February Issue 2011
Blinded by Faith
Maulana Mohammad Yousaf Qureshi, the Khateebor chief cleric of the historic Mahabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar, is fond of announcing monetary rewards to eliminate people he considers as blasphemers.
On December 3, at a public gathering in Peshawar, he announced a reward of Rs 500,000 to any person who killed Aasiya Bibi, the 45-year-old Christian woman sentenced to death by a lower court in the Punjab on blasphemy charges whose cause Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was espousing before he was brutally gunned down.
The maulana, also the head of a madrassa, Jamia Ashrafia in Peshawar, had earlier announced a reward for anyone who killed the Danish cartoonist responsible for the “blasphemous” caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), that had enraged Muslims worldwide, in 2006. Nobody has been able to do the needful and claim the monetary reward yet. But the maulana continues to stand by his word and says he would pay head money to anyone who does the deed. Talking to reporters recently, he said he hasn’t changed his mind — even after the assassination of Punjab governor Taseer by his police bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri. Surprisingly, nobody in the government or the police questioned him about his grand offers, while both the Pakistani and international media carried the news. Some moderate writers and groups are demanding action against him for inciting violence, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Justifying his stance, the elderly cleric said he had warned the rulers, including the president, prime minister, governors and chief ministers, to refrain from making comments on the Blasphemy Law and supporting those convicted by the courts in such cases. He threatened that government functionaries could stop him and other clerics from making such statements, but they would not be able to stop Muslims who love the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and serve as policemen, soldiers and security guards, or work in the fortified houses of the ruling class. “I had stated this in the same gathering where I announced the reward for anyone who killed Aasiya Bibi. And this is exactly what happened when Salmaan Taseer was assassinated. I had issued a timely warning, but they didn’t heed me,” maulana Yousaf Qureshi was quoted as saying. According to the maulana, the Blasphemy Law was a good law and the government should not try to repeal or amend it, or else it would trigger trouble and the rulers would be responsible for the consequences.
Maulana Qureshi is well-known in Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because he leads the prayers in one of the biggest and oldest mosques in the provincial metropolis, is a well-wisher of the Jamaat-i-Islami and has been attending the party’s rallies. His late brother maulana Ashraf Qureshi was also a known religious scholar in the province.
It is pertinent to mention here that a PML-Q politician Sardar Ebaad Dogar of Khangarh (Multan), who had announced a reward of Rs 20 million for anyone who killed Taseer, had been arrested by the police soon after the governor’s assassination, and then freed. Maulana Yousaf Qureshi, on the other hand, has not been charged nor arrested to date. He continues to give khutbas at a mosque, which comes under the waqf’s jurisdiction.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.