ISLAMABAD, July 5: Little would have the founders of Lal Masjid ever thought in 1965 when they named it Lal (red), departing from the usual tradition of giving Islamic names to places of worship, that this mosque would one day find itself at the centre of a bloody controversy.
It was named by the Auqaf department, which had originally constructed and operated the mosque, because of its red coloured edifice rather the usual meaning of ‘revolution’ ascribed to the red colour.
With the passage of time, the colour of the mosque building changed but not the spirit within.
Though the first Khateeb of the mosque was Maulana Abdullah who had been selected by President Ayub Khan on the recommendation of a leading cleric for the capital’s then central mosque, the hobnobbing of the Auqaf-managed mosque with jihadis started with the Afghan war almost over a decade after it was built.
The only previous known political involvement of the mosque was in Tehrik Khatam-i-Nabuwat.
Maulana Abdullah, the father of Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi the two brothers currently running the show, developed strong association with Abdul Rab Sayyaf, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Ahmed Shah Masood and with the rise of Taliban in Kabul associated himself with the student movement.
Gen Ziaul Haq patronised the jihadi philosophy propagated by the mosque. Maulana Abdullah taking advantage of his close connection with the military establishment founded many seminaries and mosques by occupying unutilised state land, one of the more prominent among them was Jamia Fareedia in E-7.
Maulana Abdullah was assassinated in front of the mosque in 1998, but his legacy was carried forward by his two sons.
In 2001, Maulana Abdullah’s sons played a pivotal role in the formation of an anti-US alliance of religious leaders following the US-led attack on Afghanistan.
Lal Masjid showed its street power for the first time in 2003, when students of its Jamia Fareedia played a major role in the Millat-i-Islamia organised riots after the killing of Maulana Azam Tariq. A cinema employee was killed and dozens other were injured as the seminary students ransacked cinemas, restaurants and gas stations in the capital.
In 2004, a controversial edict about Pakistan army soldiers killed in operation in South Waziristan brought the Lal Masjid brothers back into the limelight. It was the same year Lal Masjid’s links with Al-Qaeda were revealed with the arrest of Osama bin Laden’s driver. The government at that time also accused Maulana Abdul Rashid of masterminding attacks on government installations.
However, he was very soon mysteriously cleared of those charges. Now Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Ijazul Haq claims he had played a major role in getting Maulana Abdul Rashid absolved of the charges after he gave him an undertaking that he would not involve himself in political and anti-state activities anymore.
Jamia Hafsa, although established in 1992, made headlines in 2005, when its girl students resisted an operation in the wake 7/7 London bombings after British Prime Minister Tony Blair called on Pakistan to crack down on radical Islamic schools. The operation turned out to be a major embarrassment for the authorities and could not yield the desired objectives.
The dawn of 2007 took the mosque to the prominence it never enjoyed before. The mosque clerics began to assert themselves quite often and adopted uncompromising stance on different issues. It still remains a mystery as to what encouraged these clerics to become so menacing and adopt such a stiff position.
It all started when Molly (Misbah Rana), a Scottish girl at the centre of a custody battle, enrolled at the Jamia Hafsa. This was extensively covered by the international media.
Few days later on January 21, burqa-clad baton-wielding female students of the seminary occupied the children’s library to protest demolition of mosques built illegally on state land.
While the controversy about occupation of the children’s library lingered, the students of Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid launched an anti-vice campaign and kidnapped an alleged operator of a brothel in their neighbourhood. Later policemen were kidnapped and set free.
In April, the mosque announced establishment of Sharia courts, but suspended their working soon after passing an edict against the then tourism minister Nilofar Bakhtiar for hugging a parachuting instructor. The edict ruined her political career and she was forced not only to resign from the ministry but also from the post of president Pakistan Muslim League’s women wing.
But the climax was reached when the students raided a Chinese massage centre and kidnapped Chinese masseurs. It was around this time the government started feeling international pressure and altered its policy of restraint.
The Lal Masjid showdown nearing its logical end with the arrest of its chief cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz looks to have ensured one thing that the mosque known for its radical jihadi views wouldn’t be the same anymore.