ISLAMABAD – A controversial Pakistani cleric who runs an Islamic seminary for girls in the capital, Islamabad, has named the school’s newly built library in honor of Osama bin Laden, his spokesman and a school administrator said Friday.
The tribute is an unusual first, though there have been cases in recent years of Pakistanis naming their sons — or even their stores and places of business — after slain al-Qaida leader.
Bin Laden was killed in a May 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs in his hiding place in Abbottabad, a garrison town about 125 km (75 miles) north of Islamabad. The unilateral raid at the time angered the Pakistani government, which said the United States had violated the country’s sovereignty.
In the immediate aftermath of bin Laden’s death, Islamists held small rallies across Pakistan to denounce the killing. The slain terrorist chief is still regarded as a hero by most students at Islamic schools, or madrassas.
The madrassas are an important aspect of education in the predominantly Muslim Pakistan, and tens of thousands of students study there. Most of the religious schools provide free food, tuition and even board for students who come from other parts of the country.
For cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, bin Laden was also a hero and a “martyr” for Islam and he wanted to pay a proper tribute by naming the school’s library after the al-Qaida chief, the cleric’s spokesman, Tehsin Ullah, said.
Aziz has long been considered a hard-line and controversial cleric. He is also a prayer leader at the Pakistani capital’s Red Mosque — a former militant hideout that the army raided in 2007. The raid killed dozens of extremists and others and unleashed a wave of retaliatory militant attacks across Pakistan.
The mosque runs two schools, one for boys and one for girls. The girls’ school, called Jamia Hafsa, has an all-female staff and about 1,500 students. As a madrassa, it is moderate in size and considered somewhat prestigious.
The newly constructed, one-room library is located inside the school compound, next to a computer room and Aziz’s office. A paper sign posted on the library’s wooden door reads, in Arabic, “Maktaba Osama bin Laden Shaheed” — or, Library Osama bin Laden, the Martyr.
“Aziz thinks that Osama bin Laden is a hero and he is a martyr and that is why he selected Osama bin Laden’s name for the library,” Ullah, the spokesman, said.
Abdul Rehman, the school administrator, said the library was built two months ago and was named after bin Laden over a month ago — something that raised little attention until media picked it up.
There were no visible books or portraits of bin Laden inside the library, and Rehman stressed it can only carry books about the teachings of Islam. He refused to discuss bin Laden or the U.S. commando raid that killed the al-Qaida chief.
However, students from both the boys and the girls’ madrassa run by Aziz have participated in anti-U.S. protests in recent years, and the cleric himself is also known for his anti-American stance.
Reporters visiting the girls’ madrassa Friday were not allowed to talk to any of the students or the staff. Rehman said Islam doesn’t allow men who are not family members to interact with female students or teachers.