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Citizens arrive at Lal Masjid to ‘reclaim their mosque’

Updated December 19, 2014

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Civil society activists gather outside Lal Masjid in Islamabad on Thursday. In the other picture, two women light candles as policemen stand guard. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad
Civil society activists gather outside Lal Masjid in Islamabad on Thursday. In the other picture, two women light candles as policemen stand guard. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: Staff at the capital’s Lal Masjid found themselves in an unexpected situation on Thursday evening when a large number of civil society activists, politicians and students arrived at the mosque chanting slogans against the chief cleric and lighting candles as part of a vigil.

The candlelight vigil and protest was organised in response to a statement by the mosque’s chief cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz in which he refused to condemn the massacre of students and teachers in a terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar.

In a late night move, however, Islamabad police registered a First Information Report (FIR) against participants of the protest on the complaint of the mosque management.

Earlier, following the announcement of the candlelight vigil on social media, shared with the hash tag ‘reclaim our mosques’ police closed the road in front of the mosque to traffic and deputed police personnel on the median.


FIR registered against participants of Lal Masjid protest


At around 6pm people began arriving at the mosque. They lit candles on one side of the road, wrote names of the students killed in Peshawar on a board and began shouting slogans against the chief cleric.

A staff member came out of the mosque and warned protesters that any further chanting will not be tolerated by the management. Police in riot gear also arrived at the scene and asked the protesters to disperse.

A police official told Dawn that Lal Masjid is considered a sensitive place and upon receiving information about the planned protest police anticipated a clash.

The Lal Masjid was the site of an army operation and siege in 2007.

“We tried to find the organiser who had announced the event on social media to ask him to cancel the event but we were not able to find him. People began arriving at the announced time so we deputed police personnel at the mosque,” the police official said.

Jibran Nasir, one of the organisers of the protest, told Dawn that he was a resident of Karachi and was in Islamabad when he heard of the statement made by Maulana Abdul Aziz and decided to organise the candlelight vigil in response.

“I learnt that police were looking for me and after the vigil they tried to arrest me. Photographers who appeared to be associated with Lal Masjid also took pictures of me. However, I am considering holding the vigil at the same place again tomorrow,” he said.

The organiser said he will hold the vigil for the next one week, after which it will be held every Tuesday night.

A civil society activist, Ahmad Ali, told Dawn that Maulana Abdul Aziz refused to condemn the incident in Peshawar and said he could not call the students who were killed ‘martyrs’.

“As this mosque is where the statement came from, we decided to hold the vigil here,” he said.

He said a funeral prayer in absentia was planned to be offered on the road in front of the mosque but no cleric agreed to lead the prayer. “People are afraid of challenging the mosque management. It is heartening to see such a large number of people coming here to participate in the vigil,” he said.

The participants of the vigil included Senator Farhatullah Babar.

Talking to Dawn, the senator said: “The vigil is an expression of solidarity with the families of the victims and a vow to fight religious extremism and militancy. It also dramatises a stark reality-while the army chief is in Kabul with proof of Maulvi Fazlullah’s complicity, clerics in the capital have the audacity to declare allegiance to that very man. The battle lines could not be clearer, more melodramatic,” he said.

Station House Officer (SHO) at Aabpara Police Station Abdul Rehman while talking to Dawn confirmed that an FIR had been registered against participants of the protest. “The protesters violated Section 144, they blocked the road and delivered hate speech against the administration of the mosque,” he said.

He added that the FIR had been registered on the request of the mosque administration.

When Ahmed Ali was contacted he said he is not aware of an FIR having been registered but knows that the mosque management is very powerful and will not tolerate this challenge to its writ by the civil society.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2014