Hardline Islamist preacher Khadim Hussain Rizvi, known as the blasphemy activist of Pakistan, died yesterday at a Lahore hospital. The cause of death is not certain yet. Some reports from Pakistan have attributed Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s death to Covid-19 while others to heart failure. He had fever and breathing difficulties leading to his death.
Confined to the wheelchair since a road accident in 2006, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, 54, was the chief of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party and was last seen leading a protest in Islamabad last week against the publication of Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons by a magazine in France.
THREE SIEGES OF ISLAMABAD
Last week’s protest was the third major blockade of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad in five years by Khadim Hussain Rizvi. His first had come in 2016, when he led the protesters to cut Islamabad off rest of the country demanding the hanging of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, and convicted by a court in 2010. She was finally acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2018.
In 2017, he again led his supporters in Islamabad demanding the resignation of Zahid Hamid, then law minister of Pakistan, over allegations of blasphemy for proposing a change in the wordings of oath-taking by elected legislators. Hamid was forced to resign.
The protests had lasted several weeks and saw violent clashes with police leading to the death of at least half-a-dozen people. At that time, Khadim Hussain Rizvi had claimed that he and his followers had picketed Islamabad for the protection of Khatm-i-Nabuwwat [the belief in the finality of Prophet Muhammad].
RISE OF RIZVI IN PAKISTAN
By this time, Khadim Hussain Rizvi had shown to the government in Pakistan that he could bring the establishment to its knees by fanning religious passion. But his rise began in 2011 when he became a national figure after one of his followers assassinated Salman Taseer, then governor of Punjab province of Pakistan. Khadim Hussain Rizvi had gathered thousands of followers as the Imam of the Pir Makki Mosque of Lahore.
The assassin Mumtaz Qadri was the bodyguard of Taseer, who was killed for airing his opposition to the blasphemy law. Khadim Husain Rizvi led an agitation for the release of Qadri. The agitation continued for five years and Qadri’s hanging turned it into an outfit called, the Tehreek-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah. Khadim Hussain Rizvi declared the protection of the blasphemy law of Pakistan as its objective.
Ahead of the 2018 parliamentary polls in Pakistan, Khadim Hussain Rizvi changed his outfit into a political party by the name of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and contested election without much success.
A HEADACHE FOR ESTABLISHMENT
Khadim Hussain Rizvi failed to make a mark in the election but his outfit received more than 22 lakh votes, which gave him confidence to criticise court judges and even the generals of the Pakistan Army in his rallies. He was in open conflict with the powerful in the Pakistani establishment. The acquittal of Aasia Bibi by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in October 2019 saw Khadim Hussain Rizvi hitting the streets once again.
But was arrested and thrown into jail on the charges of terrorism. He came out of jail in May 2019 after more than six months. Over the next few months, he remained relatively low profile. But Khadim Hussain Rizvi had started gaining traction in Pakistan once again in recent months. His public meetings would leave his supporters passionately shouting slogans vowing to do anything to fight blasphemy. The recent picketing of Islamabad was proof of Khadim Hussain Rizvi gaining in strength and becoming a big headache for the Pakistani establishment once again.
How much clout Khadim Hussaian Rizvi wielded in Pakistan can be gauged from the fact that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was prompt in expressing condolences on his death, posting a tweet late Thursday night. And, that funeral prayer for him would be held at the Minar-e-Pakistan, the national monument of the country on Saturday.