The man I met when the cameras were switched off
I first heard the name Khadim Hussain Rizvi in 2015 when a group protesting for the release of Mumtaz Qadri had started to make the news. Mumtaz Qadri was the man who was arrested for assassinating Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. This is the group that later came to be known as Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah. And after Qadri was sentenced to death, in 2016, it morphed into a political party: Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan.
This was the time when I was spending most of my time editing at the desk in the newsroom, and didn’t get much of a chance to get out and do any big stories as a reporter. When I’d watch Khadim Hussain Rizvi giving speeches, on the internet or on TV, I got the distinct impression that he was a dangerous man.
In 2017, we saw TLP hold out in a sit-in at Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad for 21 days. If nothing else, this was one of the first chances to see this party flex its political muscle.
A year later, in May 2018, when former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was attacked, we later came to learn that the attacker had been influenced by the TLP.
Similarly, in March 2019, when a student stabbed his professor to death at college in Bahawalpur, it emerged that he too had been quite taken by Khadim Hussain’s speeches. He began to harbor violent thoughts.
These two incidents proved one thing: Since the TLP had emerged, bloodshed and violence had gone up around issues centred on sacrilege and blasphemy.
Far more informed souls have held forth on Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his party, which is why my purpose to writing today is to share a glimpse into the man I met when the cameras were switched off.
I went to interview him after the 2018 elections. As I asked the questioned, his face took on the same look it did when he was pounding at the pulpit. His hardened stance on blasphemy issues was unwavering. But as the interview formally ended, I encountered a very different person.
As he spoke, he peppered his argument with couplets from Allama Iqbal and other poets. He called me “beta” and “bacha”.
This sufficiently softened demeanour emboldened me to venture forth to say I did not agree with his politics, or spilling blood in the name of religion.
As the words came from my mouth, I felt a coil of fear inwardly that he was take umbrage.
“It is not necessary that you be in agreement,” was all he said.
As I got up to leave, he said he wanted to present me something but had nothing on him. I said, a little baldly, that as a journalist I could not accept anything from an interviewee as it was against the ethics of the profession. But he had fished out 150 rupees from his pocked and tried to give it me.
It was at this moment that the fire-and-brimstone face returned. I paraphrase his words from the Urdu: When some chota came to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), he would never let them leave empty-handed.
I heard these words and silently took the money—because who in their right mind would come between Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s desire to perform a gesture in the spirit of Sunnat-e-Nabvi?