Eyewitness Report: ATP goes to Lal Masjid … (back) to the Supreme Court … and Rally-land Islamabad

Posted on May 12, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Law & Justice, Politics, Religion, Society
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Adil Najam

On Friday I was able to check off one more thing from my ‘to do’ list in Islamabad. I was able to visit Lal Masjid. In fact, it was a busy day since I also went back to the Supreme Court – this time to watch the proceedings on the ‘missing people’ case, and separately to see Acting Chief Justice Bhagwandas in action. Saturday, of course, promises to be even busier, with the big government rally in Islamabad, the Chief Justice in Karachi and the planned MQM rally in retaliation to him.

First, about the Supreme Court. I sat in to watch part of the proceedings on the missing persons case, where Asma Jehangir was pleading on behalf of the missing people Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). There were no real fireworks in the proceedings here, unlike my last time at the Supreme Court. From an ATP perspective the interesting thing was that I actually put to test just how easy it is for any citizen to just walk into the court, sit in the public gallery and watch the proceedings – this has become more difficult now for the Chief Justice’s case but for a case as sensitive as this one (missing persons), just just went in and sat down. No questions asked. The only ‘jugarh’ I had to use was to charm my way into a good parking spot. In fact, I roamed around the court and peeped into other courtrooms… luckily one was having a hearing where the Acting Chief Justice Bhagwandas was presiding. So I sat for a while there and listened to that too. All in all, this was just to prove that if you really want you will find a way to exercise your rights as a citizen – in this case simply your right to see the judicial system in action.

Second, the story that has not happened yet but is likely to happen soon. Karachi readers can fill us in on what is happening there with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s visit there tomorrow and with MQM’s call for a rally against him. The TV channels are talking about it as if a violent clash of some kind is not simply a possibility but a very high liklihood – possibly as a prelude to an ’emergency’. I hope they are wrong. Here in Islamabad, the government is all geared up to put up a big show and the PML-Q and its Punjab leadership is trying to make it a numbers game. They are talking about 500,000+ people. One is already seeing many many being bussed in. Government agencies including CDA has gone overboard in ‘organizing’ the rally which is supposedly PML’s and not the governments but all indications suggest otherwise. I even saw signs that are meant to direct people from different districts to different parts of Constitution Avenue, which was all lit up like a meena bazaar and garlanded in posters and banners. Whatever your view on teh matter, it is certainly going to be a numbers showdown tomorrow and the day will ultimately belong not just to those who will come out tomorrow (many, on all sides, forced to do so) but possibly even more to the spin doctors who will be having a field day of their own.

Now, finally, for our main story – Lal Masjid. Since it was a Friday, I thought I would go to the Lal Masjid for Jumma prayers. Growing up in Islamabad I had been there many years ago, but this time it was different. I passed by Jamia Hafsa, which is a much newer structure – in fact, the inside of Lal Masjid was also bigger and different to what I remembered from some 15 years ago. At least today, I did not see any danday (sticks) around – inside or outside.

The only really unusual incident was that on entering the mosque I was (very politely) stopped by one of the Madrassah students (with a smile but no danda) who then proceeded to frisk me. Here is why I think I got the ‘frisk.’ First, since I had rushed from the Supreme Court and did not want to miss the khutba (part of which I did miss) I was still wearing a T-shirt and trousers (there were a few others in trousers there, but very few). Second, and more important, unlike most people going to a mosque for Jumma prayers who walk in purposefully, I had actually lingered outside, looking around, taking pictures (above), etc.

As I said, the mosque itself seemed to be much bigger now from what I remembered. I entered from the Baab-i-Umar Farooq, a small gate across the road from what used to be the Naval Headquarters’ and is now the Ministry of Environment’s car park. One entered a fairly large and spacious courtyard which had various posters in it and various collection spots for donations. Since I had just been frisked I did not linger here much to read the posters in detail. At least one had Al-jihad written on it in large and bold calligraphy but it seemed to be a general poster rather than for a specific cause or organization. On the left was a large wuzu area. Much better designed (in terms of useability), I thought, than most mosques in Pakistan. Not cramped for space and comfortable to use.

From what I remember, the Lal Masjid used to be the main mosque for the people living in the populous sectors around the Aabpara area. Today, just by looking at their dress, the vast majority seemed to be Madrassa students. However, it was not just them. There were also a decent number of people who seemed to have come from their offices or shops (some with their children) to say their Juma prayers. At least this was the impression I got of the congregation from looking around me.

