Hundreds of protesters from the far right Islamist organisation Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) have been holding protests outside Pakistan’s capital Islamabad against the publication of caricatures of the Holy Prophet in France. The TLP is led by the hardline Sunni Barelvi cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi. (Update: Rizvi died on November 20)
Who is Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi?
The 54-year-old wheelchair bound preacher is a former Pakistan government employee and hails from Attock district in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Rizvi has memorised the Quran and is an ardent follower of the Islamic theologian Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, who was born in Bareilly in undivided India in the 19th century and founded the Barelvi school of thought. Khadim Hussain took up the name Rizvi as a tribute to Ahmed Raza Khan.
As the government appointed Imam of the Pir Makki Mosque in Lahore, Khadim Rizvi earned a reputation as a firebrand speaker and charismatic leader among his followers. He has a penchant for the poetry of Allama Iqbal, and his sermons are replete with Persian couplets written by the great poet.
When did Khadim Rizvi emerge as a player in Pakistan’s political scene?
The Barelvis are close to 50 per cent Pakistan’s population, but they do not have the political profile of the Deobandis and the Ahl-e-Hadees. The Barelvi school of thought was once sought to be projected as the softer face of Islam, but that project went to pieces in 2011 after the assassination of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer.
Salman Taseer’s assassin Mumtaz Qadri was a Barelvi, who proclaimed that he had killed Taseer because he had spoken out in support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had been jailed for alleged blasphemy.
Qadri was a follower of Khadim Rizvi, who has been vocal in opposing any reforms to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and sees any attempt to do so as an attack on the Holy Prophet’s honour.
Rizvi was instrumental in starting the Tehreek Rihai Mumtaz Qadri (Movement to free Mumtaz Qadri). After Qadri was hanged in February 2016, Rizvi’s supporters posted a video of him on social media weeping at the funeral, and putting his turban at the feet of Qadri for not being able to save him.
The movement to free Qadri was subsequently renamed as Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasoolullah (TLYRA) in 2016, which then transformed into the political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. The TLP contested the 2018 Pakistan general elections, and won two seats in the Sindh Assembly.
What does the TLP want?
The TLP sees itself as the guardian of Hurmat-e-Rasool (Prophet Muhammad’s honour) and the custodian of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws.
At a time when questions have been raised about the use of blasphemy laws in the country which recently saw a bank manager being shot dead by its security guard allegedly over blasphemy allegations in Punjab’s Khushab district, Rizvi and TLP’s other top leaders have vowed to defend these laws with their lives.
The TLP has called for the death penalty for anyone proposing amendments to these laws.
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Has Rizvi held such protests earlier too?
Yes, he has.
In 2016, Rizvi led protesters into Islamabad’s high-security Red Zone, and staged a sit-in demanding that Asia Bibi be hanged.
In 2017, he staged another sit-in, blocking the main highway connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad seeking the resignation of Pakistan’s then law minister Zahid Hamid over changes in a law related to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat (Finality of Prophethood) oath in the Elections Act, 2017.
Rizvi’s group alleged that the action undermined Islamic beliefs, and linked it to blasphemy. The protests were called off after the resignation of Hamid and with the intervention of the Pakistani Army, which had said it would not use force against the protesters.
A video from the protest site had showed the Director General of Punjab Rangers Major General Azhar Naveed Hayat handing out cash-filled envelopes to the protesters. He later said the money was being given to them as travel expenses for reaching their homes.
And why has Rizvi called a protest now?
The TLP had last week announced plans to gather and march from Rawalpindi Press Club till Faizabad in Islamabad against the publication of caricatures by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It has also called for a boycott of French products, and the expulsion of the French ambassador from Islamabad.
“We are not emotional or fanatics. People who bombed Syria and hanged Saddam Hussein on Eid are fanatics. We are only talking about the honour of our Prophet. Whenever you talk about Islam your tongues slip. People need to keep control over their tongues,” Rizvi said in the course of a speech in Karachi last week. 📣 Click to follow Express Explained on Telegram
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