Who said moderate Muslims are silent? Pakistanis plan rallies to #ReclaimYourMosque
A series of protests over the next few days will demand the arrest of the head cleric of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid and condemn the Takfiri thinking that has killed innocents in Paris, Peshawar and beyond.
by Beena Sarwar
Published Jan 10, 2015 · 02:10 pm. Updated Jan 03, 2017 · 02:58 pm.
Image credit: AAMIR QURESHI / AFP FILES
January 10 marks the second death anniversary of the smiling human rights activist Irfan "Khudi" Ali.
The recently married 33-year old was eating dinner at home in Quetta on that day in 2013 when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a snooker club, killing 11. Ali rushed to help the injured and died when a second, more powerful bomb went off nearby minutes later, killing at least 86.
Both blasts targeted the Hazara Shia community of which Ali was a prominent member. He had in fact moved to Islamabad two years earlier due to threats, and was visiting his hometown when he died.
Commemorating his death and celebrating his life, his friends join others at vigils and demonstrations around Pakistan and the world marking other recent, shattering tragedies – the attack on the army public school in Peshawar on December 16 that claimed the lives of 148 innocent souls, most of them children, and the January 7 attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris that killed 12 people, including senior journalists and cartoonists.
A day after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a crowd of recruits outside a police academy in downtown Sanaa, Yemen, killing at least 37 and injuring dozens. In Pakistan the following day, January 9, a suicide bombing at an Imambargah ‒ a Shia community centre ‒ in Rawalpindi claimed eight lives.
These tragedies are linked because they are orchestrated by the same Takfiri mindset ‒ Takfir means to declare someone a "kafir" or non-believer. Takfiris are quick to label others as non-Muslim or accuse them of "blasphemy", and to kill those whom they so accuse. Armed, trained men indoctrinated with this destructive ideology carry out such attacks around the world, inspired or trained by Takfiri groups like Daish (also known as the Islamic State) in Iraq, Al Qaeda or Taliban.
Extremists belonging to these and allied groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba have been target-killing Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as those they deem non-Muslim like Shias and Ahmadis, with a vengeance in Pakistan.
Those attending vigils against such attacks must recognise the common thread and refuse to be divided by the West vs Islam narrative. In fact, Takfiris have targeted and killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims, as the musician and writer Nathan Beesley points out.
In defiance of the Takfiri mindset, which frowns upon expressions of support to those who disrespect Islam, Muslims are expressing solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. On January 10, a candlelight vigil was planned in the city of Bradford in the United Kingdom, convened by South Asian Peoples Forum and the Pakistan Journalists Association.
Gestures of solidarity
In Pakistan on Sunday, demonstrations in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo will be held in several cities in Pakistan – Karachi (Do Talwar), Islamabad (Lal Masjid), Hyderabad (Press Club), Lahore (Liberty Roundabout), Multan (Clock Plaza – Ghanta Ghar).
“Muslims believe in peace and harmony,” said Islamabad-based experimental filmmaker Naumaan Agha, one of the organisers of the January 11 demonstrations. “We in Pakistan are dealing with terrorism at costs far worse than elsewhere in the world. If a drawing can shake one’s belief then there is a problem with one’s faith.”
Agha is planning an art exhibition in February to re-activate his #RaiseYourPen campaign initiated two years ago against Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s supremo-in-exile Altaf Hussain who had from his perch in London threatened cricket hero Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf supporters in Karachi. The PTI activists were demanding a re-count of votes in a couple of constituencies following the 2013 elections.
On Monday, five days after the army public school in Peshawar re-opens , in what is sure to be a sombre mood, activists will mark one month of the barbaric attack in Peshawar with renewed slogans of #ReclaimYourMosque and #ArrestAbdulAziz.
On Friday, January 16, they will gather in various cities around Pakistan with the slogans above, and #NeverForget. Vigils are also planned in solidarity with their demands around the world, with Houston, Boston, Toronto, New York and Washington DC confirmed so far.
The activists abroad will hand over letters to the Pakistan Embassy or Consul General nearest to them demanding that the Pakistan government arrest Abdul Aziz, head cleric of Lal Masjid in the country’s capital, Islamabad.
Lal Masjid, originally a place of worship, had since the first Afghan war developed into a veritable fortress known as a training camp for extremists and a safe haven for Taliban and their supporters. The Masjid and its aligned seminary Jamia Hafsa have openly declared their alliance to Daish/ISIL, the biggest threat to peace in the world.
Under citizens’ pressure, arrest warrants were issued for Abdul Aziz on December 27, 2014, on charges of threatening peaceful citizens demonstrating outside the mosque. The demonstrators were protesting Aziz’s refusal to unconditionally condemn the Peshawar school massacre and term those who were killed as martyrs.
The campaign against Abdul Aziz, spearheaded by young Karachi-based lawyer Jibran Nasir, has gained symbolic importance in Pakistan.
“We know that there are other seminaries in Pakistan that are even more dangerous,” said Nasir. “But the arrest of Abdul Aziz in the heart of Islamabad, located near Parliament and the ISI offices, is a litmus test for the government and security agencies. They have announced allegiance to Daish/ISIL which amounts to treason against the state of Pakistan. They are calling on their supporters to prevent the arrest. If Islamabad is occupied, Pakistan will fall.”
Keeping up the pressure
“We need to come out on the streets and keep up the pressure,” said activist and columnist Marvi Sirmed in Islamabad. She was also a friend of the late Irfan Khudi Ali.
After Ali was killed, I wrote about how vocal and outspoken he had beenon many platforms. His presence will be sorely missed but his legacy of fearless activism remains. The best tribute we can pay him is to continue fighting the very forces that killed him.
They are the same as those who targeted the army public school and Charlie Hebdo.