My Story by Hafiz Saeed

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed
Last week, the US announced a $10 million bounty on Lashkar-e-Toiba founder and Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who is accused of masterminding the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. Exactly a month ago, Saeed spoke to Roznama Ummat, an Urdu newspaper from Karachi, and his story, a first-person narrative, appeared as a four-part series. In the interview, Saeed talks in detail about his life and how the deep-rooted communal hatred generated by the bloodshed of Partition shaped his worldview. He also describes the journey of his family from a village in Haryana to Pakistan and how, years later, his teacher and the then Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, influenced him to set up Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Though Saeed is silent about his terror adventures, especially the role of his Lashkar-e-Toiba, the anecdotes in this autobiographical account help understand the man who founded one of the world's most dreaded terror outfits. These are excerpts translated from his narrative:

Early life and Partition

When our caravan finally reached Pakistan, 36 members of my family had been killed, including children. From my father, mother and other elders of the family, I have heard stories of barbarism committed on us by Hindus and Sikhs, and how we were forced to abandon our ancestral home in Haryana.

I belonged to a Gujjar family. My father, Kamal-ud-Din, was a farmer. In the fall of 1947, our family started migrating from Haryana and reached Pakistan in around four months. My father told me that when they left Haryana, there were 800 people in the caravan and most of them belonged to our family. They began the journey by train but then they started hearing stories of how rioters were stopping trains and killing Muslim migrants on their way to Pakistan. Our family decided to travel by foot. Finally, they entered the borders of Pakistan in March 1948.

My mother told me that once the caravan reached Jaranwala tehsil of Faisalabad, I was born. If I had been born two-three months ago, perhaps I would have been killed as well.

Because of the riots of 1947, our land in Haryana was snatched from us. We had some agricultural land there. After migration, our family resettled in Sargodha district. Our initial days there were extremely difficult. We did not have an inch of land or even a hut to live in. Our family was deep in poverty. A few of our relatives who had migrated from India before us had settled in a small village called Chakh 126 in Sargodha. They sheltered my father in a one-room mud house with a thatched roof. It was here that I spent the first several years of my life. My father opened a small kirana shop. After some time, once we were registered as migrants, the government gave us 15 acres of agricultural land and my father started farming again.

I vividly remember everything from the time I was seven years old. I am the oldest of five siblings—three brothers and two sisters. My mother was very religious and after a few years in Pakistan, she opened a madrasa where she would give religious education to children of the village. I was nine when she made me memorise the Koran. As a child, I was beaten up by my father twice, and both times it was because I had missed prayers.

Though I used to play football in my village, kabaddi and wrestling were my favourite games. The way kabaddi is played in villages is different from the kabaddi of cities. Our game was a show of strength and included beating up each other. Those were good old days.

Our teachers were hardworking and sincere. In winters, they would keep the school open till 11 p.m. Once, I went to my aunt's house without notice. When I came back, the teacher beat me with a stick. The beating was so severe that I fell ill. I still remember that beating. But I think it was genuine punishment.

Those days, after school, I would help my father in the fields. For matriculation, I joined a school in Sargodha city. I had to walk one-and-a-half kilometres to the nearest railway station to go to school. Later, my maternal uncle Hafiz Abdullah, who taught at the university in Bahawalpur, asked my father to send me to Bahawalpur for education. So I took admission in a school there. I was in class IX when the 1965 war (with India) began. Our village was adjacent to the air force base in Sargodha so I saw this war closely. There used to be rumours in our village that Indian paratroopers would be landing nearby. To confront them, I made a group of 30-40 boys and we would guard the village, armed with sticks.

After the 1965 war, life came back to normal. In 1966, I completed my matriculation (class X) with first division from the government school in Bahawalpur and subsequently took admission in the city's SE college. During those days, I took a lot of interest in extra-curricular activities. I also took part in the college elections, was made in charge of the hostels, and captained the football team. However, I always disliked cricket. I graduated in psychology and philosophy.

As soon as I graduated, I got married. This is a very interesting story. After graduation, I returned to Sargodha and was preparing for admission in University. It was 1970. One day, my father received a postcard from my uncle asking him to bring me along with him to Bahawalpur. We immediately left for Bahawalpur and reached by late afternoon. Once we reached there, my father told me that my uncle wanted me to marry his daughter and, like an obedient son, I agreed. So after the evening prayers in the local mosque, I was married.

After I got married, I went to Lahore and took admission in the University. University life was full of adventures. I took part in student politics and joined Islami Jamiat-e-Tulba. Some of today's prominent politicians (of Pakistan), Javed Hashmi and Farid Paracha were with me at University. It was around this time that the fall of Dhaka took place. It was very traumatic for me and it continues to haunt me. So in 1972, I played a prominent role in the (anti-) Bangladesh movement. In fact, the first time I was imprisoned was because of my involvement in the movement.

