|Established||Constructed – 1966
Renovated – 2010
Abdul Aziz Ghazi
Darul Uloom Deoband, India
The Lal Masjid was built in 1965 and is named for its red walls and interiors. According to Capital Development Authority (CDA) records, the Lal Masjid is one of the oldest Mosques in Islamabad. Maulana Muhammad Abdullah was appointed its first imam. Abdullah was critical of all governments except Zia's with whom he was very close. General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq had very close relationship with Maulana Muhammad Abdullah, the former head of the Mosque. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989), the Red Mosque played a major role in recruiting and training mujahideen to fight with the Afghan mujahideen. Throughout its existence, it has enjoyed patronage from influential members of the government, prime ministers, army chiefs, and presidents. Several thousand male and female students live in adjacent seminaries.
After Maulana Muhammad Abdullah was assassinated in 1998, his sons Abdul Aziz Ghazi and Abdul Rashid Ghazi took over the mosque, making it a centre for hardline teaching and open opposition to the government. Abdul Aziz remained the official khatib of the masjid until he was removed in 2005 for issuing a controversial fatwa stating no Pakistani Army officer could be given an Islamic burial if died fighting the taliban.
The plot on which Lal Masjid was built was alloted by CDA. With the passage of time, the mosque administration encroached the surrounding area and a big complex like a fort was constructed. Due to influence and strong connections Lal Masjid have with the government high officials, the CDA remained unable to get the encroached land vacated till end 2006. In early 2007, CDA strongly persuaded and issued a vacation notice. Aziz and Rasheed, initiated move by taking possession of the Children Library located in the adjacent by using the female student force. These students were motivated in the name of religion and thus the visible conflict started. All this was to force the government to come to some compromise.
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CDA demolished 7 mosques around January 2007 in the capital city of Islamabad which were reportedly built illegally on government's land. These mosques were directly under influence of Lal Masjid because most of the clerics appointed there were graduated from seminary build conjunctly with Lal Masjid. CDA promised to give substitute lands for these mosques after demolishing, but they were never given. The two brothers took stand against this issue and things started piling up for next so many months. This issue was conflagrated when Maulana Abdul Aziz's Fatwa came into limelight in which he stated that: "No Pakistani Army officer could be given an Islamic burial if died fighting the taliban." The reason behind this Fatwa was, Maulana Abdul Aziz believed that Taliban is fighting in Afghanistan on a noble cause against American invaders in their country, after being declared this was as 'Crusade' by President George W Bush. This fatwa was contentious enough to draw attention of Pakistan Army officials and plan was made somewhere at that time to get rid of these "other" guys from scene. A campaign was started from government's side as well as from Lal Masjid's side to oppress each other's stance.
The students (both male and female) took to the streets to persuade video shops not to sell "vulgar" movies. The campaign took a turn for the worse when the students seized a famous brothel owner in the Aapara area, where both the Taliban-supporting Lal Masjid and the state's Inter-Services Intelligence are situated. They held the woman hostage in their seminary. Despite complaints, the government was unable to do anything about the brothels in the area because of collusion between authorities and the prostitutes. Thus the students took matters into their own hands, much as the Taliban did as they emerged as a power in the 1990s in Afghanistan and in the Waziristan tribal areas.
The students had the full backing of prominent religious personalities. Ghazi Abdul Rasheed and Maulana Abdul Aziz, the brothers who ran the Lal Masjid and the men's and women's seminaries. The police tried to broker the release of the suspected brothel owner and, when they failed, they arrested two female teachers from the seminary. In a matter of minutes, students and followers of the Taliban blocked all important arteries in Aapara, and also took two police officers with their official vehicle as hostage.
When Abdul Aziz threatened to call a jihad, the two women were released, so the students then released the policemen.
