Taliban under fire from Pakistan’s faithful
(From Dawn Online) RAIWIND: Inayatullah Khan sits on a dusty rug and prepares to pray at Pakistan’s biggest religious gathering of 400,000 Muslims, cursing the Taliban for their ‘unholy crusade’ against humanity.
Khan travelled all the way from the tribal region of South Waziristan to take part in the four-day event, one of the world’s largest Islamic meetings, in Raiwind on the outskirts of Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore.
A resident of Kanigurram, a former Taliban hub that the military says it has captured during its ongoing five-week offensive in the northwest, Khan, 50, accused the Taliban of straying from the path of God and butchering Muslims.
‘They call those who refuse to follow their brand of Islam infidels, not knowing they are inviting the wrath of Allah the almighty by killing Muslims, which I call an unholy crusade,’ Khan said.
A Muslim whose faith is important enough to make an arduous three-day journey and sleep in a tent for four days, Khan invited the Taliban ‘to join us in spreading Islam’s eternal message of love, affection and peace.’
The Tablighi Ijtema is an annual feature, founded by religious scholars more than five decades ago and focused exclusively on preaching Islam.
The Thursday-Sunday gathering in Raiwind, near the estate of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, is being held under tight security due to the campaign of attacks that have swept the country killing more than 2,500 people in two years.
Contingents of police guard the single-carriage road, lined by eucalyptus trees, that links Raiwind with downtown Lahore.
Spread over 150 acres of land with a huge parking space made available for thousands of buses and vehicles, the venue looks like a big tented village where pilgrims sleep, say prayers and eat together.
‘Despite having to sleep under tents in cold and inhospitable weather, there is no let-up in our resolve to make this country a cradle of peace, a country free of suicide attacks and explosions,’ Khan said.
Hundreds of camps and sub-camps set up on the dusty ground accommodate people from cities across Pakistan.
Stalls sell cooked food, raw chicken and meat, vegetables and fruit, even electrical appliances and batteries for mobile phones at a subsidised rate.
A mixture of aromatic Pakistani dishes ranging from as little as 10 to 20 rupees gives the religious gathering a festival feel.
Faced with near-daily attacks, concentrated most heavily in the northwest, many mourn the mounting civilian toll from bombings, often targeting market places, but lace their comments with pervasive anti-American fears.
‘Our hearts bleed for the hundreds of innocent people who have lost their lives… and our security officials who are being killed by the Taliban,’ said Mohammad Farooq, from northwest town Tank, where some of the tens of thousands displaced by fighting in South Waziristan have sought shelter.
‘The Taliban are enemies of Islam and humanity and advance only an American and Indian agenda — to destabilise Pakistan,’ said Farhan Hamad Khan, who had come from Dera Ismail Khan, where many other refugees are also living.
When the prayer leader gave the call to prayer, people rushed towards hundreds of temporary washrooms to make their ablutions.
As Mohammad Azhar, an Islamabad-based chartered accountant waited his turn, he remembered how Pakistan’s ‘icon of democracy,’ former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in a gun and suicide attack in 2007.
‘Her killers still roam around scot-free,’ said the bearded Azhar. ‘No religion, including Islam, allows the killing of humans.’
‘We need to hold gatherings like this one and inculcate in our people a true spirit of Islam, which is a code of life for all of us and not the kind of Islam that Taliban want to introduce.’
The prayer leader in his Friday sermon addressed the same issue.
‘A stern punishment awaits all those who refuse to follow commandments of Allah the almighty,’ he said into a pin-drop silence among the avid masses.