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memri
October 19, 2011 No.
4218

Sermon By Pakistani Cleric That Led To Assassination of Liberal Punjab Governor Salman Taseer; Former Chief Justice Defending Assassin

Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the assassin, was garlanded by Pakistani lawyers

Introduction

In Pakistan, a strong mass movement is being led by Sunni clerics against the death sentence handed down to Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri for assassinating liberal Punjab Governor Salman Taseer this year, and now a former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court is defending the assassin.

On January 4, 2011, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, 26, a member of the Punjab Elite Force which protects top Pakistani leaders, was deployed to guard Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. As the governor was coming out of a restaurant in the Pakistani garrison city of Rawalpindi, Qadri shot the liberal politician dead, for advocating of reforms in Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

Salman Taseer had campaigned for a presidential pardon for Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death over alleged reports that she committed blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri later acknowledged before police that he had killed Salman Taseer because he had called the blasphemy legislation a "black law."[1]

It emerged later that Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was inspired by a sermon delivered by Allama Muhammad Hanif Qureshi, a cleric and the founder of the Sunni religious organization Shabab-e-Islami Pakistan. Allama Muhammad Hanif Qureshi is an emerging orator in Pakistan's deeply religious society and a scholar of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a coalition of religious groups loyal to the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam. He is a teacher at the Jamia Rizvia Zia-ul-Uloom seminary in Rawalpindi, the city where the assassination took place.

The Barelvi school of Sunni Islam teaches unconditional love for the Prophet Muhammad and therefore Barelvi clerics are at the forefront of a mass movement to defend the country's blasphemy laws. Allama Muhammad Hanif Qureshi became more prominent after the assassination of Salman Taseer. The assassin told police during interrogation that he had been motivated by a young charismatic preacher from Rawalpindi – Allama Muhammad Hanif Qureshi. According to a report in The News daily, the assassin was inspired by at least two clerics, Imtiaz Hussain Shah and Muhammad Hanif Qureshi – both based in Rawalpindi.[2]

According to the assassin's confessional statement to the Rawalpindi police, Imtiaz Hussain Shah, the imam (prayer leader of the Rawalpindi-based Amana Masjid) and Muhammad Hanif Qureshi had delivered public speeches in Rawalpindi organized by the Shabab-e-Islami Pakistan on December 31, 2010, where they declared that Governor Salman Taseer and other advocates of reforms in Pakistan's blasphemy laws were Wajibul Qatal, i.e. liable to be killed as per Islamic law.[3]

According to a Pakistani media report, "The clerics were trying to convince the listeners, while citing certain verses of the Holy Koran, that Taseer was worth killing (Wajibul Qatal) for having committed blasphemy by labeling the blasphemy law a black law. During their speeches, the clerics narrated an event of blasphemy committed by a woman during the rule of Hazrat Abu Bakar Siddiq, the first Caliph of Islam, saying: 'The governor of the area where the woman lived awarded punishment to her over the act of blasphemy. As she approached the Caliph, seeking mercy, the latter decided against her and ordered that her teeth to be broken and fingers and tongue be cut for having committed blasphemy.'"[4]

Fired up by the December 31, 2010 sermon, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the assassin, met with Muhammad Hanif Qureshi and after the latter's motivation decided to assassinate Salman Taseer. The Pakistani investigators put the cleric's name on a list of most wanted persons.

However, both the clerics sought and were granted pre-bail by a Rawalpindi court, preventing their arrest.[5]

Pakistani Cleric's Sermon: "We Know How to Trigger a Gun... How to Behead Those Who Commit Blasphemy Against Our Beloved Prophet [Muhammad]; We Cannot Let Any Blasphemer Be Alive in Pakistan"

Pakistani cleric Allama Muhammad Hanif Qureshi

A video of the December 31, 2010 sermon later emerged on the Internet.[6] In the video, amid slogans of Allah-o-Akbar (God is the Great) and Ya Rasool Ullah (O Prophet of Allah), Allama Muhammad Hanif Qureshi says: "And Listen carefully! We are the heirs of the thoughts of Hazrat Ghazi Mureed Ubaid; we are the heirs of Ghazi Alamuddin Shaheed; we are those who love the spirit of Ghazi Abdur Raheem; and the followers of Ghazi Abdul Qayyum. [Ghazi being someone fighting an Islamic war.]

"And we explicitly say it without mincing any words that if the death penalty was not provided in Section 295-C [dealing with the blasphemy cases] for the blasphemers in that case Allah has given us the courage. We know how to trigger a gun, how to shoot somebody dead and how to behead those who commit blasphemy against our beloved Prophet [Muhammad]."

The crowd shouts: "We are the protectors of the dignity of the holy Prophet. We will sacrifice our lives for the dignity of the holy Prophet."

Allama Muhammad Qureshi says: "Let them know those who consider Sunnis are coward that Allah has honored us with the courage and power to strangulate those involved in blasphemy, to cut their tongues, and to riddle their bodies with bullets. For this, nobody can arrest us under any law."

Allama Muhammad Qureshi leads the audience: "The death of the blasphemer?" and the audience replies: "Death, death, death...."

The gathering raises the slogans: "We are the slaves of the holy Prophet. And ready to die for him..."; "If there is no love for the holy Prophet, life is useless"; "He who is the friend of the blasphemer is a traitor."

Allama Muhammad Qureshi says: "Dear listeners! We are very polite people. We are peace-loving people, but pledge an oath that you can't tolerate disrespect and blasphemy of our holy Prophet. It is altogether unacceptable for us. We cannot let any blasphemer be alive in Pakistan.