Abdul Rasheed explained his feelings on a call for jihad. "The students from universities and colleges and youths from all walks of life ask why we do not call for jihad against a repressive regime, but I always say that the time is not ripe. But when pious lady teachers are punished and arrested for the sake of prostitutes, a call for jihad is imminent." Abdul Rasheed and his brother Abdul Aziz commanded widespread support and were vocal in their backing of the Taliban. The authorities had on several occasions tried to have them arrested, but had always desisted for fear of a powerful backlash, both among the masses and segments of the establishment. Following the kidnapping of an alleged ‘brothel’ by the women students of Jamia Hafsa - who still held a children’s library hostage - the leaders declared the establishment of a ‘Shariat Court’ of their own and, according to Dawn, “vowed to enforce Islamic laws in the federal capital and threatened to unleash a wave of suicide bombers if the government took any action to counter it.” The report in Dawn goes on to say:
“Our youth will commit suicide attacks, if the government impedes the enforcement of the Sharia and attacks Lal Masjid and its sister seminaries,” Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head of the mosque said in his Friday sermon. The fresh suicide bombing threat intensified fear among Islamabad residents.
President Gen Pervez Musharraf stated that he knew that the Lal Masjid’s management wilfully harboured suicide bombers. He said that the suicide bomber who had attacked Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel in January 2007, had been seen near the mosque the same day.
Maulana Abdul Aziz announced the setting up of a Qazi court in his sermon that also marked the opening of a three-day Nifaz Sharia-o-Azmat Jihad Conference. A large number of supporters had reached the mosque. The government did nothing to stop the groups of people coming from different cities and nearby areas throughout the day to participate in the conference.
Religious activists, some of whom were wearing masks, also staged a demonstration before the Friday prayers. Burqa-clad girl students of Madressah Hafsa kept a vigil atop the seminary’s roof. The activists were chanting “Al Jihad, Al Jihad”. Armed with sticks, a group of religious activists set on fire thousands of video and audio cassettes and computer compact discs, “given up” voluntarily by a shopowner who, according to them,abandoned “this business”.
Maulana Abdul Aziz reminded the shopkeepers that they had been given a 30-day deadline to close down their evil businesses and switch over to some other “decent” venture and said students of the seminary would punish the shopkeepers who did not do so. He asked traders to financially “support” the owners of video and CDs shops to enable them to switch over to some other business. Maulana Abdul Aziz urged the authorities and the people concerned to stop dealing in video CDs, putting up billboards with women's photographs, selling liquor and running brothels and drug dens in Islamabad.
On July 3, 2007, the stand-off between the students barricaded inside the mosque and the government resulted in bloody gun battles in which over twenty people, including students of the mosque, members of the media, paramilitary personnel, and a businessman reportedly were killed and over one hundred others were injured. An FIR was later registered against the Ghazi brothers with charges ranging from kidnapping and murder to treason, as well as terrorism. People who supported the activities of Lal Masjid said they were only attacking "Chinese girls who were prostitutes and they are destroying CD shops who sold pornography". Lal Masjid held on to what many people call "pure and true Muslim ethic" and what the opposing parties called "fundamental and dogmatic".
The Ghazi brothers were negotiating the conflict with then Senior Minister for Religious Affairs, Ejazul Haq in consultation with Chaudry Shujaat, President Pakistan Muslim League (Q). Till last minute reports, the negotiations were deemed successful. Reportedly, after the minister left the Mosque, he changed his stance and could not defend the commitments he made at the mosque. To avoid collateral loss, on July 4, 2007, the government offered amnesty to juvenile students if they surrendered and over 1000 of the students who supported the cleric accepted. Abdul Aziz Ghazi was arrested while he was trying to escape dressed in a burqa. A reward was announced for the rangers who captured Abdul Aziz.
Government and Security officials had repeatedly asked Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi to surrender but he refused. He proposed that if government would give him and his students safe passage to allow him to live a silent life in his home village, he would hand over Lal Masjid to government, Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Faridia to Wafaqul Madaris (a federation of Madaris). This agreement was made between Ulmai Karam and Government including Prime Minister Shokat Aziz and Chohadri Shujaat Hussain but at the final moment Pervaiz Musharaf canceled the agreement and ordered to attack on mosque where hundreds of female students were present but refused to leave even on offer of safe passage. This was called "Operation Silence". Under cover of darkness, 164 elite commandos of the Pakistan Army Special Service Group stormed the Mosque/Madrassah complex from three sides. While police and paramilitary forces secured the outer perimeter of the complex, the gate and walls of the Mosque were breached.
