ISLAMABAD: Maulana Abdul Aziz addressed the Friday congregation at the Lal Masjid here today, more than three years after he was removed from the mosque in the backdrop of Peshawar’s Army Public School (APS) massacre.
The district authorities had been foiling Aziz’s repeated bids to return to the mosque over the past few years with full force, but on Friday the cleric reached the mosque unannounced and addressed the congregation.
The last time he led Friday prayers at the mosque was on December 24, 2014. He was then barred from leading Friday prayers at the mosque due to law and order concerns as civil society members gathered outside the mosque to protest against him and the terrorist attack on APS that killed over 150 people, mostly school children in 2014.
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Civil society members had also accused Aziz of hurling death threats to them and on their complaint a case against the cleric was registered at the Aabpara police station. The police, however, exonerated the cleric and a court dismissed the case last year. He was also acquitted in several other cases.
Aziz was suspended as the Lal Masjid Khateeb by the authorities in 2004 and his nephew Aamir Siddique appointed deputy khateeb of the mosque in 2007. Siddique has been the official prayer leader and imam of the mosque ever since.
After his acquittal in all cases, the Shuhada Foundation, which handles legal affairs of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa, had moved the Supreme Court for restoration of Aziz as the Lal Masjid Khateeb, which reportedly is still pending before the court. Maulana Aziz also on multiple occasions tried to get back and lead Friday prayers at the mosque but the authorities always stood in his way.
On May 11, when Aziz announced to go to Lal Masjid for Friday prayers, the district authorities held talks with him to convince him otherwise. A spokesperson for Maulana Aziz said the authorities during the May 11 negotiations had requested him not to attempt to go to Lal Masjid during the tenure of the PML-N government and also not to announce his plans to media and public whenever he intends to go to the mosque.
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“Today, the PML-N government is gone and we also did not announce it beforehand,” the spokesman said. He confirmed that Aziz was still placed under observation as his name was included in 4th schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act, but insisted that it did not bar him from leading prayers and delivering sermons.
Assistant Commissioner Hassan Waqar Cheema, when asked, said Aziz only went to offer prayers and he did not address the crowd. He did not answer any further questions and hung up the phone.
During his address, Aziz questioned why the authorities barred him from approaching Lal Masjid saying he and his followers were not violating any law. He also called for implementing Sharia law in the country. Though Aziz addressed the congregation, the prayers were led by Siddique.
Deputy Commissioner Mushtaq Ahmed did not reply when asked whether the authorities had allowed Aziz to address Friday congregation or they remained unaware of his movement.
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