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Uproar in Senate over razed mosques

January 23, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Jan 22: Religious parties staged a noisy protest in the Senate on Monday against the razing of two mosques in Islamabad for being unauthorised but were strongly countered by government ministers who challenged the construction of places of worship on grabbed government land.

Several senators from the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) alliance wanted the issue to be discussed at the start of the upper house proceedings on what was a private members’ day but agreed to let opposition leader Raza Rabbani and some other opposition members to raise other issues first through points of order.

Then a senator of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML), Kulsoom Perveen, stole the march on the MMA by being the first to formally raise the matter through a point of order and questioned the justification of demolishing the two mosques on Saturday just before the start of the mourning month of Moharram.

MMA’s Kamran Murtaza said the authorities had planned to demolish 10 more mosques and the Jamia Faridiya madressah in Islamabad on the pretext of security threats.

Before the issue was taken up by other MMA senators, Ports and Shipping Minister Babar Khan Ghauri said constructing a mosque on illegally occupied government land could neither be legal nor Islamic and that even the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) had once ordered the demolition of such an illegal mosque.

MMA’s Khalid Soomro, who had a virtual shouting match with the treasury benches, asked the ministers to refrain from expressing their views on religious matters for which he said they were not qualified like ulema.

But he invited some stinging remarks from both Mr Ghauri and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Khan Niazi, both of whom recalled opposition to Pakistan’s creation by some religious parties and taunted the MMA to resign from the National Assembly as it had threatened to do to protest against the passage of the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill in November.

However, Minister of State for Interior Zafar Iqbal Warraich promised to report about the issue to the house after getting necessary facts and was advised by presiding officer Khalid Ranjha, who chaired the proceedings in the absence of Chairman Mohammedmian Soomro, to do it by Wednesday.

Meanwhile MMA’s National Assembly member from Islamabad Mian Mohammad Aslam on Monday asked the government to reconstruct the two demolished mosques while visiting the capital’s famous Lal Mosque and a nearby girls’ madressah, according to a party press release.

The capital administration has issued a notice to the Hafsa madressah administration to vacate the plot of the Modern Children’s Library that it had allegedly occupied illegally.

The girl students of the madressah had been occupying the lawns of the library since they began their protest over the matter on Sunday, shutting the gate with iron chains and a padlock to deny access to the library building.

The MMA has planned to hold a protest rally in Islamabad on Wednesday.