I completed two Masters from Lahore University—in Arabic and Islamic studies. In 1974, I was recruited as a research assistant at the Islamic Ideological Council. After seven months, I was appointed a lecturer at the University of Engineering & Technology in Lahore where I taught for 25 years.

The turning point

The year 1981 was a turning point in my life. While teaching in the University, I received a scholarship for further studies in Saudi Arabia. I studied for two years at King Saud University in Riyadh. In those days, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz was the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia. He used to come to teach in a mosque every morning and I would attend those classes. The time I spent with Sheikh bin Baz left a deep impression on my mind. If I had not met him, perhaps the idea of setting up Jamaat-ud-Dawa would not have come to me. (Sheikh bin Baz taught Osama bin Laden too. However, Saeed says that Osama wasn't there during the time that he studied under Shiekh bin Baz.)

In 1983, I returned from Saudi Arabia and started teaching at Engineering University again. Simultaneously, I actively started thinking about Jamaat-ud-Dawa. In fact, Sheikh bin Baz had set up an institution called Markaz-Dawat-ul-Irshad to preach Islam across the world. I was so influenced by it that I decided to set up a similar institution in Pakistan. Thus, in 1985, I laid the foundation of Jamaat-ud-Dawa with five-six founding members. Among them were Zafar Iqbal, who was my colleague at the University, and Yahya Mujahid, who is now the spokesman of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. We started on a small scale by printing literature and going to teach people in their own drawing rooms. Those days, I used to go around on a bicycle. Our focus was on areas around Engineering University, which is situated in Baghbanpura in Lahore. Later, we started a magazine called Dawa, which was banned by Pervez Musharraf.

We have worked with focus. Today, Jamaat-ud-Dawa has 142 dispensaries across the country. Similarly, we have five big hospitals—in Karachi, Hyderabad, Gujranwala, Muridke, and Dera Ismail Khan. We have 97 ambulances. Besides, we run 170 schools across the country. It is ironic that while a ban has been imposed on Jamaat-ud-Dawa by the US and the UN, they appreciate our humanitarian efforts. After the earthquake of 2005 and the floods of 2010, the manner in which activists of Jamaat-ud-Dawa worked has been praised by the United Nations. In fact, relief agencies working for the UN have been cooperating with Jamaat-ud-Dawa. (Saeed denies that Jamaat-ud-Dawa has anything to do with Lashkar-e-Toiba or that he was ever its chief but says he supports jihad for the freedom of Kashmir and sympathises with Lashkar-e-Toiba).

After 9/11, Pakistan did a U-turn on Kashmir, imposed a ban on Lashkar-e-Toiba and I was targeted. In 2002, during Musharraf's reign, I was imprisoned at the Sahala rest house which was turned into a sub jail. During that time, my mother was critically ill and was admitted in a hospital in Lahore but I was not allowed to meet her. When she died, Musharraf allowed me to attend her burial on the condition that she would be buried in our village in Sargodha.

Three months later, I was released on a court order but Musharraf was not happy. Within 14 days, I was arrested again and for the next six months, the government kept denying my arrest. In a way, I had become a 'missing person'. Because of the pressure exerted by the court and the media, I was finally taken to my home where I was put under house arrest.

During my imprisonment, I would write letters to Musharraf after every wrong decision he took. I wrote to him soon after 9/11 when he signed agreements with America that were not in the interests of Pakistan. Jamaat-ud-Dawa also organised a big rally in Lahore where people spoke against Musharraf's decisions. Perhaps that made Musharraf angry.

Family and remarriage

I have two brothers. One of them teaches Economics at Islamic University while the other is involved in religious work. I had three children from my first wife, but one of them, my daughter, died. My son Talha Syed teaches in Lahore University. In 2002, I married for a second time. My second wife's husband had been martyred leaving her with five children. At that time, there were 150 widows of such martyrs who needed support. After my wedding, several activists of my organisation followed my example and married widows of martyrs. My first wife objected to my second marriage but my son supported me. Finally, my first wife agreed. I have a son and a daughter from my second wife. My father was very open with us and I am the same with my children. My children tell me whatever they have in mind, and I do not usually get angry.

'Freedom' for Kashmir

I am emotionally attached to the issue of freedom for Kashmir. I strongly believe that India will have to eventually leave Kashmir. If the superpower of its time, the Soviet Union, could not occupy Afghanistan and the present superpower, US, is preparing to leave Afghanistan defeated, India also cannot stay in Kashmir. Jamaat-ud-Dawa has always supported the freedom of Kashmir and I will continue my role for the defence of the country and the struggle of Kashmiris.

Translated by The Indian Express

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