Illegal mosques and trader-clergy nexus: Capital’s clandestine love affair revealed

  • Posh sectors have fewer, middle-class sectors more mosques
  • CDA a sterile, hapless entity afraid of upsetting ‘vicious’ applecart

‘Allah Waali Masjid’, a small makeshift mosque in the midst of G-11 Markaz, is no longer there, as a plaza is being constructed in its place. The humble mosque, which could easily accommodate up to 35 worshipers, vanished into thin air some three weeks ago along with its worn-out prayer mats, cement blocks and the board having its name. The land the mosque stood on is now occupied by bulldozers, cranes, diggers and labourers.

The federal capital of Islamabad has more than a thousand mosques and many of them are maintained either by the community or clergy who hails from the various sects.

According to a National Action Plan (NAP) report issued last month, the government has no say in the affairs of over 868 out of 957 mosques. That leaves a big question “as to who manages these mosques” unanswered.

Estimates show community or clergy-maintained mosques constitute more than 90 per cent of the total mosques in Islamabad. These mosques generate their revenue by themselves: by accepting charity, alms, donations and hearty contributions from the faithful. A large chunk of this money is also funneled through sectarian organisations as well as religious parties.

Besides, hundreds of seminaries or madrassas have also mushroomed across the capital. Sources estimate at present there are around 300 seminaries in Islamabad and many of these are unregistered and are located on land ‘occupied’ in the name of faith. Sect-wise, 118 seminaries belong to the Barelvi sect, 147 to the Deobandis, five to the Shias while eight are managed by the Ahle Hadith.

The Deobandi school of thought surpasses the Barelvis when it comes to the number of seminaries. However, the Barelvis have more mosques than the Deobandis.

A recent report titled, ‘Education Statistics 2014-2015’, disclosed that the enrolment in seminaries have seen a palpable decline during the past year.

As a matter of fact many students of these madrassas come from the downtrodden and poor families as their parents see madrassas as a place of learning where food, shelter and clothing are provided without charge.

Although CDA’s recent drive to stall ‘nonconforming use of residential premises’ has relocated many mighty establishments, such as restaurants, beauty parlors, showrooms and boutiques, from residential areas to commercial zones, the mosques and madrassas proved mightier than international brands. But, there is a local twist to the story!

Moving through the capital, one can easily spot many mosques in and around main markets (Markaz-as they are referred to by locals). Some of these mosques are located in the green belts while others have been established in tents in the parking area for customers.

The Urdu writings on the boards of these mosques are unmistakably clear and say ‘under the auspices of anjuman-e-tajraan (traders union). The exhibitionist religiosity as well as the image a mosque plays in our society is what make these local traders contribute both openly and secretly to these mosques.

This trader-clergy nexus in Islamabad is not wholly rooted in the belief of bagging benefits in the life hereafter; it also acts as a way of cementing one’s repute in the community as a God-fearing and pious person. This brings us to the ‘rags-to-riches’ incarnate of Pakistani society.

Malik Riaz, the real estate tycoon and a role model-cum-paragon of every ambitious property dealer, is obsessed with the idea of making ‘biggest, grandest, largest’ mosques all over the country. Following the footsteps of the great guru, the traders find their solace in establishing smaller mosques in parking areas and green belts.

Hafiz Mudassar, who himself runs a madrassa and mosque, quotes an example from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s life where he paid for a piece of land acquired for the Majid-e-Nabvi. Mudassar however argues that “Islam does not permit to build mosques on a piece of land acquired unl;awfully or illegally”.

Asked about the role traders play in funding mosques, Afnan Talib, whose family is in real estate business, told Pakistan Today that “it is enjoined upon us to make mosques near our homes and workplaces. The God has given us resources so we should utilise them on these mosques and do everything in our power to spread His message’.

Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the CDA, Ramzan Sajid, admitted the threat such establishments pose. “It is a ‘sensitive’ issue as it involves the ICT administration, police and CDA,” he said, adding “CDA is making sure that no new mosque or madrassa is established illegally.”

Moreover, the three forces CDA, ICT Administration and police have a sterile track record when it comes to keeping a check on illegal mosques and madrassas situated on land meant for basic amenities. The CDA points its finger towards the administration and police. The police on the other hand maintain that the mosques fall in the domain of the CDA and ICT administration. The blame game however ends nowhere.

“The issue of mosques established illegally is highly sensitive and the religious actors involved are powerful and well-connected. The common man too sees mosques not as a building but as a sacred and divine place. The pressure on both the Capital Development Authority and police is immense and that is why these structures have not yet been touched at all,” said a senior CDA official, requesting not to be named.