Battle over the houses of God

Published: October 18, 2010
Deadlock over the possession of mosques persists between Deobandi and Barelvi groups.

Deadlock over the possession of mosques persists between Deobandi and Barelvi groups.

KARACHI: As worshippers answer the call for prayer and walk towards Noor masjid, the evergreen flashpoint in the city between the Deoband and Barelvi sects, the simmering tension is unnerving.

Apart from obstacles such as iron grills and double cross barricades that have been placed on each corner of the three streets that lead up to the mosque near Saddar’s Jublee market area, one has to go through a full body search even before the slippers are taken off outside the place of worship.

The number of security personnel too is overwhelming for a space that hardly occupies 1,500 square yards and can accommodate about half the number of faithful. Dozens of policemen and Rangers have been deployed round-the-clock in the congested neighborhood, including an armored personnel carrier (APC) and three security vans. In fact, even when the namaz begins, one can’t help but feel the presence of men in plain shalwar kameez standing alert inside, guns ready, to jump on anyone who they suspect of causing trouble.

And all this because the two sides, both of which belong to the Sunni school of thought, are battling over possession of the mosque.

Spilling human blood

Naib Imam Abrar Ahmed Shaiq was sitting in his room inside Noor masjid, where a large flag of the banned organization, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), now known as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat(ASWJ), hung above his head over the wall. The peculiar flag’s one third section has black and white stripes, the second part is red and the third longest part is green that contains a crescent and a flower in between.

“We don’t think the (Barelvi organization) Sunni Tehrik (ST) is any different from the Shia sect,” he declared.

Shaiq was extremely sad and bitter over the target killing of his friend, Maulvi Ameen, on Oct 5, who like him used to lead prayers at Noor mosque. “Just before Ramadan, Ameen told me he was facing life threats,” he says, adding that his friend, a former member of the SSP, left for Dubai to spend the holy month in peace there and had only recently returned to Pakistan when he was shot dead.

Later, ASWJ chief Maulana Aurangzeb Farooqui along with Jamia Binoria chief Mufti Naeem in a press conference blamed the Sunni Tehrik for the murder and specifically mentioned that Ameen was killed because he was associated with Noor masjid. The Deoband clerics then went on to announce a strike for Oct 7 to mourn his assassination. However, on the same day, Karachi’s landmark shrine, Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine was rocked by two suspected suicide blasts in the evening that killed 9 people.

The Sunni Tehrik immediately put the blame of the blasts on the shoulders of Deoband clerics and their backed organizations. Senior ST leader Shahid Ghauri was one of the first leaders to reach the shrine after the attack and didn’t hesitate for a second to point fingers. In fact, the Sunni Action Committee, a body of Barelvi clerics, named Mufti Naeem as ‘the mastermind’ behind the shrine attacks at a press conference on Tuesday (Oct 12). The SAC claimed that the Ghazi blasts were ‘attacks of revenge’ for Ameen’s murder by the Deoband groups and demanded that the state should ‘free’ Noor masjid from the ‘clutches of terrorists’.

Shaiq in his defence quotes an astronomical figure of 100 people belonging to the Deoband sect being killed in the last one month alone. “But even then we haven’t retaliated to the attacks by force” despite the Deoband-backed organizations being perfectly capable of exacting revenge on the same scale, he claimed.

Authorities are currently investigating both these incidents, Ameen’s murder and the Ghazi shrine blasts, in the backdrop of these developments.

How it began

The lava of the on going tussle has been brewing since early July when the rival sects pounced on each other with sticks, iron rods and guns on the premises of the mosque. The bloody fight which started on the night of Shab-i-Mairaj, the religious occasion when Muslims celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) ascent to the seven skies, had left at least a dozen injured, including one with a gunshot wound.

Authorities had arrested 22 people belonging to the Deoband side in the aftermath and sealed the Noor mosque for a few days. “Our companions were behind bars for 14 days,” says Shaiq, who complained that despite the ‘fact’ that the ST activists had started the fight, none of their people were apprehended.

