The imam of one of Britain’s biggest mosques has praised a religious extremist in Pakistan who was recently executed for murdering liberal politician Salman Taseer, triggering a controversy.
Imam Maulana Habib Ur Rehman of the Glasgow Central Mosque – the largest in Scotland – supported killer Mumtaz Qadri in a series of WhatsApp messages, the BBC reported on Friday.
Qadri, a former police commando, was hanged on February 29 after he gunned down Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who opposed Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
Qadri was working as a bodyguard for Taseer when he pulled out a gun and shot him 28 times in 2011 in broad daylight in an upmarket locality of Islamabad.
Pakistan has some of the strictest blasphemy laws in the world, which can carry a potential death sentence for those judged to have insulted Islam.
The imam’s messages, seen by the BBC, detail how he was “disturbed” to hear of Qadri’s death and gave him the religious blessing usually reserved for devout Muslims.
The imam said he was “disturbed” and “upset” before he wrote the messages, seeking God’s mercy be upon Qadri.
In another message, he wrote: “I cannot hide my pain today. A true Muslim was punished for doing which [sic] the collective will of the nation failed to carry out.”
Later, the imam claimed the messages were taken out of context and that he was expressing his opposition to capital punishment in Pakistan.
He told the BBC: “The assassination of Salman Taseer is widely condemned.
“Whether I agree or disagree with the views he expressed, as an Imam and as a human being I express abhorrence at the manner in which he was executed.
“The execution was not in accordance with Islamic teachings and principles.”
He said: “Mumtaz Qadri’s execution is condemned as it is not in accordance with due process nor is it in accordance with Islamic teachings and principles.
“Capital punishment on this particular occasion was inappropriate and any expressions of sympathy or compassion are extended in my capacity as a private individual and not in any professional or public capacity,” The Daily Record quoted him as saying.
Reacting to the imam’s remarks, lawyer and activist Aamer Anwar accused the religous leader, who condemned the Brussels bombings, of “rank hypocrisy”.
He told BBC Scotland many people within the community were scared the views would “filter down the Muslim community and radicalise our children”.