ISLAMABAD: (The News) The self-confessed assassin of Salman Taseer, who is all set to face the gallows after rejection of his appeal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, used to be an active member of Dawat-e-Islami – a non-political Sunni Barelvi religious group which preaches Quran and Sunnah.
Mumtaz Qadri had gunned down the then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer with his official weapon on January 4, 2011 in Islamabad with a view to punish him for his critical stance on the misuse of the blasphemy laws, introduced by the military regime of General Ziaul Haq. Taseer had visited Sheikhupura district jail on November 20, 2010 to meet a Christian lady [Aasia Bibi] who was facing blasphemy charges. Salman Taseer later said while talking to media: “Aasia Bibi is poor and belongs to a minority community and should be pardoned especially when she has already denied having said anything disrespectful.”
During investigations of the Taseer murder case, it transpired that Mumtaz Qadri was heavily influenced by the teachings of Dawat-e-Islami, led by Maulana Ilyas Qadri, a scholar of traditional Islam who says his organization is an international movement for propagation of the key Islamic sources – the Quran and the Sunnah. Even though Qadri was not a part of Malik Mumtaz’ original name, he had adopted it in a bid to demonstrate his association with Maulana Ilyas Qadri.
Coming from a humble family, Qadri’s father is a vegetable seller, residing in Yousuf Colony of Rawalpindi. A week before carrying out Taseer’s assassination, Mumtaz had reportedly attended a protest demonstration in Islamabad, which was organized by the Sunni Tehrik, the only Barelvi religious party that departed from the sect’s predominantly moderate posture and became militant like most of the Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith groups. The rally had warned the then PPP government to refrain from granting presidential pardon to Aasia Bibi, a Christian lady condemned to death on blasphemy charges besides making changes in the ever-controversial blasphemy law, as had been demanded by Salman Taseer. It further transpired that on January 1, 2010, three days before killing the then Governor Punjab, Malik Mumtaz had organized a religious congregation at his home in Rawalpindi.
A police party that went to the assassin’s residence in Rawalpindi a few hours after the incident had found some religious books titled ‘Tarbiyati Halqas’ and ‘Masnoon Duas’, which showed that he was a committed member of the Dawat-e-Islami which maintains international headquarters in the port city of Karachi and has several national and regional headquarters in 72 countries of the world. Two most significant activities of Dawat-e-Islami, whose Karachi headquarters are called Faizaan-e-Madinah, are known as Madani Kafila (missionary travel) and Madani Inamaat (self assessment). Dawat-e-Islami also operates its own non-commercial television channel, the Madani Channel, which only broadcasts Islamic programmes and the activities of the outfit 24 hours a day. The programmes broadcast include Hamad, Naat, sermons, and Question -Answer sessions.
After a speedy trial by an ATC, Mumtaz Qadri, who had confessed to his crime before the trial court judge, was sentenced to death on two counts with Rs0.2 million fine on October 1, 2011 by a district and sessions judge of Islamabad, Syed Pervez Ali Shah, on account of killing Taseer. But his conviction was stayed by the Islamabad High Court ten days after the ATC verdict. The Islamabad High Court finally dismissed Qadri’s petition against the awarding of death sentence under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), but accepted his application to void Section 7 of the ATA, that calls for the punishment of death for committing acts of terrorism. The federal government then approached the Supreme Court to re-include terrorism charges in the case against Qadri, while he had appealed for a reduction in the sentence.
Mumtaz Qadri’s counsel pleaded before the court that the murder was motivated by the fact that Salman Taseer had committing blasphemy under Section 295-C of the PPC. In this backdrop, the lawyer had argued, Qadri was justified in murdering the deceased. However, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa of the Supreme Court observed quite rightly that the criticism of blasphemy law does not amount to blasphemy, as being pleaded by Qadri’s counsel. Khosa’s observation was simply daring given the fact that at least five lower court judges had refused to hear the Taseer murder case against Mumtaz Qadri, simply out of the clergy’s fear.
With charges under the ATA restored by the apex court, Mumtaz Qadri has lost the chance of having his death sentence commuted or converted into life imprisonment. He will also not be able to escape punishment by striking a deal with the legal heirs of the victim’s family, a senior lawyer explained on condition of anonymity. A death sentence awarded under the PPC can be commuted, subject to the approval of a court, if the heirs of the victim pardon the convict even after the pronouncement of a final decision by the court. However, the verdict drew a sharp reaction from Sunni Tehrik chief Sarwat Ijaz Qadri, who declared the Supreme Court judgment “against the spirit of both Shariah and the Constitution”.
The level of support people like Mumtaz Qadri enjoy in our society can be gauged from the fact that the Islamabad ATC judge (Syed Pervez Ali Shah), who had handed down death sentence to Mumtaz Qadri, had to leave Pakistan for Saudi Arabia after receiving death threats from some Sunni outfit including Dawat-e-Islam and Sunni Tehrik. In a related development, a mosque with the name of the Jamia Masjid Malik Mumtaz Qadri is being built in Ghouri Town area of Faizabad along the road to the Islamabad Airport.
Dawat-e-Islam actually came into being in 1980 as a splinter group of Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat, which at that time was headed by the late Allama Ahmed Saeed Kazmi. The Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat was in fact the religious wing of a leading political party at that time – the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), led by late Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani. Maulana Ilyas Qadri, then the Punjab president of the Anjuman Talaba-e-Islam (ATI), the youth wing of the JUP, is the founding ameer of Dawat-e-Islami. The same split in the Sunni Barelvi parties gave birth to Sunni Tehrik (ST), which at that time was led by late Maulana Mohammad Saleem Qadri. While the followers of the Dawat-e-Islami are identified by their green turbans, the members of the Sunni Tehrik are identified by their dark brown turbans.
Karachi is a stronghold of this organisation and a large number of traders in the city and even people connected with the ship industry are the followers of this organisation and they also fund it. It is believed that Dawat-e-Islami is among the strictest Islamic organisation for its followers. The followers of Tableeghi Jamaat are supposed to act strongly on six basic principles while Dawat-e-Islami has drafted 14 basic principles for its followers. They even have to follow a dress code. Dawat-e-Islami, like Tableeghi Jamaat, propagates that violence is not on its agenda though violent Barelvi groups like the Sunni Tehrik and the Tehrik-e-Mustafavi have come into being as splinter groups.
However, approached for comments, a Dawat-e-Islami spokesman said, “It’s a totally propagational outfit which confines itself to preaching the teachings of Quran and Sunnah. Ours is an extremely peaceful and non violent outfit which does not believe in any sort of extremist activity.”
On the other hand, despite being put behind the bars in Adiala Jail Rawalpindi, Malik Mumtaz Qadri had reportedly been enjoying a free hand to indoctrinate those around him and incite them into killing blasphemy accused and convicts even in their prison cells. An inquiry report into the September 25, 2014 murder bid on an elderly British schizophrenic who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges and shot by a prison guards at the Adiala Jail had revealed last year that the guard had been provoked to do so by Taseer’s jailed assassin.
The inquiry report indicated that the jailed Qadri was not living the life of a convicted killer; rather the lenient attitude of the jail authorities had allowed him to convert his prison cell into a safe house which he was using to give religious lessons and spread his radical views by indoctrinating more and more people around him.