Abdul Aziz (Pakistani cleric)
|Religion||Sunni Islam (Deobandi)|
Abdul Aziz (Urdu: محمد عبد العزيز) is a Pakistani cleric and khateeb (sermon giver) in the central mosque of Islamabad known as Lal Masjid, which was the site of a siege in 2007 with the Pakistani army. On 4 July 2007, he was arrested by the Pakistani police as he was trying to escape the complex while dressed in a burqa (veil). Aziz was released from custody by the Pakistani supreme court in 2009 and acquitted in 2013.
The mosque he leads operates Jamia Hafsa, an all-girls madrassa, and has a militia. Its followers have engaged in political protests and have been involved in vandalism, violence, kidnapping, and arson. Students of Jamia Hafsa have publicly declared their support for ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In 2014, Aziz named a library at one of the mosque's seminaries after Osama Bin Laden and openly declared his support for ISIS.
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Aziz came to Islamabad as a six-year-old boy from his home town in Punjab, when his father was appointed khateeb of Lal Masjid in 1966. He grew up in Islamabad. Aziz is the son of Muhammad Abdullah, the first prayer leader of Lal Masjid, and elder brother of Abdul Rashid, who was killed in a government raid.
Abdul Aziz is descended from Sadwani clan of Mazari tribe in the town of Rojhan at the border of southern Punjab and Balochistan. Pakistan's last military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq, was said to be very close to Abdullah.
After studying for few years in a public school, he was later sent to Karachi to study in a religious seminary. Abdul Aziz is a graduate of Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia Banuri Town, a Madrassah in Karachi, where he studied the customary Dars-e-Nizami, which is taught at the most elementary level of religious education in Pakistan.
Abdul Aziz served as officially designated prayer leader in government constructed and owned Lal Masjid until 2005 when he was dismissed from service (but never removed) after he issued a "fatwa" (religious decree) against the army officers who were fighting against the Taliban and their supporters in the tribal areas close to the Afghan border. In the fatwa he declared that none of the army officers who were killed in the fighting in tribal area was a martyr and religious sanctions were not available for their funeral. His fatwa irked the government and he was dismissed from service. But in fact, the government has not attempted to remove him from his post. A replacement cleric was appointed for Lal Masjid, but female supporters refused to pray behind anyone other than Aziz. It is speculated that President Musharraf did not want to stir up popular unrest in an already tense national political atmosphere due to massive support for Aziz within Islamabad.
Since January 2007, his activities became more political than religious. He constantly issued fatwas on various public affairs and created the Lal Masjid brigade from students of Jamia Hafsa. He closely followed the supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, and typically resisted being photographed.
Tensions between the government and religious students led by Abdul Aziz had simmered over the demolition of mosques. However, Islamabad was shaken out of its political stupor by the female students and teachers of the seminary in the last week of March. They announced the launch of a "moral drive" against all "immoral activities" in the federal capital. Coming on the heels of these actions by the female students was the announcement by the cleric Abdul Aziz for the establishment of a parallel Taliban style court system, which would punish perpetrators of moral crimes in the federal capital. He issued a one-month ultimatum from his pulpit to the government to clean Islamabad of all "immoral activities."
He also warned the government de attacks in the case of a violent police operation launched against the seminary. "If the government fails to eradicate all these moral evils from the society within the specified period of one month the students of the seminary would themselves take actions against all the people involved in such activities," said Abdul Aziz while addressing Friday Prayer congregation at Lal Masjid.
In his speech the cleric declared drugs, music, movies, and photographs of women as moral evils. His students subsequently resorted to various acts of vandalism, violence, kidnapping, and arson. They even ordered local barbers not to shave men to force them grow beards in accordance with the "teachings of Islam."
The Lal Masjid brigade came to public notice when they kidnapped women (who they accused of being prostitutes) from Islamabad's residential areas and then later kidnapped several police officers. The brigade increased their activities and took to the crime of kidnapping Chinese workers from massage centres. This particular event created international pressure on Pakistan, especially from the Chinese government.
On 3 July 2007, the standoff with the government ended in bloody gun battles in which more than 100 were killed and scores wounded. A FIR was later registered against brothers with charges ranging from kidnapping and murder, to treason and terrorism.
To avoid collateral loss, on 4 July 2007 at 8.05 PM local time., the government offered amnesty to juvenile students if they surrendered. Hundreds of his student followers reportedly surrendered. Aziz was arrested while leaving the complex disguised in a burqa. According to his account, he was forced by authorities to rewear the burqa. According to Abdul Aziz, the justification for his cross-dressing escape is that he was deceived. He claims that he was called by a senior official of an intelligence agency with whom he had allegedly been in touch for a long time. Since this man could not enter the mosque to meet him, he asked Aziz to come down to Aabpara police station, situated a walking distance from the mosque, and asked him to wear a burqa to avoid identification. Many people consider the manner of Aziz's escape attempt to display a high degree of hypocrisy, since he had ordered his followers to fight to the death and fled whilst fighting continued.
Abdul Aziz was released on 16 April 2009 by the Pakistani supreme court as he awaited trial on charges of murder, incitement, and kidnapping. He was greeted by throngs of supporters.
On 24 September 2013 he was acquitted from his last case. Since 2001, 27 different cases had been registered against him, but he was plead not guilty in all of those cases.
In December 2014, Abdul Aziz found himself in controversy when he endorsed a video made by his students that publicly supported the terrorist organization ISIS. He later confirmed that he did not oppose the agenda of Islamic State and that the video was indeed genuine. An FIR was lodged against him.
On 17 December, after the Peshawar incident that left 141 dead including 132 children, Abdul Aziz refused to condemn the act arguing it was a repercussion of the government's policies against the Taliban. This resulted in outrage in the capital city and a procession outside the mosque led by civil society.
On 26 December 2014, Senior Civil Judge Saqib Jawad issued a non-bailable arrest warrant on Friday against Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz while hearing a case filed by civil society members. However, in response to the arrest warrant, spokesman for the Lal Masjid Shuhada Foundation, Hafiz Ehtisham, said that Abdul Aziz will resist arrest. He added that there have been arrest warrants against political leaders in different cases such as the Model Town incident and the attack on PTV's office, but they were not arrested.
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