A group of protesters, believed to be supporters of the ousted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), on Thursday violated the sanctity of the Masjid-e-Nabwi in Madinah, chanting loud slogans against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his government’s delegation as they sought to pay their respects at the Roza-e-Rasool (Peace Be Upon Him).
The prime minister and a delegation of senior government ministers reached Saudi Arabia on Thursday for a three-day official visit at the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Upon their arrival to the mosque, a group of protesters started chanting slogans of “chor, chor (thieves).” The emboldened crowd then started harassing the lawmakers, hitting federal minister Shahzain Bugti and pulling his hair, and shouting misogynistic and abusive vitriol against Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb.
Videos of the incident, shot and shared by members of the unrepentant mob, went viral on social media after they were shared by the official accounts of the PTI, as well as its senior leadership. Instead of condemning the incident or urging restraint, a majority of the PTI leadership appeared to be gloating over the incident, with former information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain claiming this was a “preview” of the kind of backlash the new government would face once it was out of power. Similarly, former human rights minister Shireen Mazari claimed it was “ordinary Pakistanis venting their anger” and reiterated allegations of a “foreign conspiracy” that have been soundly rejected by the country’s security forces on multiple occasions.
Among the dissenting voices of the PTI was that of Ali Muhammad Khan, who condemned the incident and said political differences should not be allowed to turn to enmity. “It is not appropriate to chant slogans around Masjid-e-Nabwi,” he said, adding that it was not only against ethics but also strictly forbidden in Islam.
The PTI’s claims of the protest being “spontaneous” has come into question, as a close friend of Imran Khan’s can be seen directing the chants in the videos. The party, in the past week, has also publicly admitted to plans to harass the government delegation when it reached Saudi Arabia, with ally Sheikh Rashid Ahmed of the Awami Muslim League going so far as to claim they would not even be permitted to pray in the holy land. A video of his nephew, Rashid Shafique, in which he proudly admits to have harassed the government lawmakers, is also available on social media.
Speaking with media later, Bugti said he respected Mecca and Madinah, where no one was permitted to raise their voice. “Those who have passed derogatory remarks against Marriyum Aurangzeb are still here, therefore, the news related to their arrest is fake,” he said, referring to reports on social media that the offending members of the protesters had been taken into custody by Saudi authorities.
Meanwhile, Aurangzeb said that she did not wish to name the person responsible for the incident, as she did wish to use the holy land for political purposes. “However, it will take time for us to fix the ways in which these people have damaged our society and we can only do that through a positive attitude,” she said, adding that she not allowed herself to feel any anger and had merely prayed for calm.
Following the incident, political and religious leaders and the general public expressed their outrage at the incident and strictly condemned the chanting of political slogans at Masjid-e-Nabwi. In a statement, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman condemned the incident and said haram-e-Madinah is a place of respect for the entire Muslim Ummah.
“Speaking loudly in the mosque is against Islamic etiquette,” he said. “Whatever happened there today couldn’t be more insulting to the holy site. Those who cannot respect the sanctity of the house of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) cannot claim to follow his teachings,” he added.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (Pakistan) leader and Senator Faisal Subzwari noted that the same people who had condemned PMLN’s Capt. (retd.) Safdar Awan for chanting slogans at the Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi were now celebrating the chanting of political slogans at Masjid-e-Nabwi.
Islamic scholar Maulana Tariq Jameel, who had participated in a prayer for the PTI’s “success” just a few hours earlier, regretted the protest and said that disrespect to the Haram Sharif is not acceptable in Islam. Similarly, Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Tahir Ashrafi voiced displeasure at the unfortunate incident and condemned it.
In a statement, he said that a group of people had disrespected the holy mosque by chanting slogans and had also dishonored Pakistan. “Muslims are supposed to lower their voices instead of chanting slogans inside a mosque,” he said, adding that those who had violated laws of Muslim countries in the past were now in jail and authorities have not agreed to release them.
Following the incident at Madinah, workers of the Jamhoori Wattan Party (JWP) of Bugti assaulted PTI leader Qasim Suri at a private hotel in Islamabad. Videos of the incident show Suri and other PTI leaders sitting at a hotel when a group of people surrounded them and started chanting anti-PTI slogans.
The PTI leaders are seen getting frustrated, resulting in a scuffle between the PTI leaders and JWP supporters. Subsequently, the JWP workers fled the scene.
In a statement, Suri claimed other customers at the hotel had come to his defense and pushed the attackers away. He then filed an an application for the registration of an FIR at the Kohsar police station.