Lal Masjid becomes divided house?



ISLAMABAD: High drama unfolded in the Maulana Abdul Aziz case on Thursday, as two factions emerged from within the ranks of Lal Masjid supporters, even as lawyers and civil society activists moved the district courts against the cleric for inciting violence and rebelling against the state.

For the first time ever, Lal Masjid issued a press release on its own official letterhead, sidelining the Shuhada Foundation, which has hitherto handled all of Maulana Aziz’s interactions with the media.

The release, issued by ‘Lal Masjid (Official)’, was signed by Mufti Tehseenullah and not Hafiz Ehtesham Ahmed of the Shuhada Foundation, who had been the official spokesperson for the cleric and his family up until now.

Umme Hassan, Maulana Abdul Aziz’s wife, is the chairperson of the Shuhada Foundation, which was established in 2008 but registered in Islamabad in 2013.

The internal schisms appeared to permeate not just the cleric’s followers, but also his family, and seem to have emerged after he announced that he had forgiven former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf and all those responsible for the military operation against Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa in 2007.

Speaking to the media after posting pre-arrest bail on Tuesday, Maulana Aziz even said that he had forgiven those who were “plotting against me”.

When contacted, Mufti Tehsinullah confirmed to Dawn that he had been made the official spokesperson for Lal Masjid. “I am part of the mosque’s ‘school of decrees’ and I am well-aware of developments there,” he said, adding, “Hafiz Ehtesham is not attached to the mosque, nor is he aware of the policies of Maulana Abdul Aziz.”

The matter of pardoning Musharraf and others has obviously been taken to heart by the Shuhada Foundation, with its spokesperson Hafiz Ehtesham insisting that forgiving Gen Musharraf would be against the principals of Sharia.

Meanwhile, Shohda Foundation President Advocate Tariq Asad – who also represents the families of those killed in the Lal Masjid operation – said that Maulana Abdul Aziz was not authorised to pardon Gen Musharraf in all the cases following the 2007 military operation.

“He is only authorised to forgive the death of his own son, not his brother. Nor can he speak on behalf of the families of all those who died,” Advocate Asad told Dawn.

“This is not fair on his part – even his wife Umme Hasaan had tears in her eyes after Maulana Abdul Aziz made this announcement,” he added.

Hafiz Ehtesham claimed that the Shuhada Foundation would reveal certain facts about the death of Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, the younger brother of Maulana Abdul Aziz who was killed in the 2007 operation.

On the other hand, new Lal Masjid mouthpiece Mufti Tehsin said that Maulana Aziz would soon explain his plans to withdraw the murder case against the former military ruler.

Incidentally, the first press release issued on the Lal Masjid (Official) letterhead is a clarification related to an application filed on Thursday by activist Jibran Nasir before the court of Additional Sessions Judge Raja Asif Mehmood.

The application was related to the registration of a case against Maulana Aziz, the students and the administration of Jamia Hafsa, for pledging allegiance to the Middle Eastern terrorist group, Daesh.

Mr Nasir has attached several video clips, in which Maulana Abdul Aziz can be seen praising Daesh and admitting that Jamia Hafsa students made a video calling on Daesh to overrun the state of Pakistan. The case will be heard on Feb 12, 2016.

The Lal Masjid press release clarified that the video was allegedly released in 2014 by former students of Jamia Hafsa and had nothing to do with Maulana Abdul Aziz, Jamia Hafsa Administrator Umme Hasaan and the management of Lal Masjid or Jamia Hafsa.

“However some people are trying to implicate Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa and trying to fan sectarianism in the country,” the press release said, accusing a recently-elected PTI local government member of conspiring against Lal Masjid.

The statement also singled out activist Khurrum Zaki for promoting sectarianism. Mr Zaki, incidentally, also filed an application before an Islamabad civil court on Thursday, seeking the registration of an FIR against Maulana Aziz over his latest video, where he spoke disparagingly of ISI officers and made derogatory references to members of other sects. This application will be heard on Feb 11, 2016.