A very interesting story caught my attention on Wednesday. Media outlets reported that more than 2,000 women gathered at the Red Mosque in the Pakistani capital yesterday, vowing to raise their children for holy war. Ume-Hassan, wife of the mosque’s former firebrand leader, Abdul Aziz [who was jailed last year], told the rally, “We will take revenge against those who killed innocent men, women and children during the operation…Our protest will continue against the forces of tyranny.” Reuters quoted Abdul Aziz’s daughter, who told the gathering, “Our mujahideen (fighters) laid down their lives for the enforcement of the Islamic system in Pakistan. We are left behind to carry forward their mission.” She declared, “We should prepare our children and men for jihad,” to which the crowd of burqa-clad women chanted, “we are ready,” and “al jihad.” According to the Arab media outlet, the Gulf Daily News, ume-Hassan told supporters that President Musharraf should be punished for the Lal Masjid siege last year, emphasizing, “This man is the enemy … I want this man to be severely punished before I die…We are not terrorists. Islam does not teach terrorism … America and its stooges are terrorists.”
Today is the first anniversary of the storming of the Red Mosque [Lal Masjid], when more than 100 people were killed in the fighting to evict militants who had taken sanctuary there. According to BBC News, “The raid on the mosque triggered a series of revenge suicide bombings and other attacks by militants across Pakistan, killing hundreds of people.” Lal Masjid has long had a reputation for radicalism, “mostly attracting hard-line Islamic students from North West Frontier Province and tribal areas where support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda is strong,” noted the BBC.
The Jamia Hafsa Madrassa, one of the largest religious schools for women in the Islamic world, is attached to the mosque, [the male madrassa is nearby]. According to the BBC, “Several thousand students are housed at the two seminaries despite the damage from the fighting of last July.” Last year, many of us watched as the female students of the madrassa launched their very own mini jihad, appointing themselves the vice and virtue police. Armed with sticks, they kidnapped a woman from her home who they said was a brothel owner, as well as Chinese nationals who they accused of running an underground brothel. Images of burqa-clad women wielding batons and publicly burning DVDs [due to their Western influence] were published by various media outlets in their coverage of the developments.
In cases like these, where religious extremists are allowed to make dramatic declarations of jihad from the safety of their firebrand mosques and madrassas with virtually no repurcussions, the line between freedom of speech and censorship seems blurred. The radical nature of Lal Masjid and its corresponding seminaries are problematic for this country, and this brand of extremism is constantly reinforced, both by the missteps of past governments, [which provides these madrassas with more legitimacy and a vacuum of power], as well as their failure to act appropriately against these forces. [Images from the AFP]