With Lal Masjid standoff unresolved, another cleric occupies state-owned mosque in Islamabad

Updated February 22, 2020

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The Auqaf Department has been ignoring the rift at Masjid-e-Shuhada for five months. — File
The Auqaf Department has been ignoring the rift at Masjid-e-Shuhada for five months. — File

With authorities still struggling to finalise a settlement to end the standoff with former khateeb Maulana Abdul Aziz at Lal Masjid, another dispute is brewing at another state-owned mosque, Masjid-e-Shuhada, in Islamabad's Aabpara area.

The Auqaf Department, which oversees the affairs of mosques in the capital territory, has been ignoring the rift at Masjid-e-Shuhada for five months, resulting in frequent scuffles between the supporters of the official cleric at the mosque and the cleric who was supposed to retire two years ago but refused to abide by government orders to vacate the mosque.

The dispute at the heart of this crisis originated when Maulana Amir Siddique, the former naib khateeb of Lal Masjid, was appointed as the chief cleric of Masjid-e-Shuhada after the mosque’s previous cleric Maulana Ghulam Rasool retired after reaching the age of 60. However, Rasool refused to abide by the retirement and not only is he still staying at the official residence of the mosque for the past two years but also continues to occupy one of the shops there.

His supporters have since then refused to allow Maulana Siddique, who is the nephew of Maulana Aziz, to lead the prayers at the mosque, which compelled him to approach the Aabpara police station to file a complaint – which was followed by a counter police complaint filed by Maulana Rasool.

While speaking to Dawn, Maulana Siddique shared his concerns about the developments: “This is unfair that the police did not entertain my application despite having legal standing only because I am not as strong and powerful as the other cleric.”

Meanwhile, Maulana Rasool too complained that police were not registering a report over their application against Maulana Siddique whom he accused of trying to create a law and order situation at the mosque.

Since there is no residential area around Masjid-e-Shuhada, the majority of those attending the prayers there are traders and shopkeepers from the Aabpara market. One of the leaders of the traders’ community, Ajmal Baloch, told Dawn that it is the responsibility of the Auqaf Department to ensure the implementation of the law and thus ensure that the cleric they appointed is allowed to lead prayers at the mosque.

“How can Maulana Ghulam Rasool, or anyone else for that matter, claim that this is his family mosque? The state needs to implement the writ of the law,” said Baloch.

Another senior trade leader at Aabpara market, Younis Qureshi, told Dawn that the root cause of the dispute at Masjid-e-Shuhada was the failure of the Auqaf Department to hold elections of the Masjid Committee.

He said while the government continues its efforts to eradicate extremism from society, it is failing in its duty to maintain control over mosques. "Maulana Ghulam Rasool refused to let Maulana Amir Siddique lead the prayers because he accused the latter of having ties to the Shia and Barelvi sects and the security establishment. Those making these charges should be tried under the National Action Plan.”

He added that the dispute was, in essence, a monetary one and that there has never been an audit of the finances of the mosque and its affiliated seminary.

Asked about the dispute, one member of the Masjid Committee, Farooq Kiani, denied that elections of the mosque have not taken place and instead claimed that polls were held regularly with the last one taking place a year ago.

Kiani further claimed that the conflict was “resolved” on the demand of locals and Maulana Siddique was transferred to Masjid Kausar near Polyclinic Hospital with the cleric at that mosque, Maulana Ashfaq, taking his place at Masjid-e-Shuhada.

It is worth noting that Maulana Ashfaq, who is the younger brother of Maulana Rasool, has been leading prayers at Masjid-e-Shuhada but the notification of his transfer has not yet been issued by the Auqaf Department.

When asked about the ongoing dispute at the mosque, an official at the Auqaf Department told Dawn that the department's director was on leave and that the department did not have enough resources to conduct timely elections at all mosques. “We cannot force any decision on the masses. Besides, by and large, there have not been many serious issues with mosque committees in Islamabad. There were no concerns with the committee at Masjid-e-Shuhada, therefore the existing committee has continued to work for a long period,” the official said.

Amongst the responsibilities of the Auqaf Department is overseeing the affairs of mosques and shrines in Islamabad and ensuring the equitable distribution of mosques among the four main schools of thought in the country – Shia, Deobandi, Barelvi and Ahle Hadees. There are around 86 state-owned mosques in Islamabad and around 1,000 mosques registered with the Auqaf Department are situated on either private land or on occupied land.

Given that the Auqaf Department does not require mosques and seminaries to show proof of ownership of land on which they are built, the number of illegal mosques and seminaries has only increased over time.

The dispute at Masjid-e-Shuhada follows a standoff at Lal Masjid that began when Maulana Aziz returned to the mosque last month, reiterating his claim to be its prayer leader. The situation, however, turned serious a few weeks ago when over a 100 female students entered the Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad’s Sector H-11 by breaking its official seal. Subsequently, officers from the capital administration approached Lal Masjid to meet Maulana Aziz, but the talks remained inconclusive as the cleric insisted that a senior authority equivalent to a federal minister should negotiate with him.

Since then, a multitude of clerics, including two delegations, have met both parties — the interior ministry and Maulana Aziz — but failed to end the standoff.