Radicalisation of Wafaq Seminaries

Editorial: Radicalisation of Wafaq seminaries
Daily Times, August 11, 2007

The nation was shocked to see members of the biggest federation of madrassa chains in Pakistan, the Wafaqul Madaris al-Arabiya, come to blows and heap curses on one another when they met at Multan on 7 August 2007. The session was to review the role of the Wafaq during the Lal Masjid crisis; and the clerical leadership, roused by the politicisation of the affair, got divided over the way the Wafaq had handled the situation.

Maulana Salimullah, head of the Wafaq federation, was abused in such a manner that he at once offered to resign. The chief administrator of the Wafaq, Maulana Hanif Jalundhari, also promised to resign after the Wafaq had finished conducting examinations for the madrassa chains. Both the gentlemen were heavy-weights in their own right, the latter sitting on top of a chain of modern teaching facilities comparable to that of Allama Tahirul Qadiri. The ruckus produced by the enraged ulema was deafening.

The action was led by the JUI maverick and member of the action committee Hafiz Hussain Ahmad; and a fellow member Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi known for his activism with political parties, having served once as an adviser to the Punjab government. When Maulana Fazlur Rehman, present as head of his own chain, reacted against his rebel member from Balochistan and asked the office bearers not to resign, all hell broke loose. Old rivals, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Maulana Samiul Haq of Madrassa Haqqania Nowshehra locked horns on the matter and descended into Pushto to make their mutual defamations hurt (tu-takar). The latter then walked out swearing under his breath.

The Wafaq had taken disciplinary action against the Lal Masjid clerics because of their radicalism and had expelled their seminaries from the Wafaq. The Wafaq had also condemned the vigilante action taken by Lal Masjid against the citizens of Islamabad. When Mian Sahib Zargari from the JUI got up to defend the action taken against Lal Masjid the ulema leapt at him and gave him a thrashing (hatha-pai and pitai). At the sight of all this, Maulana Fazlur Rehman commented that Lal Masjid should not be made a cause for playing politics.

Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, who now heads the group trying to take over the Wafaq, then wrote in daily Pakistan (8 August 2007) that the Lal Masjid clerics, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi, had condemned the Wafaqul Madaris delegation that had gone to the scene of trouble as “political ulema” whose attitude towards Lal Masjid was “more tyrannical than that of the government”. He accused the Wafaq of actually paving the way for the action taken against Lal Masjid.

Hafiz Ashrafi also recalled that the head of the Wafaq, Maulana Salimullah, had dubbed the two brothers at Lal Masjid as “agents of the CIA trying to follow the agenda of America in Pakistan”. He wrote that this statement was untenable because it was the Wafaq leadership that kept going to Washington on America’s invitation and not Messrs Aziz and Ghazi. In fact, he claimed that these leaders had gone to America a day before the siege of Lal Masjid. Hafiz Ashrafi then makes an outrageous accusation: that the attack supposed to have been conducted by Jamia Hafsa girls against a massage parlour in Islamabad was actually conducted by the boys of Beaconhouse English-medium school in Islamabad, followed by Jamia Hafsa girls.

The shock waves from Multan were felt by the print media which remained careful in interpreting what had actually transpired at a meeting of an organisation whose only task is to conduct examinations of all Deobandi seminaries and nothing more. The rise of the radicals at the session is clearly owed to those who think that, after the Lal Masjid affair, it is time for the seminaries to hit the streets and pull the government down. Hafiz Ashrafi in his article also praised the great and late leaders of the banned sectarian anti-Shia Sipah Sahaba which was closely aligned with the Lal Masjid clerics.

Much mudslinging was in evidence at the time of the fight. Maulana Hanif Jalundhari’s association with the Punjab government along with the monetary benefit he allegedly derived from it was mentioned. Although the attackers too may have been such beneficiaries in the past, they tore to shreds the reputation of the revered and wealthy incumbent ulema of the Deobandi school of thought. But Maulana Fazlur Rehman, with a big political party at his back, was not fazed by what was going on. He rejected the campaign to radicalise the Wafaq and stood his ground. In the background was, of course, the national consensus against the Lal Masjid operation, including the influential Al Qaeda opinion in favour of Messrs Aziz and Ghazi.

The media are usually obsequious towards the clergy, as was witnessed during the Lal Masjid drama. It is only when the ulema demean themselves in public by behaving thus that they are presented realistically. *

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