Deoband clerics, including Jamia Binoria chief Mufti Naeem responded by forming the Sunni Wahdat Council and gave the government a 72-hour ultimatum to reverse their action. They warned that the situation would spiral out of control if their demands weren’t met immediately and went on to accuse the ST, the largest of all the Barelvi organizations with political muscle, of instigating the violence. Maulana Asad Thanvi went as far as to say that ST chief Sarwat Aijaz Qadri himself led his followers to the disputed mosque and directed them to open fire. “The bullet holes on the mosque are still visible,” added Naeem.

Qadri in his defence said that he wasn’t even in Karachi when the trouble started. “We all know which group has a terrorist background and is capable of such violent means,” he added. A ST spokesperson went on to claim that the Noor masjid has been ‘hijacked’ by the SSP and the Deoband clerics have only come out to rescue their “terrorist brothers” named in First Information Reports (FIR). The Sunni Ittehad Council, a conglomeration of the Barelvi groups, then issued a statement, warning that they should “not be pushed into picking up arms.”

The dispute over Noor masjid is actually tied with the history of Sunni Tehrik. The Braelvi organisation had made its first show of strength on December 18, 1992 when it organised a huge rally at MA Jinnah road in Karachi to put pressure on the administration to hand over this mosque. Dozens of people were injured and several vehicles were also burnt in that incident.

Other disputed mosques

Noor masjid, however, is just a case in point. Officials say that there are several dozen such cases all over the city. “The clerics have been fighting over possession of mosques for many years. One can find such cases in almost every district of the city,” says Javed Akbar Riaz, who is the town police officer of the area under which Noor masjid comes in.

The clerics themselves from each side present a long list of masjids and madressahs, which they claim have been either taken over by their rival sect or sealed by the government because of disputes. “We have a list of 27 mosques such as Jamia Noor where we can prove that it belongs to our people belonging to the Deoband school of thought,” says Naeem. Qadri goes a step ahead and claims that the problem dates back to the days of General Zia’s regime, when “thousands of mosques and madressahs across the country which belonged to Barelvis were forcibly taken over by the Deobands.”

The tension is so high that Governor Sindh Ishratul Ibad himself is trying to cool the tempers. Several meetings since July have taken place to break the deadlock. One of the main points being raised by Deoband clerics is that all cases which were registered against their cadres in the aftermath of the Noor mosque clash should be dropped. At the moment, Naeem informed, all their people who were arrested are out on bails. The Barelvi group is pushing for the exact opposite and is also demanding that the disputed mosque should either be handed over to them or sealed until the issue is resolved. The governor has formed a committee to decide all mosque related disputes, informs Naeem, which is expected to call a final meeting soon.

Meanwhile, Sunni Tehrik cadres fear the situation may worsen if issues aren’t resolved soon. Even the ST chief says there is an imminent threat to his life. In a meeting last July at the Qadri house in Nazimabad, he said “The risk to my life has increased manifolds now. The terrorists are out to get me. But I won’t back down. Two tiers of our leadership, including Saleem Qadri, have laid down their lives for our cause and I am ready to sacrifice my life too,” Sarwat Aijaz Qadri said, adding that he was keeping himself confined to his home these days only on the advice of his followers.

Mufti Naeem rejected the suggestion that he was singling out the ST chief because of what he himself had faced at the hands of the Barelvi organizations a few months back. Last March, the Barelvi groups which included leaders from the Sunni Tehrik had organized a large rally outside the New Memon masjid in Karachi, where they not only hanged Naeem’s effigy, but also burnt it. Naeem in an interview back then had termed the action as a death threat to his life.

A high ranking official who wishes to stay anonymous says the situation at the moment is under control. But warns that “eventually both the Deoband and Barelvi leaders will have to realize that they are playing into the hands of vested interests, who want to see sectarian violence between Sunnis spread across the country,” he said.

