Real estate is among the most profitable businesses in Pakistan, even more so when the developer can acquire the land for free in the name of religion. In Islamabad, a number of clerics have taken advantage of their social power to do just that.
The construction of mosques and seminaries on illegally-occupied state land has been a common practice in the capital. No civic agency or state institution dares to take action against these holly cows.
A recent survey conducted by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) reveals astonishing details on the sale and purchase of illegally-constructed mosques.
The survey was conducted on the directions from the interior ministry to determine the actual number of mosques and seminaries -- legal and illegal – built in developed areas of the capital city.
“It found that local religious leaders from various sects would pay money for encroached land and build mosques in the area,” a senior officer of the CDA confided. “The details will be shared with the interior ministry,” the official added.
Out of the 492 mosques within the municipal limits of the CDA, 233, or 47 per cent, are illegal, built on state land along seasonal nullahs, right of way of major roads, private land and CDA-acquired land.
Even the city’s green belts have not been spared, as some 45 illegal mosques are built on these tracts. In Sector I-11 alone, the capital’s biggest illegal slum — informally referred to as the Afghan Basti — houses around 14 illegal mosques.
Meanwhile, many of the 259 ‘legal’ mosques are also working within grey areas of the law. The administrations of some mosques have committed violations such as encroaching land next to the mosques and built structures including seminaries bigger than the parent mosques, residences for staffers, shops, staff rooms, kitchens, sheds, boundary walls, and washrooms. Some mosques have also illegally added more floors to approved buildings.
Of the illegally-constructed mosques, a total of 131 belong to the Barelvi school of thought, followed by 88 illegal mosques affiliated with the Deobandi.
Similarly, Ahle Hadith runs nine illegal mosques, Fiqh Jafria, four and Jamatud Dawa one.
Deobandi cleric Mufti Abdullah owns majority of the mosques in Sector I-11 and other developed areas. When asked by The Express Tribune about his ownership of illegal mosques and the allegation that he was involved in their sale and purchase, Abdullah responded that Sharia permitted relocation of mosques on the basis of urgency.
Survey finds 233 mosques constructed illegally on land worth billions of rupees. DESIGN: MOHSIN ALAM
“There are provisions in Islamic laws to sell a mosque. Money earned from the sale can be used to purchase or construct another mosque,” he argued.
“[They have] occupied land in developed sectors worth billions of rupees,” commented a senior CDA Estate Management Wing officer.
Responding to a question, the officer said the land could only be retrieved by razing the illegal mosques.
In the same breath, however, he added that razing a mosque, whether legal or illegal, was next to impossible.
A senior officer said that the survey result did not match with that of another survey carried out by the Islamabad police on the same issue. “It is because CDA’s survey does not include the number of legal or illegal mosques in Sector G-13, which is administrated by a housing foundation, and localities such as Bhara Kahu, Tarnol and other areas which do not fall under the administrative control of the CDA,” the official said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2015.
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