Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan to mourn the death of Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed for killed a former governor over anti-blasphemy legislation.
Now, a shrine is being built to idolize the killer.
“It has hardly been a year since his execution yet the process of his canonisation is utterly complete,” writes Adil Pasha, a journalist for Dawn that visited the site.
“Despite being under-construction, it is occupied even at 9 AM on a Saturday by at least a dozen men. The attendees appear relaxed, perched next to his rose petal-covered grave. There is a shop outside the shrine that sells flowers and flaunts a meek collection of photographs of the assassin.”
Pasha notes that on the first day after his funeral, 80 million rupees ($760,000) were donated to build the shrine – an enormous sum for a country known for its abject poverty.
In the words of one vigilant graveside by-stander, “To pray at his grave is a guaranteed way to have it answered, for Qadri has earned a place at the side of the Prophet (PBUH) through his sacrifice.”
Qadri murdered his boss, then governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, who opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, in 2011. Qadri was serving as Taseer’s security guard at the time.
Qadri was tried for murder and hanged but he has become a symbol of piety in Pakistan and his death has prompted an outpouring of support for his crime and for blasphemy laws.
Thousands of his supporters rioted in several cities, calling him a martyr.
Between 15,000 and 100,000 people are reported to have attended the funeral, chanting slogans such as “Qadri, your blood will bring the revolution" and "The punishment for a blasphemer is beheading."
Support for Qadri was also seen in Pakistani diaspora communities such as the UK. UK Women’s charity Inspire condemned that support, saying they were “shocked” and “disappointed” that “a number of imams, Muslim groups and individuals have praised and defended Qadri’s act of murder.”
“We believe there is absolutely no justification – whether religious, moral or ethical – for supporting individuals like Qadri, least of all from an Islamic perspective” the group said in a statement. “Qadri’s supporters have argued that he honoured the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by murdering Taseer when in fact Qadri and his supporters have tainted the name of the Prophet and dishonoured his teachings by murdering a man in cold blood who showed solidarity with minority communities, as did the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).”
If the situation in Pakistan is so grave that an assassin is hailed is a hero and a martyr, while the liberal, reformist governor he murdered is reviled, then there is a very long way to go before Islamist extremism is defeated in that country.
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.