By the time I got in the khutba was already well progressed. The theme of the day seemed to be the fazeelat (importance) of Juma (Friday) and Juma prayers. On this issue the content was what you might have heard in countless mosques around the country and what many of us would have heard countless times. The style of delivery of the khutba was also very typical and nothing unusual there. However, the political issues were woven into the khutba very heavily and in the portion I heard there was much more of the political speech than a discussion of the importance of Friday prayers. Nothing new in the political content of the speech either, but it was eerie to listen to it sitting there.

Frankly, I found listening to this part of the khutba far more disturbing than the frisking earlier. Amongst the key points was a long, very impassioned, highly confident and strongly triumphant discourse on how hundreds of mosques around the country were now joining “our movement” and how the “seeds sown in Islamabad were already blossoming all over the country.” The point was also made that the government and other “modernizers” had received the “message” and that they could no longer ignore the demands of this “movement.” This was done in a populist style and by invoking the every-day problems that people face and how they are fed-up with corrupt and inefficient government.

A second major point, amongst the political ones, was on dialogue with the government. The point made here was that “we” (i.e., the Lal Masjid and Hafsa Madrassa, I assume) are always ready for “muzaakraat” (dialouge/negotiations) but will not give in on “usool” (principles)… The government, it was said, is not meeting “our” demands and they will have to do that if it is “real muzaakraat“. The third important point was about how Islam is a religion of peace but when the believer sees injustice then they have to act against it. The point was made with the obvious reference to and as justification of recent actions from Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa.

So, there you have it. I have tried to recount what I heard and saw as honestly as I can. Although I feel strongly about the political issues at stake here; and although there was much that went through my mind as I heard this, I will not go into that here. But one thing I should say by way of disclosure. As I stood up to say my prayers, I did wonder whether it was right of me to say my prayers ‘behind’ people whose methods and actions I strongly disagree with. I told myself, however, that my faith and my prayers are for my God and are between me and my God and no one else (not even my readers here). My presence at the Lal Masjid today, on the other hand, was for ATP and for finding out – as a citizen of Pakistan – what was happening in my country. I am glad I went, and glad I wrote this. I hope that the comments that will follow will not make me change my opinion on this.

40 responses to “Eyewitness Report: ATP goes to Lal Masjid … (back) to the Supreme Court … and Rally-land Islamabad”

  1. Concerned Pakistani says:

    Re Menu/Exit’s earlier remark: “These people are standing with “sticks

  2. waseem says:

    first time karfew create in islamabad.but i thing not involve in lal mosque peoples.mostely involve in government person.goverment provide guns in lal mosque.this game main head off america.because goverment mostly peoples is agents off america.

  3. Nadeem Ahmad says:

    I have a simple understanding of the situation!!!

    1. Most of the so called motivated madrassa students are YOUNGSTERS.
    2. Young minds are easier to be moulded
    3. Extremism is rampant in our thought process.
    4. We are extremists in our thinking(wheather Islamist, Surkha or Ultra pseudo!)
    5. Our people(young especially) in general are guided by a group of well established demagogues, and not some faith or ideology!
    6. These so called leaders are CORRUPT to the CORE…..there motivation is MONEY, POWER and THANEDAARI!!!!
    7. No service to Islam…..shame on us….shame on all trouble makers using mosques as platforms.
    8. Why are we always stuck with FAHAASHI issues!!
    9. Do we get clean drinking water, a good dependable and respectable transport system in cities………….nth.
    10. Just check what GOOGLE has to say about the top ten countries surfing the web to seek pleasure!!

    not much to say……


  4. menu/exit says:


    First of all, I’m not sure which country you live in but the greeting of “dear” doesn’t have any flirtatious connotation as such rather it’s used to address others with respect. I don’t go around flirting with random women on the internet especially on ATP’s comment board.

    Anyway — getting to the point –, I agree people shouldn’t take the law in their own hands and the Lal Masjid folks were totally incorrect in doing so. But this doesn’t mean we totally ignore their concerns. That’s how George Bush and his cronies think. We need to look at this issue from all sides and the “haters” should try to reach out to these people. In fact they should be supporting them for the good and advising them on their mistakes. We shouldn’t use such incidents to push our own little agenda, hence the Fox News comment.

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