“If either side doesn’t back down, then remember that every neighborhood in the country has Deoband and Barelvi followers. And once that kind of violence begins, it would be impossible to stop the domino effect.”

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Reader Comments (28)

  • Azeem
    Oct 18, 2010 - 12:28PM

    I never understood the system of taking over Masjids. Why dont they go the way of the masjid in the Karachi Stock Exchange and have two jamaats. Either way I think the status quo should remain in all cases. with the number of masjids in Saddar im sure any worshipper can find one that agrees with his religious beliedfs fairly close by their residence or workplace.Recommend

  • Bilal
    Oct 18, 2010 - 1:17PM

    A nice article having facts and viewpoint of both sides. It’s time for authorities to stop Mufti Naeem of Jamia Binoria from spreading hate and terror otherwise he would prove to be not different from Red Mosque clerics.Recommend

  • Foqia Badr
    Oct 18, 2010 - 1:26PM

    Mulla Islam in action. Sigh!Recommend

  • Azeem
    Oct 18, 2010 - 2:10PM


    Please dont go taking sides here. Both groups are actively involved in taking over masjids. I myseld know of one case where one group tried to take over a masjid where the Imam had been appointed by the Trustees who incidentally were the people who built the masjid. eventually the matter ended up in court.Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Oct 18, 2010 - 2:13PM

    @Azeem: Should not the Karachi Stock Exchange be more fair and have 73 jamaats?Recommend

  • Azeem
    Oct 18, 2010 - 3:18PM

    @M M malik: You have a better idea? speak up boyRecommend

  • Humanity
    Oct 18, 2010 - 9:51PM

    That Islam in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been defiled and defaced through constitutionally sanctioned hatred and oppression is an undeniable fact. The proof in the puddle of blood and scum. The stench makes humanity puke. Apparently there isn’t trace of Islam left in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

    A precedence of evil was set when all the sects ganged up against one sect purely out of hate. The so-called ‘constitutional’ victory of Islam, in fact, has tethered the fabric of the religion of piece and love. Hatred, a fast spreading contiguous cancer, permeates into and consumes the heart and the soul. With the belief that people have the authority to declare any who disagrees a non-Muslim, the sectarian battles will be fought by brother against brother. It is only a matter of time. He that digs a pit shall fall into it.

    So far the mullah has only led the people down the path of disaster and mayhem. It seem the only choice is to wait for the arrival of Jesus Christ to come save and salvage Islam from the Muslims. The problem is how the Muslims will resolve the issue of the finality of prophet-hood with the advent of Jesus. It seems rather unfair that he is waiting all this time only to be sent back demoted to a non-prophet. Will this dilemma ever be solved? Will the people be able to see past their arrogance and ignorance? We can only hope and pray for Allah’s guidance and help to give us the courage and fortitude to see the path of love and peace. Recommend

  • Oct 19, 2010 - 12:41AM

    Woah ! Pure hollywood material. We can make a movie out of this. Recommend

  • Tony Khan
    Oct 19, 2010 - 12:53AM

    I will wait for the Messiah. Recommend

  • Humanity
    Oct 19, 2010 - 1:30AM

    @Tony Khan “I will wait for the Messiah.”
    Good for you! To acknowledge that only a divinely ordained person can salvage humanity from the clutches of the clergy masquerading as the saviors of Islam, is progress, indeed. Good luck with the wait, and the consequences of when the wait is over :)

    @ Mustafa Hanif “Woah ! Pure hollywood material. We can make a movie out of this.”
    As if the mullah needs more pervert ideas of how to make mula! Recommend

  • Ali
    Oct 19, 2010 - 1:58AM

    I would like to mention a miss-information in this article, the school of though known as the Ahl e Sunnah Wal Jamat is in actuality what we call Sunni in layman terms……so it has got nothing to do with Sipah e Sahaba, the new name of Sipah e Sahaba is Jamat Ud Da”wah. Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Oct 19, 2010 - 4:37AM

    @Humanity : “It seem the only choice is to wait for the arrival of Jesus Christ to come save and salvage Islam from the Muslims. The problem is how the Muslims will resolve the issue of the finality of prophet-hood with the advent of Jesus. ”

    Ah !! peddling the Jesus industry are you ? Replacing once Abrahamic religion with another ?

