March 31, 2016 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 86

Pakistan's Execution Of Malik Mumtaz Qadri – The Ideology Of Blasphemy In Islam

March 31, 2016 | By Tufail Ahmad*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 86


On February 29, the Pakistani government executed Malik Mumtaz Qadri, an elite commando who assassinated Salman Taseer, the liberal governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, for advocating reforms in Pakistan's blasphemy laws. As soon as the report of Mumtaz Qadri's execution emerged, protests were organized by Islamic clerics across Pakistan, especially in the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Nawabshah, Quetta, Peshawar, Muzaffarabad and others.[1] Mumtaz Qadri was a member of the Elite Force of Punjab police when he was deployed to protect Governor Salman Taseer but instead assassinated him on January 4, 2011.

Large crowds turned out for the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri

Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws

In 2011, when a Pakistani court sentenced Mumtaz Qadri to death for the assassination, large-scale protests broke out across Pakistan, led by Sunni Islamic organizations.[2] On the issue of blasphemy, the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) - a group of Barelvi Sunni organizations that emerged in the last decade with some funding from the United States, as revealed by WikiLeaks[3] - holds views similar to jihadis, Deobandis, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS). After Mumtaz Qadri was sentenced to death, the SIC declared: "The judge who awarded [death] penalty to Mumtaz Qadri committed Kufr [act of an infidel]."[4]

Under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), there are several blasphemy laws: "Section 295-C: Use of derogatory remarks regarding the Holy Prophet of Islam" carries the death penalty and has been a subject of controversy in recent decades. Other blasphemy laws include: Section 298-C, which prohibits Ahmadi Muslims from calling themselves "Muslims" or preaching their faith; Section 295: Harming or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult a religion; Section 295-A: Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of any section of society by insulting its religion or religious beliefs; Section 295-B: Defiling the Holy Koran; Section 296: Disturbing religious assembly; Section 297: Trespassing on burial places; Section 298: Uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings; Section 298-A: Use of derogatory remarks regarding holy personages; Section 298-B: Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles reserved for certain holy personages or places; Section 298-C: Person of Ahmadi group calling himself a Muslim or preaching or propagating his faith.[5]

The definitions of blasphemy outlined in the above sections of the Pakistan Penal Code are agreed on by almost all sects of Islam. On March 9, 2016, Pakistani writer Aamir Mughal noted in an Urdu-language tweet that Islamic clerics of all sects participated in the funeral prayers for Mumtaz Qadri, stating: "Those [clerics from different Islamic sects] who call each other kafir and wajib-ul-qatl [liable to be killed for religious reasons] offered joint funeral prayers for Mumtaz Qadri..."[6] Mumtaz Qadri, a member of the Barelvi group Dawat-e-Islami, assassinated Salman Taseer because he thought the governor blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad by advocating reforms in the blasphemy laws. The blasphemy issue is not limited to Muhammad, but also all critical acts against the Koran or against Islamic caliphs and other historical personalities can be deemed blasphemous, as discussed in various sections of the PPC.

The Consensus On Blasphemy

On the issue of blasphemy, there are no real differences of opinion between various sects of Islam - whether between Barelvi and Deobandi sects of Sunni Islam, or between Shi'ites and Sunnis - though for reasons of expediency, some of them may differ on a certain case. Much like Mumtaz Qadri, the Shi'ite clerics in Pakistan have also opposed any likely reforms in Pakistan's blasphemy laws. On December 16, 2010, a group of Shi'ite scholars told their followers in Karachi that the Pakistani government cannot amend the blasphemy laws. A media report quoted Shi'ite cleric Maulana Shahanshah Hussain as telling the crowd: "Muslims in Pakistan will not accept any amendments to the blasphemy law."[7]

Between Sunni jihadist organizations like Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS) on the one hand, and the Shi'ite clerics across the world on the other, there is unanimity on the issue of blasphemy. To illustrate this point, much like Mumtaz Qadri, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini thought that British-Indian author Salman Rushdie committed blasphemy by writing The Satanic Verses and therefore he issued the infamous 1989 fatwa calling to kill him. In February 2016, it emerged that forty Iranian state-run media companies pulled together to raise a bounty of $600,000 to enforce the 1989 fatwa for the killing of Salman Rushdie.[8] Indeed, it was Imam Khomeini who started the global jihad in modern times.

In July 2015 I wrote: "While the jihadist groups were focused previously on a specific territory, the idea of an 'Islamic Internationale' seems to have originated in the following: the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini, the rise of Al-Qaeda and now of the Islamic State, which is practically a new version of Al-Qaeda itself."[9] On June 25, 2015, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) released a special issue of its magazine Resurgence, based exclusively on a lengthy interview with Adam Yahiye Gadahn, Al-Qaeda's American-born spokesman. In the posthumously published interview, Gadahn said: "Al-Qaeda from its inception has always been an 'Islamic Internationale.'"[10] There cannot be any doubt that Imam Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie strengthened the blasphemy movement in Islam across the world.

