The cleric whose video on an Aurat March poster went viral believes that women shouldn’t leave their homes without “purdah” and should do so only if they absolutely “need” to.
His video giving a sermon went viral on March 19 on social media. In it he interpreted a poster that said ‘Mera Jism, Meri Marzi’. He said: “My body my choice… your body your choice… Then men’s body men’s choice… They can climb onto anyone they want.”
The cleric is Maulana Dr Manzoor Ahmad Mengal and his Friday sermon was delivered at Jamia Siddiqia in Karachi on March 15. His rather bald description of the poster was: “It’s an open call for fornication and adultery.”
This is not the first time Mengal has spoken on such a topic. A similar video of one of his sermons circulated last year in May in which he made strongly worded comments about both men and women.
SAMAA Digital went to meet him at his seminary, which is located a few kilometers from the Northern Bypass, to ascertain his motivations to speak on the topic and ask about the influences that may have shaped his worldview.
Maulana Mengal is seen as quite jovial and quick to elicit laughs in his circles. He takes an unmistakably sarcastic tone in his public sermons and doesn’t shy from commenting on any subject. Anyone who has attended his khutbas will tell you that he has a ready opinion on a wide range of topics, from marital relations to jihad.
For example, Maulana Mengal believes that a woman should not leave her home without “purdah” or an absolute “need” to do so because, “Satan stares at her and says I am accursed and I will cast a slur on your face”. And in another example, Mengal said he did not endorse jihad by an individual. He said that only the State can give a call for jihad. Like other clerics, he is an advocate of jihad in Afghanistan. “You know that the Muslims in Afghanistan are oppressed and late Zia-ul Haq was sympathetic to them,” he told SAMAA Digital. “So when they come here, we serve them.”
Maulana Mengal hails from Khuzdar district, village Wadh in Balochistan. He describes himself as an “aziz” of Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the chief of the Balochistan National Party. He did his PhD from Sindh University in 1991 and is a student of Maulana Saleemullah Khan, who formed Jamia Farooqia in Shah Faisal Colony in 1967. It is one of the most recognised Deobandi institutions in the country. And Maulana Saleemullah Khan, who passed away in 2017, was an esteemed cleric of the Deobandi school of thought, who taught many big names, including Maulana Rafi Usmani and Taqi Usmani. Mengal describes Maulana Saleemullah Khan as pious and a man of principles.
“I stayed at Jamia [Farooqia] for 30 to 32 years,” Mengal said, adding that he led prayers there for 28 years. In 2013, he opened his own madrassa where he teaches clerics translations of the Holy Quran. Maulana Mengal is popular among his students who call him ustaad-ji. They said that they believe that their maulana’s teachings will help them please Allah. Over 1,500 students study in his seminary and from them over 1,100 live on campus.
The organizers and participants of the Aurat March said that they have been receiving threatening messages from unknown numbers and social media accounts since the video of Maulana Mengal’s sermon went viral.
Mengal is nonplussed and denies issuing any threats. “They are not doing it after my statement but it’s their honour,” he said, referring to his video and the people making the threats. “We have given the Azaan. Everyone offers Namaz and they all have been informed that it’s time to offer Namaz.” His analogy is based on the logic that he simply made a statement and is not responsible for who responds to it.
Unlike many clerics, Mengal is not a member of any political party. However, he supports Moulana Fazl-ur-Rehman’s Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam. He has, however, been publicly seen with ASWJ chief Maulana Ludhyanvi and Aurangzaib Farooqui, another firebrand cleric, at many documented events whose videos have been posted on Facebook and YouTube.
The ASWJ, formerly known as Sipah-e-Sahaba, was a proscribed organization until June 2018.
Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted killer of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer who was hanged in 2016, is one of the people Mengal respects. It is worth mentioning that Qadri subscribed to the Barelvi school of thought and Mengal to the Deobandi.
Mengal is also a member of Wafaqul Madaris curriculum committee. He is thus one of the people responsible for giving input on what madrassa students should be taught in Pakistan.
He is one of the members of the government’s committee that was formed to check the translations of the Holy Quran. After the committee gives its approval, the translations will be included in the secondary school course books in the country.
* An earlier version of this article mentioned Maulana Manzoor Mengal is a supporter of ASWJ. He has since clarified that he supports Moulana Fazl-ur-Rehman’s JUI-F.