    I will tell you how to achieve peace – return to your Vedic roots. Islam/Christianity are impositions in South Asia – the first imposed/introduced by Arabs – the other by Britishers.

    To borrow a famous Chinese expression – The East is Saffron. ( Buddhist / Jain / Sikh / Hindu / Confucius / Shinto )Recommend

  • Shani Syed
    Oct 19, 2010 - 5:28AM

    Living in saudi arabia all my life I have never seen a dispute over a mosque or even when millions of Muslims frm all around the world gather in for hajj or umrah at the house of Allah the Haram Shareef in Makkah mukkarama and in Madinah Munnawarra (MashAllah). If we dont segregate during hajj infront of Allah’s house the Kaaba why do we do it to Allah’s house the Masajids? Why cant sects or whatever just respect each other and promote harmony instead of terror and hate?
    They cant even bring Muslims together this way let alone give dawwah to the non muslims its pathetic and sad to use the house of Allah this way, any sect responsile should be condemed and stopped from creating divisions among the Muslims without any discrimination as all are followers of the Prophet Peace be upon Him and he had warned us of the 73 sects in Hadith still we pay no heed.

    May Allah guide us All Ameen.Recommend

  • Humanity
    Oct 19, 2010 - 6:39AM

    @ Arjiit Aharma ..”Ah !! peddling the Jesus industry are you ? Replacing once Abrahamic religion with another ? ”

    No sir, I desire to peddle no such belief. By Allah’s Grace, I am at peace. My wait is over and my quest is done. My faith re-connects me to all the divine messages, each and every one sent by the One and Only, Allah! The One God, who is the Lord of the east and the west. His message of love, compassion, humility, and forgiveness is the consistent for all mankind and shared by all religions.

    To be shown the light is a true blessing and for that I am ever so grateful to my Lord, the Master of the heavens and the earth. The boundlessness of God’s love and mercy is evident in the universe. To attribute hate and violence to His message is sacrilege. Hatred and bigotry must be purged to make room for love and compassion. One has to show by action and deeds what one believes in.


  • Humanity
    Oct 19, 2010 - 6:57AM

    It is ironic that everyone is allowed a free uncensored hand by ET except Humanity :) What gives? Why the bias against Humanity?Recommend

  • danish
    Oct 19, 2010 - 7:00AM

    It has always been a practice to treat religions as an industry. Islam Inc is another industry with your different sects being the players in the industry. Its all about capturing market share ( in this case masjid).Recommend

  • shy
    Oct 19, 2010 - 8:37AM

    Due to mullahs.Recommend

  • Bilal
    Oct 19, 2010 - 8:58AM

    It was the mistake of Bhutto who bowed against these Mullah and given them that power , so they can do what ever they want in name of Islam , similarly , the Zia ul Haq aslo , empowered them to save his own throne in the name of Islam ! Each and every wish of these Mullahs , accepted , one sect declared non Muslim , against all the teaching of Islam and Muhammad (SAW) and , even more black laws were created against them by Zia regime !

    Other wise every one know the role of these Mullah against the creation of Pakistan ! so a Mullah free Pakistan can only be the developing PAKISTAN Recommend

  • Rehan Ali
    Oct 19, 2010 - 11:50AM

    @Shani: I’ve been to the hajj and and believe me if it hadn’t been for the Humbli (the third sub sect of sunnis) which had kicked out every other sect things would have been much bloodier and murkier.

    General: Umer bin Khatab when formed a body to nominate his successor ordered that if, amongst the six men (Hazrat Abdur Rehman bin Auf, Hazrat Usman, Hazrat Ali and three others), polls suggest 4:2 results i.e four agree on a nominee and 2 disagree then the 2 are to be be headed to quell fitna and segmentation amongst muslims.

