Controversial cleric Sufi Muhammad passes away

Published: July 11, 2019
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Maulana Sufi Muhammad. PHOTO: FILE

Maulana Sufi Muhammad. PHOTO: FILE

Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the founder of the banned Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) which exercised control over parts of Malakand division in the 90s and 2000s, has passed away.

According to Express News, the 86-year-old controversial cleric’s death has been confirmed by his son.

The octogenarian, who was the father-in-law of former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Maulana Fazlullah, had pursued the demand for imposition of a harsh brand of sharia law in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Malakand division for almost two decades.

Born in 1933 in Maidan, Lower Dir, Sufi Muhammad received his religious education from a local madrassa and was an active member of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in the 1980s.

Swat’s Sufi Muhammad freed after 8 years in jail

He left the religio-political party and formed the TNSM in 1989. The banned group’s influence and street power became evident in 1994 when the provincial government announced the establishment of Sharia courts in Malakand after street protests by TNSM activists.

The move came about after the Peshawar  High Court’s (PHC) decision in the early 1990s to revoke the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) Regulations I and II of 1975, which transferred judicial powers to the executive instead of the judiciary.

The court deemed the regulations “unconstitutional and discriminatory in nature” and, once the judgment was upheld by the Supreme Court, it opened an avenue for Sufi Muhammad and the TNSM.

The group rejected the provincial government’s legislation – Nifaz-i-Nizam-i-Sharia – to set up sharia courts, saying it was subservient to procedural law which was laid down by foreigners in the sub-continent.

Tempers flared again in November 1994 and an operation was launched against the TNSM and Sufi Muhammad and other senior leaders were arrested.

Four years later, the government issued an amended version of the law – Sharia Nizam-i-Adl Regulation of 1999 – but the cleric also rejected it.

In 2001, Sufi Muhammad was jailed upon returning to Pakistan from fighting in Afghanistan. He was released in 2008 to woo militants who had taken over Swat and an accord was reached with the government to enforce an updated version of the law, the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl Regulation, 2009.

Militancy in Malakand: Sufi Muhammad charged with terror

However, Sufi Muhammad’s relationship with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government soured as he began a verbal diatribe against Pakistan’s legal system.

In early 2010, he called it ‘kufr’ during an address at a public meeting in Mingora. The TNSM then launched a campaign to seize control of much of Swat and the peace agreement broke down as the military moved in and Sufi Muhammad went into hiding.

He was soon arrested and faced charges of sedition, waging war against Pakistan, conspiracy against the state, attacks on state installations, and several other offences.

Sufi Muhammad was only released from prison in January 2018. In the six-page judgment on his bail plea, Peshawar High Court’s Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth noted that the accused was being released on bail mainly on medical grounds and due to delay in commencement of his trial.

The medical report submitted in court stated that Sufi suffered from multiple diseases including hypertension, breathlessness, enlarged prostate, retention of urine and cardiac problems.

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