Radical outing

Print edition : July 27, 2007

Radical cleric Abdul Aziz (second right) surrounded by guards as he stands on the roof of the Lal Masjid. A file picture dated March 28.-AAMIR QURESHI/AFP Radical cleric Abdul Aziz (second right) surrounded by guards as he stands on the roof of the Lal Masjid. A file picture dated March 28.

SPORTING a stylish red prayer cap, the bespectacled and white-bearded Abdul Rashid Ghazi was the public face of Lal Masjid. He held press conferences regularly and spoke in English about how Pakistan had turned its back on Islam and of the determination of Jamia Hafsa students to ensure that the Sharia was brought in. He looked older than his 46 years and he said the most frightening things in the friendliest manner. But few knew that this militant Taliban-style Islamist was until 10 years ago a different man altogether.

A history graduate from Islamabad's prestigious Quaid-e-Azam University, Ghazi had opted for a secular education in rebellion against the strict religiosity of his father, Maulana Abdullah, who founded Lal Masjid in the 1960s under the patronage of General Ayub Khan, and the Jamia Fareedia men's seminary with help from General Zia-ul-Haq. He once had a job at the Ministry of Education and even worked with UNESCO for a while.

When Maulana Abdullah was shot dead in Lal Masjid in 1998, his elder son, Abdul Aziz, who had a religious education, stepped into his father's shoes. But the killing seemed to have wrought a change in Ghazi too, and he joined his brother in the administration of the mosque.

His first outing as a jehadi radical was as late as 2001, when he played a prominent role in protests against the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. In 2004, he was arrested with weapons in the boot of his car but was cleared of the charges on the intervention of the Religious Affairs Minister Eijaz ul-Haq.

Nirupama Subramanian
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