    Ye qissa bohat purana hai dost. ghuthi aisi uljhi hai ke ab suljhai nahi sulajhti :( Recommend

  • Azeem
    Oct 19, 2010 - 12:06PM

    Im in the same boat Humanity.Recommend

    Oct 19, 2010 - 2:28PM

    Details shows, a hard work by the reporter.
    In Karachi all these dramas going around from a long time and widening with the time. Sure some hands are behind these people.
    I am around 58 years now, still too innocent to understand this Deobandi and Barelvi.
    Who got bloody time to involve themself into these conflits while suffering from, how to manage your daily daal & dalya.
    Mullas please leave us alone, we will manage the Jannat ourself.Recommend

  • Raafay
    Oct 19, 2010 - 6:18PM

    Here in dubai, i have prayed behind a hanafi imam, while on my right side i hade a shafi follower and on my left side having a shia muslim. Now thatz what i call unity.Recommend

  • Shani Syed
    Oct 19, 2010 - 6:51PM

    @ Pervez Tauqir

    you couldnt have said it better brother:

    “I am around 58 years now, still too innocent to understand this Deobandi and Barelvi.
    Who got bloody time to involve themself into these conflits while suffering from, how to manage your daily daal & dalya.
    Mullas please leave us alone, we will manage the Jannat ourself.”

    Completely right!Recommend

  • Mubarik
    Oct 19, 2010 - 7:57PM

    A Masjid in the land of the ‘PURE’ is not a place of worship of God rather it is like business. Money has to be made so who ever is in full possession of the facility is in business. This fight is not religious rather like land mafia it is property grab in the name of religion.Recommend

  • Humanity
    Oct 19, 2010 - 10:45PM

    @Azeem, @Pervrz Tauqir, @Shani Syed and all others yearning to live like a human

    It is reported in an ET article that a many children drop out of school by the 3rd grade. We know that the mullah peddles zulmat in the name of zia to confuse and control the masses only for his worldly power and gains. Young minds are filled with vitriol early on. What then is the responsibility of the people who can see through the smoke screen of deception? Isn’t it high time that sane voices speak up to instill the time test values of decency and human dignity. Show the young ones by example the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The minds poisoned by the mullah will take at a least a few generations to rehabilitate. There is much work to be done and time has run out.

    People need to be retold in simple, practical language how to live a sane life. We must teach our children right from wrong in uncomplicated terms and validate the values through our actions. While, every one is free to practice their Haqquq-Allah as they fit, they must not harm their fellow beings. We must stand up against violence against any citizen regard less of race, religion, gender, age. This scourge has to eradicated one human bomb at a time. The mullah must close his shop of terror and hatred.

    The following excerpt beautifully lists the salient principles that make life worth living. In other words, these are the haqqul-ul-ibaad, expressed in kid’s lingo so that people of all IQ levels can easliy comprehend the rules.

    I realized then that I already know most of what’s necessary to live a meaningful life—that it isn’t all that complicated. I know it. And have known it for a long, long time. Living it—well, that’s another matter, yes? Here’s my Credo:

    ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

    Share everything.

    Play fair.

    Don’t hit people.

    Put things back where you found them.

    Clean up your own mess.

    Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

    Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

    Wash your hands before you eat.


    Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

    Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

    Take a nap every afternoon.

    When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

    Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

    Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.

    And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK.

    Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

    From All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

  • Mubarik Tahir
    Oct 20, 2010 - 3:34AM

    @ Humanity, you are looking for human beings in the wrong place. This place is inhabited by blood thirsty beasts, donkeys and vultures. There is no turning back, if you want to survive then heed the advise ” Pakistan se zinda baagh”.Recommend

  • Faria S
    Oct 20, 2010 - 2:14PM

    Excellent pieceRecommend

  • moneymatters
    Oct 20, 2010 - 2:55PM

    Absolutely agree with Humanity. It’s all about money, power and control nothing else. None of them are more sincere than the other with Islam or Pakistan. Recommend

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