ISLAMABAD: The capital administration held five rounds of discussions with deposed cleric of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz and did not allow him to lead Friday prayers and deliver the weekly sermon in the mosque.
The last round of talks between the administration and the cleric started on Friday morning and concluded less than an hour before the prayers.
Scores of women clad in black burqas with some of them carrying sticks gazed down at the streets from the windows and rooftops of the new Jamia Hafsa in G-7/3-4 as women police commandos wearing black uniform roamed in the street below in defensive gears.
After the announcement of Maulana’s plan on May 8, Islamabad administration held six rounds of talks with him
A large number of male students were also seen at the G-7 seminary and around Lal Masjid. Not only a heavy contingent of police was deployed around Lal Masjid but Rangers were also posted around the female seminary and at the ends of adjoining streets.
Also read: The people versus Abdul Aziz
Shuhada Foundation of Lal Masjid had announced on May 8 that Maulana Aziz would lead the Friday prayers and deliver a sermon on May 11 after a gap of over three years.
Soon afterwards, officers of the local administration started discussions with the cleric in the new Jamia Hafsa and the final round concluded at around 12 noon on Friday.
The officials told the media that the maulana had agreed not to visit the mosque.
One of the ICT officials said the cleric insisted that it was his right to deliver a sermon at Lal Masjid.
“His plan was that he would go to the mosque in the form of a procession along with a few vehicles loaded with women students but we did not yield to any pressure,” the official added. “We told him that even the new Jamia Hafsa has been built illegally over a natural stream so why not clear it first as a dutiful citizen.”
As Maulana Aziz did not go to Lal Masjid, the Friday prayers were led by Amir Siddique, the deputy cleric.
The government deposed Maulana Aziz from the state-owned Lal Masjid after he delivered a controversial sermon on December 19, 2014, defending the perpetrators of the Army Public School Peshawar attack, calling it a reactionary move by terrorists.
During that sermon, he also targeted political leaders belonging to the Shia school of thought.
“This campaign against me is a conspiracy hatched by Amin Shaheedi and Faisal Raza Abidi but I warn that they are testing our patience,” Maulana Aziz had stated in that Friday sermon.
He also warned the state apparatus of dire consequences in case he was arrested or killed. After the prayers on December 19, 2014, he left Lal Masjid in a procession of seminary students.
Some students of Jamia Hafsa later released a video message to the leader of international terror group, ISIS, inviting him to Pakistan to establish a Sharia compliant state in the country.
As the government maintained its strict posture against Maulana Aziz in the following years, he made several attempts in 2017 to get hold of the microphone at Lal Masjid that were foiled by the government.
In February 2017, Lal Masjid tried image building efforts and announced its disassociation from outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan faction Jamaatul Ahrar after the terror group launched strikes in Pakistan and named them Abdul Rasheed Ghazi operation. Ghazi was the brother of Maulana Aziz who was killed in the military operation on Lal Masjid in 2007.
In March 2017, the cleric announced to hold a conference in Lal Masjid against blasphemous content on the social media but the government did not allow it.
Maulana Aziz also announced to hold the 10th anniversary of Lal Masjid operation by Shuhada Foundation last year.
The local administration on June 23 imposed a ban on all political and religious activities by Lal Masjid’s Shuhada Foundation, declaring it an ‘unregistered entity’.
In August 2017, the relatives of the deposed Lal Masjid cleric were stopped from holding a press conference by the ICT administration on the basis that mosques should not be politicised. The Islamabad police closed off the main entrance to the mosque before the press conference was scheduled to be held.
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2018