KARACHI: As worshippers left Sultan Masjid after Asr prayers, Imam Munir Ahmed Shakir fielded phone calls from members of his congregation who have heard about Shakir being named in an application for inciting violence and provoking hatred against MNA Sherry Rehman.
Shakir denied all the allegations that were listed in a complaint filed by journalist Ali Kamran Chishti, Shaan Taseer and Rehman at the Darakshan police station on Sunday. “There are two sermons that I gave — one last Friday and one on the Friday before that,” he told The Express Tribune, sitting on a prayer mat bearing the emblem of Saudi Arabia. “In the first sermon I said that if someone blasphemes against Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), whether it is a leader or not, that person is liable to be punished according to the law of the country. I said that if Sherry Rehman has given an application to amend or remove the blasphemy law, then she should not do so because this is something that needs to be taken up by the courts. At last Friday’s sermon I said that given the conditions in the country, people should not try to take the law into their own hands.”
“I did not declare Sherry Rehman a non-Muslim nor did I sanction her murder [call her ‘wajibul qatl’]. Issuing fatwas is the job of a mufti and I am not a mufti. I also heard Rehman’s interview on TV in which she said that she cannot even think of committing blasphemy. These are false allegations against me and they [applicants] have no proof of this. One cannot make these statements without any proof.”
“I was visited by the Darakshan police and an intelligence officer, Shahid, as well as Mohammad Ashiq from the special branch. I told the gentlemen that you monitor these sermons, if you believe I have violated the law then I will hand myself over. They told me that Sherry Rehman has withdrawn her bill proposing amendments in the blasphemy law.”
He also denied that he mentioned former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s self-confessed killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, during the sermon. “He is associated with the Barelvis and we are Deobandis. We had nothing to do with Taseer and he is now dead.” Shakir belongs to the Fazlur Rehman faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.
According to Shakir, “The expenditure of the Sultan Masjid is borne by the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz alSaud, and the government of Saudi Arabia.” Calls to the Saudi consulate in Karachi went unanswered and the Islamabad embassy’s media section had not responded to a query by the time of the filing of this report.
Shakir’s sermons have caught the eye of the government before. During Benazir Bhutto’s second tenure, he once criticised her during a sermon. “She had said the punishments – hand for a hand, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth – were cruel. I said that anyone who termed these punishments, which are in the Quran, cruel, would meet their end soon. Nabeel Gabol, who was then deputy speaker of the Sindh Assembly, was present. He got up and said, ‘What are you saying against mohtarma?’ The police took me away but they realised my standing here and the respect the congregation has. They told me to be a little softer in my words.”
The imam also denied reports that hate literature was ever circulated outside the mosque. “This is a peaceful mosque. This has never happened. So many prominent people come here.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2011.