A group of over 500 Pakistani scholars and clerics have described the policeman who gunned down Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer as a Ghazi (an Islamic warrior) and have warned against any expression of sympathy for the slain Pakistan People's Party leader, saying it would tantamount to an act of blasphemy.
Warning the people against offering funeral prayers for Taseer, 66, the clerics of Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan, a grouping representing the moderate Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims, praised Elite Force policeman Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri and called him a Ghazi.
The outspoken Taseer, who was known for his liberal views and who supported changes in the controversial blasphemy law, was gunned down in a posh market in the heart of Islamabad on Tuesday.
The clerics said in a statement issued on Tuesday night, "There should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet Mohammed are themselves indulging in blasphemy."
Hailing Malik, the clerics said he had killed Taseer for calling the blasphemy law a 'black law'.
Hailing the 'courage and zeal' of Qadri, the clerics and scholars said his action had made all Muslims proud.
A leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party's 'ulema' or clerics wing led Taseer's funeral prayer on Wednesday afternoon after several leading clerics of Lahore, including the imams of the Data Darbar shrine and the Shahi Masjid, refused to do so.
The cleric of the mosque at the Governor's House, who is a Barelvi, refused to lead the prayer, sources said.
The statement issued by the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan was endorsed by the grouping's 'ameer' or chief Syed Mazhar Saeed Shah Kazmi. It was also endorsed by over 500 scholars and clerics like Allama Syed Riaz Hussain Shah, Shah Turab-ul-Haq Qadri and Pir Ghulam Siddiq Naqshbandi.
Those 'favouring the person who indulged in blasphemy are themselves blasphemous', the scholars and clerics said in the statement.
Paying tribute to Taseer's assassin and his courage, the statement described Qadri as a lover of the Prophet Mohammed and a Ghazi or Islamic warrior.
Qadri had "revived the 14-century-old traditions of Islam" and made Muslims around the world proud, it said.
The clerics and scholars asked intellectuals, ministers, politicians and media personalities who oppose the blasphemy law to learn a lesson from Taseer's death.
These personalities should "save their faith by announcing that they would desist from attempting to amend the blasphemy law," they said.
The Tehrik Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat, which has been spearheading the campaign to oppose the repeal or amendment of the blasphemy law, too issued a statement that said Taseer had violated the laws of the land by supporting Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet.
Taseer's "irresponsible acts while in the office of the Punjab governor were inappropriate and offended" the Muslims of Pakistan, the group claimed.
Though a majority of Pakistanis adhere to the moderate school of thought, the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan has thrown its weight behind the campaign, opposing the repeal or amendment of the blasphemy law.
Image: Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri | Photograph: Reuters