The Lal Masjid siege began four years ago on this day. Here are a few facts about the mosque, which perhaps might not be in the public realm. In 1964, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) earmarked a plot for the construction of a jamia masjid, in Sector G-6, Islamabad. The CDA constructed the mosque which was painted red and, therefore, came to be commonly known as Lal Masjid. Maulana Muhammad Abdullah from Rajanpur, was the first Imam of the mosque. On the instructions of General Zia, the CDA constructed a quarter for the Imam and a muezzin and redesigned and renovated the mosque from 1981 -83. Over a period of time, the mosque administration encroached on 954 square yards (sqy) of CDA land. The latter served notices, for vacation of encroached land, but the Imam refused to oblige. During the Afghan jihad, Abdullah had become a powerful religious figure.
In 1988, Maulana Abdullah requested for allotment of a piece of land for the construction of a girls’ madrassa, for which the CDA allotted a plot. In 1994, the authority allotted additional land, making the madrassa plot 205.56sqy. Subsequently the madrassa’s name was changed to Jamia Hafsa. Maulana Abdullah was killed in 1998. His sons Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rasheed Ghazi took over the administration.
Adjacent to the madrassa, there were four plots, allotted by the CDA to a children’s library, a women’s library, an authors’ corner and a gymnasium. The children’s library was constructed while other plots and some CDA land was lying vacant. In March 2001, the management of Lal Masjid started construction on the women’s library plot. The enforcement staff of CDA tried to demolish the illegal construction. However, on assurance of the imam, that the management would demolish the illegal construction within one week, the staff abandoned its demolition plan. On the next visit of the enforcement staff, however, the Imam had gathered more than 100 Talibs, armed with battons, who attacked the staff. A request to register the case was made to SHO Aabpara Police Station and a demolition operation was planned on September 10, 2002. However this operation was postponed due to various reasons. Emboldened by the inactivity of the government, the management of the mosque, over the next four years, constructed a number of buildings, encroaching on 7,337sqy of CDA land. According to a CDA survey conducted in 2007, 194 mosques in Islamabad were legal while 60 were built on encroached land. However, even of the 194 legal mosques, 165 had encroached on CDA land.
In the meantime, the two brothers also developed links with jihadi elements and foreign militants. In 2004, Lal Masjid issued a fatwa that any Pakistani soldier killed in Fata did not deserve Muslim funeral prayers or burial in a Muslim graveyard. In 2004, Rasheed’s car, was allegedly used for terrorist activities in Islamabad. The administration wanted to arrest both the brothers but did not do so on the intervention of a minister.
In January 2007, the Islamabad administration identified five illegal mosques, constructed in green areas and on VIP routes. On the direction of the interior ministry, these were demolished. The management of Lal Masjid reacted and students of Jamia Hafsa occupied the adjacent children’s library. A few illegal acts of the mosque’s management, running of a parallel administration in the capital and failure of negotiations by various renowned ulemas, led to an army operation on July 3, 2007.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2011.