"I say it clearly; if the government is listening it should also note it down. Let that dog [blasphemer] out and you will see that even his body would turn beyond recognition. Bring him out of the security cordon, and you will see that those who disrespect the Holy Prophet is not liable to be alive in Pakistan. He has no right [to live]..."

Sunni Ittehad Council Chief: 'The Judge Who Awarded [Death] Penalty To Mumtaz Qadri Committed Kufr [Act of an Infidel]"

SIC Chairman Sahabzada Fazal Kareem

On October 1, 2011, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Rawalpindi sentenced Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri to death for the assassination of Salman Taseer.[7] Delivering the verdict, ATC judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah, who has since gone underground following death threats, said:[8]

"A proven blasphemer is wajibul qatal (liable to be killed). He cannot be forgiven. Only the Holy Prophet (PUBH) himself can forgive him. However at this stage two questions arise. Firstly, can a person who is leading a sinful life be termed an apostate? Secondly, if he is deemed an apostate, then who will execute him?

"Obviously individuals cannot be given the authority to judge someone an apostate, infidel or non-Muslim. Moreover, individuals cannot be allowed to execute the punishment on such persons because it will pave the way for anarchy, turmoil, restlessness and lawlessness in society. Therefore the defense plea in this regard is not helpful to the accused."

It appears that before killing the Punjab governor, the assassin had put to him a question regarding his views on blasphemy laws. The ATC judge rejected a defense plea that the assassination was a result of provocation by the deceased, saying: "The statements of the governor about blasphemy laws were published in 2010, and the murder was committed on January 4, 2011. Further, it was not the plea of the accused that the deceased made these remarks in his presence. The accused himself put a provocative question to Taseer as he was coming out of a restaurant in Kohsar market [of Rawalpindi] and it was not the deceased who provoked the killer."[9]

The Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) is an alliance of Barelvi religious organizations in Pakistan. It was formed by the Barelvi clerics to oppose the Taliban who are supported by the rival Deobandi clerics and scholars. However, the SIC has emerged as a Taliban-like force, at least on the issue of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. It is leading a country-wide protest movement against the death sentence to Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri.[10]

Referring to Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri's death sentence, SIC Chairman Sahabzada Fazal Kareem and Sahabzada Mian Saeed Ahmed Sharqpuri, another Barelvi cleric, declared that ATC judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah had committed an act of Kufr (an act of an infidel not permitted in Islam), thereby becoming an infidel.[11]

The Sunni leaders expressed these views in their addresses to Qaumi Khatm-e-Nabuwwat conference in the town of Kala Shah Kaku in Punjab. The Qaumi Khatm-e-Nabuwwat is a movement that enforces the belief that the Prophet Muhammad is the last prophet of God. The two clerics said: "The belief in the end of Prophethood [on Prophet Muhammad] is the basis of [Islamic] faith... the judge who awarded [death] penalty to Mumtaz Qadri committed Kufr [an act of an infidel."[12]

At the conference, various Barelvi clerics demanded the release of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, whom they described as "Ghazi" – someone who fights an Islamic war.[13] Among the clerics and other prominent persons who addressed the gathering were Pir Syed Mazhar Saeed Kazmi, Mufti Muhammad Iqbal Chishti, Allama Muhammad Rafiq Shah Jamali, Syed Riaz Shah, Maulana Mehboob Alam, Justice (retired) Mian Nazir Ahmed, Qari Ghulam Nabi Chishti and Professor Muhammad Abdul Aziz Niazi.

Former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court to Defend the Assassin

On October 7, 2011, Jamaat-e-Islami members in Karachi express support for the assassin

On October 11, 2011, the Islamabad High Court suspended the death sentence handed down to Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri.[14] The decision came amid mass protests in Pakistani cities, led by all Sunni organizations, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest religious organization in the country.

Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri has filed an appeal against his death. Among the high-profile supporters of the assassin are Justice (retired) Khwaja Muhammad Sharif, the former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court.

On October 10, Justice (retired) Khwaja Muhammad Sharif submitted his power of attorney on behalf of the assassin in the court. The announcement was made by Sharif's son Khwaja Bilal.[15] Bilal told The Express Tribune that his father would be dealing with Qadri's case on a top-priority basis and would not seek any adjournment.[16]

On October 11 when the Islamabad High Court suspended the death sentence against Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, Justice (retired) Khwaja Muhammad Sharif led the panel of defense lawyers for the assassin.[17]

Endnotes:

[1] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), January 5, 2011.

[2] The News (Pakistan), January 24, 2011.

[3] The News (Pakistan), January 24, 2011.

[4] The News (Pakistan), January 24, 2011.

[5] www.dawn.com (Pakistan), January 24, 2011.

[7] Roznama Express (Pakistan), October 2, 2011.

[8] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 2, 2011.

[9] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 2, 2011.

[10] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 4193, "Sunni Organizations in Pakistan Protest Against Death Sentence For Assassin of Liberal Governor Salman Taseer," October 9, 2011 (Sunni Organizations in Pakistan Protest Against Death Sentence For Assassin of Liberal Governor Salman Taseer)

[11] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), October 10, 2011.

[12] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), October 10, 2011.

[13] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), October 10, 2011.

[14] www.dawn.com (Pakistan), October 11, 2011.

[15] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 11, 2011.

[16] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 11, 2011.

[17] www.geo.tv (Pakistan), October 11, 2011.