Tahirul Qadri is a man of many hats. Priest, protester, politician, public orator. He wears each with the same conviction. He weaves in and out of Parliament, the country and the political landscape effortlessly. Well, almost. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong. In 2014, the Punjab police tried to remove barriers on the road leading to the Lahore headquarters of Qadri’s Minhajul Quran educational complex. A violent clash between law enforcement and protesters resulted in over a dozen deaths in addition to over 100 people sustaining injuries. Qadri’s relationship with the Sharifs, whom he had once led in prayers in a Model Town mosque in the mid-1980s, had come full circle — the battle that had begun since their split in the late 1980s taking a bloody turn.
Born in Jhang to a respected prayer leader and preacher, Qadri – or Abdul Shakoor as he was named – got his religious spurs under the tutelage of Tahir Allauddin Al-Gilani, a Sufi saint and custodian of the shrine of Ghous-e-Azam Abdul Qadir Gilani in Baghdad. He then went on to study law at Punjab University. In 1981, he founded Minhajul Quran, a non-profit providing education, religious and cultural services. Qadri was known for his anti-jihad fatwas, a perceived antidote to the belligerence of militant Islamic outfits and their ideologies.
Qadri has also always harboured political ambitions. He founded his own political party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek, just in time for the 1990 general elections. The party managed to field popular personalities such as former Pakistani cricket team captain Fazal Mahmood. But it did not win a single seat. Disillusioned, Qadri turned his focus on his religious and scholarly endeavours before returning to the ballot in 2002. The lone seat won by the party belonged to Qadri himself.