Slain religious scholar Maulana Sami-ul-Haq

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Prominent religious scholar Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, who was stabbed to death at his residence in northern Rawalpindi city of Pakistan on Friday, was known for his moderate and accommodating personality despite being widely branded as the “Father of Taliban” because of having a degree of influence on the Afghan Taliban.

Born in December 1937 at Akora Khattak, a small town in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) province, Haq got his religious education from Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary, which had been founded by his father and political mentor Maulana Abdul Haq.

He studied Fiqa’h (Islamic law), Arabic literature, and Arabic grammar, Tafseer (explanation of Quran), and Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad).

After the death of his father in 1988, Haq was chosen as the principal of Darul Uloom Haqqania, where several Afghan Taliban leaders, including their slain founding leader Mullah Omer, reportedly studied. For this reason, he was often referred to as the "Father of Taliban". Haq served in that capacity till his death.

Haq, who had served as a teacher at Darul Uloom Haqqania before being chosen as principal, taught thousands of students Fiqah Tafseer, and Hadith during his teaching career spanned over five decades.

Western media often portrayed Haq as “hardliner” because of his alleged connections with the Taliban and anti-American views but it openly praised him when he supported the government’s anti-polio drive urging parents, mainly in conservative Pashtun belt to immunize their children.

His support came as a booster for the drive at a time when anti-polio workers could not enter scores of areas in the country, especially in KP province and northwestern tribal belt along the Afghan border, because of the Pakistani Taliban and the locals who considered them being part of a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children.

Despite being considered a pro-Taliban figure, Haq vehemently opposed suicide attacks on security forces and civilians in Pakistan.

According to Hamid Mir, an Islamabad-based political and security expert, Haq faced life threats for supporting the anti-polio drive, and opposing suicide attacks in the country.

Saleem Safi, an Islamabad-based expert on Afghan affairs, however, refused to acknowledge that Mullah Omer had ever been Haq’s student.

“This is just a myth. Neither Mullah Omer had ever been his student nor had he studied at Darul Uloom Haqqania. I challenge those who introduced this myth to prove that,” Safi told Anadolu Agency.

However, he said, several; Taliban and former Mujahidddin leaders had studied at Darul Uloom Haqqania from 1970s to 1990s.

“But, this does not mean they were under his influence. Yes, they respect him very much as a religious scholar and their supporter”, he maintained.

Afghan Taliban in a statement on Saturday pronounced Haq’s “martyrdom” a great loss for the “entire Muslim Ummah and specifically for the Muslim nation of Pakistan.”

A seven-member delegation of the Afghan High Peace Council headed by Maulvi Attaullah Lodin met different Pakistani religious scholars including Haq in Islamabad last month and sought his help in restoring peace to the country.

"We assured the Afghan delegation that we are ready to play a role in bringing peace to Afghanistan," Haq had told Anadolu Agency.

– Political career

Apart from religious activities, Haq played an active role in the country’s politics.

He started his political journey from the platform of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) — the country’s one of the two mainstream religious parties — in late 1970s.

The party, which represents the Deobandi school of thought in Pakistan, was split into two factions in 1985, propelling Haq to join the rival faction of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, a leading political figure and a former opposition leader in the National Assembly.

Haq later became head of his own JUI faction in early 1990s. He was founding member and part of several religious and political alliances, including Pak-Afghan Defense Council — a conglomerate of different political and religious parties — against the U.S invasion of Afghanistan in 2002.

Also, he was a founding member of the six-party religious alliance — Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal — which swept the elections in KP province and other parts of the country in 2002. Haq later parted his ways with the alliance due to his differences with Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, who was a student of his father at Darul Uloom Haqqania.

He was member of the Senate from 1985 to 1991 and again from 1991 to 1997.

In the July general election, he aligned with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.

For quite some time, he remained away from active politics mainly because of inexorable advance of age, and multiple diseases.

He contested his last senate elections in 2016 from KP with the PTI’s support but he suffered a defeat.

“He was very accommodating. He not only remained part of religious alliances but also an ally of conventional political parties like Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and PTI,” Safi observed.

“Another interesting part of his personality was that he appeared to be a hardliner about his ideology but practically he was very moderate and accommodating, and always stood alongside the state,” he maintained.