Amid much confusion late on Thursday night, news of Tehreek e Labbaik chief Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s death started floating on Twitter before they eventually made headlines. Less than an hour later, voice notes and videos were being forwarded on Whatsapp groups claiming the cleric had started breathing again.
As a large number of TLP supporters gathered at Rizvi’s residence to mourn the loss of their leader, an ambulance was summoned to the cleric’s house. A few minutes later, Khadim Rizvi was declared dead.
During the course of his life, Khadim Rizvi was called a firebrand cleric, a ‘blasphemy activist’ and much more. For many Pakistanis, his legacy was one built on spewing hate and inculcating fear.
When Imran Khan came into power with the PTI, promising a more progressive Pakistan or ‘Naya Pakistan’, the TLP strong-armed him into removing the recently appointed economics adviser Atif Mian for belonging to the minority Ahmaddiya community. The move was the start of Khan’s many ‘u-turns’ as Prime Minister.
In 2018, when Asia Bibi was acquitted, it was on Khadim Rizvi and the TLP’s behest that children left their classrooms only to block roads while holding signs that read, ‘Hang Asia!’. The same year, Rizvi’s party had also emerged as the fifth largest political party in the nation.
A year earlier, in 2017, Khadim Rizvi had led a 20-day sit-in at Islamabad’s Faizabad interchange, protesting the modification to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath. The protest finally came to an end when a deal was signed with the state, which was seen as a complete surrender.
3 months before the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the guard who was convicted of killing the sitting Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer at the time, Rizvi protested to have the death row convict released. Following Qadri’s death sentence being carried out in March 2017, Rizvi and other clerics led a 4 day sit-in that turned violent as demonstrators marched to the parliament in Islamabad.
It was Khadim Rizvi and the TLP that weaponised the highly sensitive blasphemy law, their numbers and might silencing not only the common Pakistani but also bending the state to their will. By effectively appointing himself and his followers as the protectors of Islam and the Prophet (PBUH), they pointed fingers left and right at those who stood against them, as not only their own foe but dubbing them an enemy of the religion as well.
The cleric’s passing is numbing in a sense, for a significant change has taken place, yet in the long run one name will barely make a dent in a movement that is upheld by so many. Ultimately it is the state and the government which must access how much power it gives to whom and what kind of legacy it lets its people leave behind.
Khadim Rizvi (1966-2020) May he rest in peace.