Page last updated at 23:15 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 00:15 UK

One cleric's legacy of peace

By Bill Law
BBC Radio 4, Crossing Continents

Jamia Naeemia
The Lahore madrassa that opposed the Taliban

Pakistani madrassas, religious schools, are often seen in the west as incubators for terrorism. Most do not fit that stereotype.

Madrassas stress Koranic studies but many also provide what is called a modern education - maths, sciences, computer technology. They provide free education where the state cannot.

I recently visited one that paid a terrible price for its moderate stand. Jamia Naeemia is a madrassah in Lahore.

On the 12 June this year, the Imam, Dr Safrez Naeemi, was talking to a student in his office. Dr Naeemi had drawn international attention by speaking out against the Taliban.

He had issued a fatwa condemning suicide attacks.

Students at Jamia Naeemia
Students continue their studies despite the murder of Dr Naeemi

In planning my trip I had arranged to speak to Dr Naeemi about the message of moderation he was preaching. It was not to be.

On that day, 12 June, a young man walked into his office and detonated a bomb jacket. Dr Naeemi, the student and the bomber died instantly.

Killing Dr Naeemi sent a chilling message from the extremists to religious moderates - criticise us, condemn us and we will kill you. The space for dialogue in a dangerously divided Pakistan narrowed even further.


While I was there, the office was being repaired but windows in the student dormitories above the courtyard were still blown out, and outside walls scarred with the impact of the explosion.

Raghib Naeemi
Raghib Naeemi is determined his father's message of peace will be his legacy

Muhammed Raghib Hussein Naeemi, Dr Naeemi's son, heard about the attack in a phone call while he was driving.

He says he was angry, very angry but he knew immediately what he had to do.

"I realised that I would have to be very calm. So I ordered all of my father's students not to harm anyone, not to start fires, not to kill anyone."

Raghib Naeemi says that what the Taliban wanted was to create further instability in an already insecure city:

"Those people who planned this nasty action against my father, they thought that after he died there would be violence, there would be riots and killing of other people."

I talked to one of Dr Naeemi's students and asked him how he felt about the suicide bomber. He paused and I could feel his sadness and then he said:

"The suicide bomber was just a child, he knew nothing about it, whether he was doing right or wrong. He was brainwashed and he was doing what he was given training for."


The extremists feed off the widespread anger amongst Pakistan's estimated 100 million young people. Many have no education, no jobs, no future.

Raghib Naeemi says the Taliban understand how badly Pakistan has failed to provide for its citizens and exploit that knowledge skilfully:

"Violence is in our society. When young people express their views, they express them very violently and this anger is in all our young people. And whoever puts a small fire to their anger - it will explode".

Dr Naeemi's grave with banner
The banner by Dr Naeemi's grave says that he was a martyr

Raghib Naeemi and the students he has inherited from his father say they will continue to denounce violence.

As we leave I pass the place where Dr Naeemi is buried. The soil on the grave is still fresh. And on the wall is a banner. It says in Urdu:

"Dr Safrez Naeemi, martyred. Long live Islam. Long live Pakistan."

I learn later that just about the time I am leaving the madrassa a suicide bomber has blown himself up in an attack on a bus in Rawalpindi.

He was said to be 20 years old.

Crossing Continents: Pakistan is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 23 July 2009 at 1100 BST and repeated on Monday, 27 July at 2030 BST.

You can also listen to Crossing Continents on the BBC iPlayer or subscribe to the podcast .

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