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Pakistani cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi died suddenly in Lahore on Thursday. He found only fleeting mention in Indian media.
He was only 54, apparently in excellent health, which shone on his broad bearded face. Nothing you would have seen and heard of him in the videos of his fierce speech during the Siege of Hisdharna or the Siege of Islamabad days earlier would have suggested that he was dead.
Covid was widely cited as the cause of his death, although the hospital certificate did not mention any cause. They simply declared him dead when he arrived. Autopsy? Viscera? You do not subject the holy warriors to such indignities. Certainly not if they are also considered the favorite children of the powers that be. What was Rizvi.
Sure enough, his sudden death reignited the social media conspiracy theory industry. He was apparently not on treatment for any illness, although there are now rumors that he had been suffering from fever and shortness of breath for a few days. But look at those speeches, especially the last one where he mocked the government saying: What makes you think I need your permission for my DNA? Does Pakistan belong to your daddy? (Tere pyo da haigaPakistan?) He does not miss a breath.
I’m sorry it loses a lot of flavor and texture in the Punjabi translation. Especially from the distinctive version he spoke of, from the Pakistani Punjab region called Potohar. Generally located between the Jhelum and the Indus, this low plateau has always been the richest watershed of the Pakistani army. This is one of the reasons why many soldiers were under his influence. And he, in turn, was supposed to be under the influence of the generals and their establishment.
Until, like all of these characters, including Osama Bin Laden, he got too big for his cheeks. His last siege on Islamabad caused deep distress to the Imran Khan government and the establishment. He wanted the closure of the French embassy, a parliamentary resolution severing diplomatic relations, and has repeatedly urged his supporters and Muslims around the world to behead French President Emmanuel Macron.
He’s been blessed with the kind of clear diction and crowd-provoking demagogues. So you don’t even need a lot of Punjabi to understand that he is pronouncing the Chechen teenager who beheaded Samuel Paty a ghazi (holy warrior), greeted all Muslims who carry out revenge attacks as such , and in a speech, called on all Pakistanis to drop nuclear bombs on France. so that the ungodly earth ceases to exist.
It was not, by the way, the first time that he had posed such a threat to a European nation. In 2018, when Dutch politician Geert Wilders said he was running a contest to draw the caricatures of the prophets, Rizvihad vowed to destroy the Netherlands as well.
He agreed to release Islamabad and return home, on his own terms, as usual, posting a press release claiming that the government had accepted all demands and that the National Assembly would pass a resolution severing diplomatic relations with France. It has gone too far for the convenience of establishments now. Looks like the coronavirus didn’t like it at all!
Also read: Muslim world faces division after Erdogan takes on France for crackdown on radical Islam
Physically, Rizvi was born on June 22, 1966 in the village of Pindi Ghebnear Attock. But politically, and in a way also spiritually or if we are allowed to craft a politico-spiritual expression, the Rizvi phenomenon was born on January 4, 2011.
It was the day that politician Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistani Punjab (and father of author Aatish), was assassinated by Mumtaz Qadri, a security agent. Salman had drafted this death warrant the day he met AasiaBibi, the poor Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy, expressed his sympathy to him and also demanded that the blasphemy law be repealed. Qadri, apparently, was a follower of the Sunni Sufi Barelvischool of Islam, and Rizvi is his distinguished cleric. He was then preaching to the famous Data Darbar from Lahores.
Qadris was the first cause that Rizvi took up and gained prominence. He hailed him as aghazi too, wanted him to be pardoned and proclaimed a hero of the faith, and dared the state to hold him guilty. The government has stood firm.
Qadri was hanged in Rawalpindis Adiala Prison on February 29, 2016. Rizvi led angry protests on behalf of his organization, Tehreek-e-Labbaik YaRasoolAllah (TLYRA). Labbaik is a benchmark of Muslim prayer and the name means, freely translated, movement in the service of the holy prophet of Allah. Rizvi’s comrade and TLYRA co-founder, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, also called for the killing of the three Supreme Court justices who upheld the sentence. They could be killed, he suggested, by their security guards, their drivers or even their cooks. Fortunately, no one took his advice.
Rizvis’ star was rising now. As he gained popularity among a rapidly growing population of angry, young, illiterate and unemployed men, especially in the Punjab and parts of Sindh in the south, he was soon proclaimed an Allama (a great scholar of faith), a title he carried until his death. He reached the height of his power the following year.
Mian Nawaz Sharif was in power. The army, which treated Rizvi as its own as much as Imran Khan, would have been very happy now to see the cleric besiege Islamabad, the first in a long line. The provocation was a seemingly malicious amendment in the nomination form that a Muslim candidate must sign when contesting the elections in Pakistan.
It contains a clause declaring an unqualified and total commitment to the concept of Khatm-e-Naboowat, which means that you accept that Muhammad was the last prophet, that there can be no successor and that you do not follow the teachings of no one else. The nuance is that this will keep Ahmadiyyasout.
In the new nomination form, the clause was mentioned as a declaration rather than an oath, as in the past. This, said Rizvi, was a conspiracy against Islam and its Holy Prophet. The government said it was a clerical error. He wanted the language to be restored and the Minister of Justice, retired judge Zahid Hamid, fired. He got both, proclaimed victory. The legend of Allama Khadim Rizvi was born.
Also read: Shia-Sunni divide grows in Pakistan, but Imran Khan rules silence can be strategic
He was back in 2018. Now it was up to the Supreme Court to find AasiaBibi not guilty and acquit her. He called it a sacrilegious scandal and laid siege again.
At that time, the establishment was at a dead end. It was not easy to continue to hold on to a poor Christian after the acquittal of the shed and when her case had gained great importance in the Western world. At one point, she was stealthily taken to the Pakistani air base in Rawalpindi, named after Air Marshal Nur Khan (head of the PAF during the 1965 war), then airlifted to the Netherlands for the ‘asylum.
Rizvi made the headlines. Like getting a movie called Zindagi Tamashabanned for blasphemy. Apparently, it contained criticism from the ulama and also implied that bachcha baazi (child sexual abuse) was rampant in these circles. Some university and college professors have also been murdered or injured by young students for blasphemy on behalf of the Rizvis organizations. But he denied any connection.
Rizvi had now transformed his organization into a formal political party: Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). His number of votes increased, but not enough to win many seats. This is the other remarkable thing about Pakistan. That religious parties have great power in the streets, but are never able to impress voters.
In his case, however, the challenge was more complex. Because Imran Khan also led his party and politics mainly in the name of conservative Islam. Perform his 2019 address to the United Nations General Assembly. With what passion he reminds the (Western) world that he must refrain from anything that Muslims see slandering our Holy Prophet… it hurts us. He read the blasphemy law to the world in English. Rizvi said the same thing in Punjabi. For the voter, product differentiation was insufficient.
Rizvi is now gone. But the mass appeal of fundamentalism among a burgeoning, young, illiterate, unemployed and angry population is not. Nor do institutions need such practical instruments that are on the verge of disappearing. They will find another Rizvi, or maybe more. Meanwhile, like most conspiracy theories in Pakistan, one about his sudden death could also last.
Also Read: How To Become An Instant Pakistani Social Media Hero Shoot Someone To Save Islam
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