The Lal Masjid (literally, "Red Mosque") is a descriptive name, as the building has red walls and a white dome.
The Lal Masjid is affiliated with two religious seminaries, one for men and one for women. The women's religious school (Jamia Hafsa) is adjacent to the mosque. The men's religious school (Jamia Faridia) is located a few kilometers away. Together, the two religious schools have a population of about 10,000 students.
The Lal Masjid is in downtown Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan. It is located near the Parliament building, and within walking distance of the headquarters for the ISI intelligence service.
The leader of the Lal Masjid at the time of its founding was Maulana Muhammad Abdullah, an outspoken cleric who supported the U.S.-sponsored rebellion against Soviet troops in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Maulana Abdullah was assassinated inside the mosque compound in the late 1990s. His two sons, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi, then took over leadership of the mosque in 1998.
The Lal Masjid was founded in 1965, and was a religious and political center for the city's elite and government officials. The mosque was rumored to have been organized and supported by the ISI intelligence service.
During the 1980s, the mosque helped recruit fighters for the Afghan rebellion against Soviet rule. In recent years, the mosque administration has called for Islamic law (sharia) to be imposed in Islamabad. The mosque leadership strongly criticized President Musharraf's decision to join the U.S. in its post-9/11 "war on terror," and calls for his assassination have been made from the mosque pulpit.
The Lal Masjid administration and students have been in an escalating conflict with government authorities since January 2007. Government officials accuse the mosque leadership of organizing a vigilante "vice-squad" which has conducted raids against brothels and internet cafes, and kidnappings of police officers and suspected prostitutes. In April 2007, the mosque administration set up its own Islamic court in violation of government sanctions. The conflict came to a head in July 2007 with a standoff between police forces and students and mosque leaders who barricaded themselves inside the mosque compound.
In the capital city of Islamabad, support for the Lal Masjid and its activities is reported to be limited. Most people are in favor of the government's attempts to assert authority. Support for the Lal Masjid primarily comes from the more conservative north-west frontier province, from where most of the seminary students come.