Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi has died in Lahore at the age of 54, his political party confirmed on Thursday night.
The cause of his demise wasn’t immediately clear.
According to the party’s spokesperson, Hamza, the TLP chief had been experiencing difficulty in breathing and was running a fever since yesterday.
The spokesperson added that Rizvi was at his madressah on Multan Road when his condition deteriorated on Thursday evening. He was subsequently rushed to the Farooq Hospital in Lahore, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. His body was being transported to his residence.
Pir Aijaz Ashrafi, a senior leader of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA), in a statement said the timings of his funeral prayers will be announced later.
His death was also confirmed by Dr Asif Ashraf Jalali, the head of TLYRA.
The firebrand cleric made his last public appearance at a sit-in staged by thousands of TLP followers at Islamabad’s Faizabad interchange to protest the publication of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in France.
The group had decided to end the sit-in on Monday after successful negotiations with the government.
Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri expressed grief and sorrow over the TLP chief’s demise. He said “Pakistan has lost a respected religious scholar and true admirer of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)”, adding that Rizvi’s services for Islam will be remembered for long.
Who is Khadim Hussain Rizvi?
Born in 1966 in the Pindi Gheb area of Attock district, Punjab, Rizvi was said to be an introvert who shied away from talking about his personal life even among his close circles, let alone with media personnel. A Hafiz-e-Quran and Sheikh-ul-Hadith, Rizvi used to deliver Friday sermons at Lahore’s Pir Makki Masjid, located near Daata Darbar, during his time in the Punjab Auqaf Department.
Rizvi had been confined to a wheelchair since 2006 ever since an accident near Gujranwala. Contrary to rumours, Rizvi was injured because the driver of his vehicle fell asleep while driving from Rawalpindi to Lahore.
Many mistook him as a Shia because of his last name, but in truth, he was a staunch follower of Imam Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, the 19th-century founder of the Barelvi sect.
In January 2016, Rizvi organised a rally in Lahore for the release of death-row convict Mumtaz Qadri at the mausoleum of Allama Mohammad Iqbal, without obtaining official permission. As a result, the Lahore police dispersed the crowd with the use of water cannons and baton charges.
Later in the year, in March, after the government hanged Mumtaz Qadri, who was convicted of killing then-Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, Rizvi along with some other Barelvi groups led a march to D-Chowk opposite the parliament in Islamabad. Marked by violence, the four-day-long sit-in came to an end after Owais Noorani, son of the founder of Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), late Shah Ahmed Noorani, brokered a truce.
In his last speech before dispersing from D-Chowk, Rizvi announced he would counter the then-ruling PML-N at every forum. It was only later on that he established his party, TLYRA, and applied for registration from the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Rizvi considered himself among the protectors of Khatm-i-Nabuwat and Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which is part of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
His persistent championing of the matter earned him the nickname of “blasphemy activist” in religious circles.
Rizvi’s first entry into mainstream politics was in the by-elections of NA-120, which fell vacant after the disqualification of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif. Since his party wasn’t registered at the time, he pushed his weight behind an independent candidate named Sheikh Azhar Hussain Rizvi. The TLYRA-backed Shiekh Rizvi bagged 7,130 votes in the elections held on September 17, 2017.
The first election contested by Rizvi’s party under the TLYRA banner was in NA-4 Peshawar, held on October 26, 2017. TLYRA candidate Dr Muhammad Ahafique Ameeni bagged 9,935 votes.
In October 2017, Rizvi led the 20-day sit-in at Islamabad’s Faizabad interchange against the modification to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath. The sit-in in the capital had culminated with the signing of the Faizabad agreement — seen as a complete surrender by the state — which was brokered by the army.
Aasia Bibi protests
Rizvi was among the most prominent leaders to have led the violent three-day protests across the country against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman whose blasphemy conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018.
Weeks later, he was arrested from his seminary in Lahore on Nov 24, 2018, after refusing to call off a protest sit-in that threatened to close down the capital.
He was booked on sedition and terrorism charges for incendiary speeches against the state and for inciting violence in the country during the protests.
Rizvi was eventually released on bail six months later in May 2019, against surety bonds worth Rs5 million each.