On July 8, 2007, most of the private media outlets (such as Geo and Aaj, among others) became convinced from the movements of the security forces on the ground that they were preparing to storm the building. At dawn on Tuesday, July 10, after attempts at negotiation failed, government troops stormed the mosque, taking control of most of the complex. According to Inter Services Public Relations spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad, the defendants were heavily armed and put up fierce resistance. After the initial action, around seventy defenders of the mosque either had been captured or had surrendered and eight soldiers killed; an estimated fifty women and children were removed from the complex, including the wife of the captured mosque leader, Maulana Abdul Aziz. Although troops cleared the ground floor, some of the mosque's defenders retreated into the basement, prolonging the standoff. By the evening, military sources stated that the operation to gain control of the mosque was in its final stages and would continue throughout Tuesday night.
Many conflicting reports swirled around the incident and it is difficult to determine the truth of these given the very sensitive political nature of the event; the actual number of casualties still cannot be verified independently.
Brigadier General Javed Iqbal Cheema of the Interior Ministry said the body of Abdul Rashid Ghazi had been found in the basement of the women's school after what was described as intense fighting. Reports said the cleric had been shot twice and failed to respond when called upon to surrender. At that point, commandos fired a final volley of shots at him. Other reports stated that militants refused to allow Mr Ghazi to surrender and that he was killed in crossfire. The government has been accused of suppressing the total number of people killed. The BBC reported that the number of those killed was 173, but others have claimed casualties of more than 1000. Also the government was unable to prove the presence of any foreigners in the mosque and it wrongly dubbed some locals as the foreigners.
Following the week-long siege, the country entered a three-day mourning period. The bodies of those killed were buried in temporary graves, awaiting collection from family members. Hundreds of Abdul Rashid Ghazi's supporters attended his funeral in his Punjabi village, amid calls for Holy War. This gave rise to fears of a violent backlash from fundamentalist quarters; the police and military were placed on high alert. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's second in command, released a message which included the sentence: "Your salvation is only through jihad", heightening tensions in the region.
Speaking at a televised address Pervez Musharraf, said he was determined that extremism and terrorism would be eradicated in Pakistan. "Unfortunately we have been up against our own people [...] they had strayed from the right path and become susceptible to terrorism. [...] What do we as a nation want? What kind of Islam do these people represent? [...] In the garb of Islamic teaching they have been training for terrorism [...] they prepared the madrassa as a fortress for war and housed other terrorists in there. [...] I will not allow any madrassa to be used for extremism." Musharraf went on to say that those members of the military who died had given their blood for the country.
Objections to the operation
Government opposition parties have accused the government of diverting attention from an on-going judicial crisis in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Pakistan All-Parties Conference being held in London, and heavy losses due to floods in the country. However, the more troubling point of concern is the confusion over the number of casualties as the government's official toll of 90 is in doubt.
Pro-Musharraf Party Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and one opposition party of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam JUI (F) are trying their best for reconciliation and in a recent and very silent move, the Government of Pakistan has appointed Moulana Aamir Sadeeq, the nephew of Gazi Abdul Rasheed, as the New Imam (Prayer Leader) and Khateeb of Lal Masjid. This comes in from a meeting of leaders of PML-Q, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman of JUI (F) with Moulana Abdul Aziz, the former Khateeb of Lal Masjid.
July 2008 bombing near Lal Masjid
On July 6, 2008, at 7:50 PM local time, a bomb exploded near Lal Masjid killing 18 policemen and 1 civilian. A Pakistani official claims the bombing occurred on the first anniversary of the siege and was a revenge attack. The attack occurred even amidst tight security in Islamabad, where thousands of Islamic students in Pakistan came to mark the day when Pakistani troops stormed Lal Masjid. The blast was the work of a suicide bomber around 30 years of age. Advisor to the Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik, who visited the blast site, said about 12,000 students attended the rally and the attack was directed at the police.
In the same month, the Urdu-language newspaper Aajkal published a cartoon satirizing the wife of Abdul Aziz Ghazi, Umme Hassaan, who ran the mosque's girls' education center. The cartoon depicted her encouraging young women in burqas to "kidnap Chinese masseuses". On July 11, Lal Masjid clerics held a protest against the paper and its editor-in-chief, Najam Sethi, declaring it to be the equivalent of the Jyllands-Posten controversy, in which a Danish newspaper published cartoons negatively depicting Muhammad. Following subsequent death threats against Sethi, the Pakistani government put him under police protection.
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