A saint for some, a scoundrel for others, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan chief leaves behind a checkered legacy
Leader of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), Allama Khadim Husain Rizvi, breathed his last on Nov. 19, 2020 at a hospital in Lahore, mere days after staging a successful protest at the Faizabad crossing, Rawalpindi.
According to a spokesman of the cleric, and a doctor at the hospital where Rizvi was taken, he was showing symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 but had not been tested for the coronavirus. Local media has reported that Rizvi had high fever when he was leading the protest in Rawalpindi and developed serious respiratory problems on Thursday night. He was then taken to hospital where he was declared dead.
Born in 1966 in the Pindi Gheb area of Attock district, Punjab, Rizvi was a Hafiz-e-Quran and Sheikh-ul-Hadith—the designations granted to those who know the holy Quran by heart and have command over the Hadith. He used to deliver Friday sermons at Lahore’s Pir Makki Masjid, located near Data Darbar. He had been confined to a wheelchair since 2006 after an accident near Gujranwala in which the ‘driver of his vehicle fell asleep while driving.” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa both sent out messages of heartfelt condolence on his demise, highlighting the influence he enjoyed in the public sphere.
Days before his passing, Barelvi super-priest Rizvi notched up another victory in his jihad against the “sinful” state of Pakistan and its prime minister, Imran Khan, when, on Nov. 16, the charismatic prime minister succumbed to his superior charisma. Wheelchair-bound Rizvi’s TLP was protesting the “re-publication” in France of blasphemous caricatures and had demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan and an end to all diplomatic and economic ties with the European state. The prime minister sent his minister for religious affairs to acknowledge the saintliness of Khadim Hussain and pledge the expulsion of the said ambassador.
After nine citizens, including four policemen, were injured in clashes between law enforcement agencies and members of the TLP, the government ignored a vandalized metrobus near Rawalpindi to reach an agreement. This accord said the government “would take a decision from Parliament regarding the expulsion of the French ambassador within three months, and would not appoint its ambassador to France and would release all the arrested workers of the TLP.” It also assured the divine rally that the “government will not register any case against the TLP leaders or workers even after it calls off the sit-in.”
TLP, naturally, rejoiced and called off its protest, which had blocked important access roads to the federal capital for two days. The holy warriors had spread to all sides of Faizabad Interchange, causing the Murree Road and Islamabad Expressway to be sealed from Zero Point to Ninth Avenue. By shutting itself down, the capital of Pakistan had paid its tribute to Khadim Hussain Rizvi once again. He headed the majority sect of Muslims called Barelvi, unfairly left out of the state-run jihad dominated by the Deobandi sect, whose seminaries were doled out massive amounts of money by Saudi Arabia and its allied Emirates. But our unfairly treated Allama had all the attributes of a saint.
His “prayer sessions,” often shown on TV, had the Allama delivering his very frank Punjabi sermons to his followers, who reacted by repeating the practiced ritual of losing their senses under divine inspiration and slapping one another in fervor till the entire gathering lay in a senseless heap. This was attributed to the supernatural powers of the Allama, who sat in his chair enjoying the extreme purgation of worldly preoccupations among his followers lying prostrate before him under spiritual exhaustion.
Here is how his personal miracles were explained to his ready-to-die followers after his first arrest in Lahore: “When Allama Sahib entered the jail he was handcuffed to his chair. A policeman carried him to several cells to convince him that no comfortable space was available. Finally they put Allama Sahib in a dirty cell the condition of which Allama Sahib found insufferable even for animals. There were cockroaches in the cell. Allama Sahib informed the cockroaches, ‘Do not come near me as you know I am brought here for no crime other than the love of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace and countless blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him)’. The cockroaches did not trouble him. Being a disabled person Allama Sahib had kept a servant with him but he had been separated from him. Allama Sahib did not take more than a few water sips for fear that he would not be able to attend the washroom on his own.”
Allama Khadim Husain’s earlier victory in 2016 in Lahore was thus repeated. After he was arrested, a police officer demanded that he stand up on his paralyzed legs, which he couldn’t. This was deemed a major sin, but Allama Sahib later narrated that “the policeman had approached him for forgiveness for his cruel behavior.” The miracle had happened once again to confirm the divinity of a man who was used to curse quite obscenely when calling down the wrath of Allah on the sinful rulers of Pakistan.
The inspiration of Allama Sahib was palpable. It caused policeman Mumtaz Qadri to pump 27 bullets into Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in 2011 for showing compassion to Aasia Bibi, a Christian accused of insulting Islam’s Prophet, who was imprisoned for eight years before being released by the Supreme Court.
In 2018, at Jamia Naeemia, Lahore, ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif was commemorating the death of Barelvi founder Mufti Muhammad Hussain Naeemi, who had been killed in a Taliban-claimed suicide bombing, when a shoe was thrown at him. The shoe missed his face and hit his shoulder. A second shoe was flung but it also missed him. A third shoe was yet to be thrown when the offender was arrested. All three “throwers” were screaming slogans in favor of Mumtaz Qadri. No one missed the point that Allama Khadim Husain Rizvi had briefed the attackers.
Allama Sahib’s peak of fame was reached in 2017, when he staged another sit-in, blocking the main highway connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad demanding the resignation of federal law minister Zahid Hamid for altering a law related to “the Finality of Prophet-hood” oath in the Elections Act, 2017. Allama Sahib said the action had undermined Islamic beliefs and called it blasphemy punishable with death. He relented after the minister resigned because “the Pakistan Army had said it would not use force against the protesters.”
Later a video made public from the protest site showed Director General of Punjab Rangers, Major-General Azhar Naveed Hayat, handing out “cash-filled envelopes to the protesters, later saying the money was being given to them as travel expenses for reaching their homes.” Then another miracle happened to confirm the sainthood of Allama Sahib. A judge of the Supreme Court, who had objected to this “intervention” with envelopes filled with cash, was “referred” to the Supreme Judicial Council and was expected to lose his job. Such was the divine stature of Allama Khadim Husain Rizvi.