Two days after the horrific Taliban attack on a military-run school in Peshawar, killed more than hundred and thirty students, controversial Islamabad-based cleric Abdul Aziz refused to condemn the massacre, sparking rare protests against radicalism in the country.
Abdul Aziz also said that use of force against the Taliban is not a “wise option”. Aziz is the chief cleric at Lal Mosque, one of the biggest in the capital. The mosque and its attached seminary have a reputation for radicalism and was the scene of a massive 10-day military crackdown in 2007, which left more than a hundred dead, many of whom were radical seminary students. Aziz's brother was the chief back then, and was killed in the operation. Abdul Aziz tried to flee the mosque in a burka, but was caught. He was released on bail two years later. And has since reopened the mosque and become the chief cleric.
On December 18, a large number of activists, politicians and students arrived at the Lal Masjid chanting slogans against Abdul Aziz. They wrote names of the students killed in Peshawar on a board and started an impromptu vigil.
#ReclaimYourMosques protest in front of #LalMasjid #Islamabad. Civil society for the first time have come forward… http://t.co/dtUfLbm7pV
— S. Oon Haider Zaidi (@OonHaider) December 18, 2014
The protest was organised by Jibran Nasir, an independent politician, lawyer and human rights activist from Karachi. He said:
I came to Islamabad for a conference, but then the Peshawar tragedy struck and everything changed. The next day, Lal Masjid cleric issued a statement that I couldn’t stomach and I decided that rather than going back to Karachi, we should protest. We want to reclaim our mosques, our communities, our cities, indeed our entire country from the extremists. We can no longer allow anyone to stand on at a pulpit and preach hatred. We will no longer stand by and watch people like Abdul Aziz use the name of our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and our religion to perpetuate violence. I call upon the people of Islamabad to come out of their homes and reclaim their city.
The administration of Lal mosque filed a First Information report (FIR) against the participants of the protest. Police in riot gear arrived on the scene and asked protesters to disperse.
Faisal Sabzwari from the political party MQM tweeted:
See…purana, Naya ya gaya #Pakistan? FIR is lodged against Civil Society 4 protesting against Lal Masjid Cleric.
— Faisal Subzwari (@faisalsubzwari) December 18, 2014
Nasir and the protesters held their ground and said they will hold the vigil for the next week in front of the Lal Mosque, and there after every Tuesday night.
Suddenly, the spontaneous protests that began on Thursday quickly spread across the country as a wider movement against Taliban apologists and extremists everywhere. There were protests after Friday prayers in several cities to condemn Lal Mosque's cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz's statement. A petition in Change.org to put Abdul Aziz on trial for treason and terrorism has more than 4000 supporters.
On December 19, an FIR (First Information Report) was lodged against Abdul Aziz at a police station and this Facebook video caught the moment.
If in tomorrow's jummah sermon your Imam wont condemn Peshawar Attack then stand up and ask him to. #ReclaimYourMosques
— Quaid Ahmed (@Quaidism) December 18, 2014
What an awesome initiative by @MJibranNasir & @marvisirmed – Fight back against militant & hatemonger clerics to #ReclaimYourMosques!
— Luqman (@luqman255) December 18, 2014
It's litmus paper test of #Mullahs they're with us or Taliban?If they DONT condemn Talibanism in sermons,lets protest & #ReclaimYourMosques
— LiberalVoicePakistan (@LiberalKR) December 19, 2014
A protester on the Facebook page #ReclaimYourMosques – We Demand Action on FIR #LalMasjid wrote:
The foundation is laid. Think over, either are u going to be a silent spectator or would do ur part. If 141 children didn't shook u off ur slumber then be sure u are an apologist of the likes of #AbdulAziz.
Huge Crowd At Karachi Press Club Demanding and Chanting #ArrestAbdulAziz pic.twitter.com/t9hhXcdeBO
— Syed Ayaz Ali (@ayazali77) December 21, 2014
Hyderabad has been completely shut down in the protest against Abdul Aziz who threatened Altaf Hussain. #ArrestAbdulAziz
— Namaloom Engineer (@Rectified_Guy) December 21, 2014
Solicitor of ISIS in Pakistan, Closest Ally of Taliban, Devil's Advocate – Abdul Aziz of Lal Mosque #ArrestAbdulAziz pic.twitter.com/suFJTRRkjI
— Syed FaiXan Jawaid (@Syedfaixan) December 21, 2014
Lal Masjid & Burka Maulana are a national shame. Both must be brought to justice to restore sovereignty of the nation. #ArrestAbdulAziz
— Hasan Tasleem (@Ha5an_) December 21, 2014
We Are Loud And Clear #ArrestAbdulAziz pic.twitter.com/cL07aNxET1
— Syed Ayaz Ali (@ayazali77) December 21, 2014
Under pressure Maulana Aziz apologised on Sunday for not condemning the killing of children. A reader replied to the article at the Tribune.com:
Sorry too little too late, shame on him that he actually had to think so hard to apologize and only after all the pressure …… He lacks total decency and morals …..innocent kids died and he had to think about it. Shame on him and shame on us for listening to him, he needs to be behind bars permanently along with all his buddies.
TTw14- gee… I wonder why all the signs are in English…makes it smell a bit like wishful thinking