Muslim cleric banned in Pakistan is preaching in UK mosques
A Pakistani Muslim cleric who celebrated the murder of a popular politician is in Britain on a speaking tour of mosques. The news has alarmed social cohesion experts who fear such tours are promoting divisions in the Muslim community.
Syed Muzaffar Shah Qadri has been banned from preaching in Pakistan because his sermons are considered too incendiary. However, he is due to visit a number of English mosques, in heavily promoted events where he is given star billing.
Qadri publicly praises Mumtaz Qadri who in 2011 murdered his employer, Salman Taseer, a popular Pakistani politician who spoke out against the country's blasphemy laws. Qadri was executed earlier this year but to his tens of thousands of supporters he remains a hero who defended their interpretation of Islam.
Mumtaz Qadri was a key influence on Tanveer Ahmed, the Bradford taxi driver who in March stabbed to death Asad Shah. Shah, a member of the Ahmadi Muslim community who ran a convenience shop in Glasgow, was targeted after messages he put out on social media including an Easter greeting to Christians.
His was one of several recent high profile murders in which a Muslim from one community was killed by a Muslim from another community for holding what they considered to be "blasphemous" views. In February, a former Sufi imam in Rochdale was murdered by two Islamic State supporters whom they claimed was practising "black magic". In May, a Sufi Muslim leader was hacked to death near the north Bangladeshi town of Rajshahi in what police said was an attack by Islamic extremists.
Qadri, considered by many scholars to hold moderate views except on blasphemy, was due to speak at the Falkirk Central mosque in Scotland, but his invitation was withdrawn after a public outcry. However, the Observer has established that he is due to appear at several mosques in England.
The Sunday Post in Scotland reported that Qadri has been labelled a "firebrand" by the authorities in Karachi and barred from preaching his incendiary sermons. He was accused of acting in a manner "prejudicial to public safety and maintenance of public order". He was banned from addressing crowds in October, according to a legal document seen by the Post.
Video footage on social media sites shows Qadri telling crowds that the killing of Taseer was lawful.
Irfan al-Alawi, international director at the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, a US thinktank, said Qadri received large sums of money for his UK tour and accused him of increasing tensions among different Muslim sects.
"Syed Muzaffar Shah Qadri and the likes of him should not be allowed to enter the UK or Europe because he incites hatred and he claims to be a Sufi, but the message of Sufism is love all and hate none," Alawi said.
"The Sunni Muslims do not need Pakistani or Indian imams to enter the UK and preach hatred. Just as Zakir Naik was banned, the government should be hard on these preachers of hate and also with the people and mosques which invite them."
Naik was an extremist Islamist preacher barred from preaching in the UK by Theresa May, when she was the home secretary, in 2011.
Flyers promoting Qadri's appearances in the UK, obtained by the Observer, confirm that he is due to preach on Sunday in Leicester, in Woking on Boxing Day and in Bolton on New Year's Eve. It is believed he will also make appearances at other mosques.
None of the three mosques responded to requests for comment.
Haras Rafiq, chief executive of the Quilliam Foundation, said Qadri was the type of preacher who presented new challenges for promoting cohesion in Britain's Muslim community.
"These are people who may not be extremist in the way that we know Isis or Boko Haram are extremist," Rafiq said. "But when they apply the blasphemy law to justify the killing of other Muslims for not being the right Muslims then we have a huge challenge. Anybody who supports the murder of another person is dangerous."
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We do not routinely comment on individual cases."