People line up to get their ID cards after offering Friday prayers in Lal Masjid. Police have allowed only CNIC holders to enter the mosque as the area has been cordoned off. — Photo by Mohammad Asim
People line up to get their ID cards after offering Friday prayers in Lal Masjid. Police have allowed only CNIC holders to enter the mosque as the area has been cordoned off. — Photo by Mohammad Asim

ISLAMABAD: Like during the previous two governments, deposed khateeb of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz is testing the nerves of the government by occupying the state-owned mosque and reiterating his claim to be its prayer leader.

Taking advantage of the situation when the authorities seemed to be busy with other issues, and the slackness of the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration to notify either a prayer leader or a deputy, Maulana Aziz re-entered the mosque two weeks ago.

Currently, the capital administration has laid a siege to the area outside the mosque and Maulana Aziz along with female students is holed up inside.

None of the sides seem to back off from their position and the standoff continues.

Possibly to test the reaction of the authorities, the cleric delivered a Friday sermon last week but it was ignored despite repeated warnings by one of his former comrades Hafiz Ehtesham Ahmed, who claims to be the spokesperson of Lal Masjid’s Shuhada Foundation.

“The matter was brought to the notice of police that Haroon Rasheed, who had been picked up by security personnel earlier, was also illegally occupying the official residence of naib khateeb in Lal Masjid,” said Hafiz Ehtesham.

However, the matter turned serious when around 100 female students of Jamia Hafsa, G-7, broke into the sealed building of the seminary at H-11 (Jamia Hafsa) on Thursday night. As a result, officers from the capital administration approached Lal Masjid to meet Maulana Aziz. But talks remained inconclusive as the cleric insisted that a senior authority equivalent to a federal minister should negotiate with him.

“They are all bent upon committing the same mistake again. They are not honouring the verdict of the Supreme Court and reluctant to enforce the supremacy of Sharia in the country,” Maulana Aziz told Dawn via his mobile phone from inside the mosque.

He added: “They have given us a deadline to vacate Jamia Hafsa in H-11 with the threat to launch an operation again. Food supply too has been stopped but we are determined to remain steadfast for the sake of Islam.”

As the area has been closed since Thursday night after the authorities warned the cleric to vacate Lal Masjid, citizens were allowed to enter the mosque to offer Friday prayers under strict conditions.

All the participants had to deposit their CNICs at the police barricade and return after the Friday prayers.

On the other hand, Maulana Aziz maintained his track record by delivering a fiery sermon on Friday, stopping just short of declaring the state authorities not being the true followers of Islam and even working against the interest of the country.

The mosque remains closed to all outsiders, including for evening and other prayers, but food items were allowed in only if the delivery was taken by any person coming from the mosque.

Meanwhile, a senior police officer said: “Food was delivered twice on Friday. Women could be seen on the rooftops and even they can come out and get the food but we do now allow anybody inside as they can carry weapons too.”

An official of the capital administration acknowledged that there was no khateeb or naib khateeb at Lal Masjid after Amir Siddique was transferred two months ago.

“The problem is that Maulana and his group threaten the cleric notified by the Auqaf Department,” the officer said.

He added that the demands of Maulana Aziz cannot be implemented as he wants to become the khateeb of the mosque again. He also wants Rs250 million along with a large piece of land to establish Jamia Hafsa and the possession of the adjacent old children’s library plot, he added.

“First of all, we are hopeful that he will leave the place in two or three days,” the official said, adding the authorities could use the status of Jamia Hafsa in G-7 as a bargaining chip if the maulana remained adamant on his move.

Almost all the land of Jamia Hafsa where maulana resides has been built on encroached land after covering a natural water course.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2020