On January 7, 2015, jihadi brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi murdered staffers of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo following their theological conclusion that the editors had committed an act of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. In the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, Islamic cleric Maulana Naseeruddin led a funeral prayer in absentia for the two brothers on January 13, 2015.[11] I examined the responses from among young Indian Muslims on Facebook towards the two jihadi brothers in January 2015, concluding: "The ideas that drove the jihadists to kill the cartoonists and editors of Charlie Hebdo are very much alive in the streets of towns across India. A review of Facebook comments made by Muslim youths on the Paris shooting reveals that the geography of this radicalization in India is indeed wide, fertile and raw."[12]  

Avenging Blasphemy

Whether it is the Khomeini fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the jihadi attack on Charlie Hebdo, or Mumtaz Malik's assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, the Shi'ite clerics, as well as the Deobandi and Barelvi clerics of Sunni Islam, are united on the blasphemy issue. In a retort to a Muslim politician in India's Uttar Pradesh state last November, Hindu leader Kamlesh Tiwari described the Prophet Muhammad as "the world's first homosexual."[13] Consequently, anti-blasphemy protests were organized by Barelvi and Deobandi clerics across India. In the northern town of Bijnor, a cleric issued a death threat to Kamlesh Tiwari, saying: "Muslims of Bijnor have announced that 5.1 million rupees will be given for his beheading. The Muslims of Bijnor will give 5.1 million rupees to anyone who will behead him."[14]

There is a broad ideological movement in Islam for the support of blasphemy laws, which require Muslims to take the law into their own hands to kill a person who is accused of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, leading Urdu-language Pakistani daily Roznama Ummat published a 43-part series titled "Martyrs of the Prophet's Honor." A review of the series I had conducted revealed that the streets of Lahore in the 1920s and 1930s look liked the streets of Paris today - for similar reasons. The review revealed that those who avenged blasphemy included lone wolves such as Qazi Abdur Rasheed in December 1926 and Ghazi Ilmuddin in April 1929; Ghazi Murid Hussain, a lone wolf jihadi from the Sufi school of Islam; Ghazi Miyan Muhammad, a soldier who killed his soldier-colleague long before Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan did the same; and Babu Merajuddin, a soldier who stabbed a Sikh officer, among others.[15]

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda's position on this important theological principle, which is that anyone blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad must be killed, is no different. In March 2012, Ustad Ahmad Farooq, a top Pakistani Al-Qaeda official, defended the theological understanding that a person committing blasphemy must be killed by citing a case involving the Prophet Muhammad himself. After the Victory on Mecca, the Prophet had reportedly issued a general amnesty. However, Farooq said: "On the Day of Victory of Mecca, when all people were granted amnesty, the Prophet was informed that there were about 10 people, including women, who had committed blasphemy against him. He ordered that even if they are found hanging by the curtains of the Kaaba (the Holy Mosque of Mecca), they deserve no respect, and their blood should be spilled; and indeed it was spilled."[16]

It is therefore not surprising that a large number of Pakistanis turned took to the streets to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri on February 29. On March 1, the day after his hanging, large masses of people offered funeral prayers for Mumtaz Qadri, declaring him a martyr, though there was near-total blackout of the funeral by Pakistani television channels. To confront the menace of jihadist terrorism in Pakistan's social mainstream, television channels have in recent years stopped providing a pulpit to jihadist forces. Despite the media blackout, social networks such as Twitter and foreign news media carried reports indicating that Pakistanis turned out in large numbers in support of Mumtaz Qadri and attended his funeral, as the following images reveal.

Images Showing Large-Scale Support For Mumtaz Qadri

Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Mumtaz Qadri turned out for his funeral in Rawalpindi (Roznama Ummat, March 2, 2016)

In Peshawar, Jamaat-e-Islami leaders led by Sirajul Haq protest against Mumtaz Qadri's execution. The poster reads: "[We] strongly condemn the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri - Jamaat-e-Islami Peshawar."

Large crowds offer funeral prayers for Mumtaz Qadri in Rawalpindi

The March 2 Roznama Ummat news story on Mumtaz Qadri's last rites featured the following headline on its front page: "The Traveler to Heaven Has Entered Heaven"

Journalist Omar R. Quraishi tweeted on March 1: "Speakers at Mumtaz Qadri's funeral in Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi telling the crowd: 'You are his heirs'" (, March 1, 2016)

Image published by Roznama Ummat on March 2. The Urdu text reads: "The angels carried me into the Prophet's company"


* Tufail Ahmad is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He is the author of "Jihadist Threat To India - The Case For Islamic Reformation By An Indian Muslim."



[1] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), March 1, 2016.

[3] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), January 12, 2012.

[6], March 9, 2016.

[7] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), December 17, 2010.

[8], February 22, 2016.

[9] Open (, July 3, 2015.

[10] Resurgence, Special Issue, Summer 2015.

[12] Open (, January 16, 2015.

[15] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1154, Urdu Daily Publishes 43-Part Series On Islam's Blasphemy Laws - 'Martyrs Of The Prophet's Honor', April 19, 2015.

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