kashmir. Besides 4,000 policemen, at least 15,000 volunteers were on duty. One had to cross three security rings besides passing through a long makeshift bazaar to reach the designated spot for male participants. Tighter security measures had been taken for the adjacent but separate area for burqa-clad female activists who, the organisers said, constituted a third of the total number of participants.
JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid claimed they had prepared food for 400,000 people for dinner with the help of 2,500 cooks at the kitchen set up on the site but the arrangements proved inefficient. The local cadre had to be mobilised to arrange for more food from nearby eateries.
Most participants came from rural backgrounds, and it was hard to spot anyone without a beard. Though consisting largely of illiterate or semi-literate youth, many students, including those from engineering universities and medical colleges were present. Hafiz Saeed is a former faculty member of the University of Engineering & Technology, Lahore, and many UET graduates like Naveed Qamar hold key positions in the outfit.
Motivated by ‘religious zeal and fervour’, they had turned up to get training for jihad. Naeemur Rehman, an IT expert, explained this as ‘academic’ training through lectures and sermons, and not military instruction. The gathering of people with similar thinking in hundreds of thousands at one place also infused a new spirit of determination among the activists, he added.
Ilyas Salfi, a law graduate, argued that jihad was not confined to armed struggle but extended to helping those in distress through lawful means. The JuD’s rescue and relief work during the 2005 earthquake (recognised by the UN), after the 2010 floods and later, and in the recent Thar crisis through its social welfare activities under the banner of Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation were examples of jihad, he said.
Two Hindus from Sindh and a Christian impressed by JuD’s relief activities embraced Islam at the ijtema.
Notwithstanding its welfare activities, the group is banned by the US, the EU, India and Russia as a terrorist organisation. In June 2014, Washington declared JuD an LeT affiliate and announced head money for Hafiz Saeed and Abdur Rahman Makki, JuD’s political wing chief and Saeed’s brother-in-law.
Unlike the festive atmosphere of the earlier rallies of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf at the same place a few weeks ago, the JuD congregation was a serious affair. In a show of equality and non-discrimination, leaders and participants sat on carpets and mats; there was no chair for anyone, except a couple of security guards.
One heard the chants of “Allah-o-Akbar”, instead of party songs played by DJ Butt. An organiser said a principal objective was to show that the religious parties were a force to be reckoned with and that if secular parties (a reference to the PTI and PAT) could attract crowds at their ‘dance and song’ gatherings, the JuD could draw larger crowds motivated by their desire to establish Islam’s supremacy.
An insider claimed that the outfit was to organise the event at its headquarters in Muridke and the sudden decision to change the venue was taken two weeks before so that the congregation could be seen “as a response to the public meetings of secular parties”. He also hinted at the forging of a new religious alliance.
JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid defended the decision to change the venue, saying Muridke could not accommodate so many people and that the provision of food and sanitation facilities in Lahore was much easier. He also said they tried to benefit from the arrangements the Jamaat-i-Islami made for its ijtema 10 days ago.
The outfit, like other jihadi and religious organisations, collects donations round the year, particularly zakat during Ramazan and hides of animals on Eidul Azha, to meet the expenses for its anti-India and pro-jihad campaigns. To cover the costs of the ijtema, participants were asked to donate generously in cash and kind.
“Please leave behind your beddings, blankets and shawls for the mujahideen. Your donations will earn you a higher place in the hereafter,” echoed the announcement made at the conclusion of the congregation. And most participants obliged.
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2014