Statement by CCMR on sermons by the three High Wycombe Imams in March 2016 describing Mumtaz Qadri as ‘Shaheed’ (‘Martyr’) who had assassinated the Governor of Punjab Province in Pakistan in 2011

The CCMR exists to promote greater understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims in High Wycombe in order to promote social cohesion by building resilience within the local community and in mutual respect to work towards preventing radicalisation of young people.

It was with great concern that we learned that the three local Imams had delivered sermons during Friday prayers (in their respective mosques) in March 2016 in which they described Mumtaz Qadri, who had assassinated the Governor of Punjab, as ‘shaheed’ (‘a martyr’) which is broadly understood to be honouring and eulogising him'. The use of the term ‘shaheed’ has been justified by reference to Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence.

Salman Taseer, Governor of the Punjab province, was murdered in 2011 by Mumtaz Qadri, one of his own bodyguards. Qadri later accused Salman Taseer of “insulting the Prophet” by trying to secure a Presidential pardon for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman. She had been sentenced to death under blasphemy laws, in a situation suspected of involving a dispute between her and a Muslim woman. Qadri was arrested and tried for murder. He was found guilty and, after an appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the verdict was confirmed and Qadri was, in accordance with Pakistan law, hanged in February 2016.

It is important to note that the concern over the content of the sermons was raised by a Muslim member of the local community and not by someone outside that faith community.  We commend the courageous action of the complainant who brought the matter to the attention of the Mosque Committee for investigation. His complaint was that the sermons had glorified an act of murder by elevating Mumtaz Qadri to the status of a 'shaheed'. High Wycombe's Mosque Committee, which is an elected body of local Muslim citizens, investigated the allegations with the assistance of an independent Investigator. While this was happening Steve Baker MP met with the three Imams who reportedly told him that they were 'falsely accused'. After the investigation however, when it was established that the three imams had used the word “shaheed” of Mumtaz Qadri, Mr Baker described the use of the word “shaheed” as 'unwise' and called for an urgent public explanation from the Imams.

The due process has taken a long time and the CCMR has held back from making any comment until that process was concluded. According to the Summary of Investigation Report, ‘… the Imams used the word ‘shaheed’ in describing Qadri. The description was used in the context of a misguided belief that Qadri had been hanged too quickly compared to others who were also given death sentences.’ Therefore the matter was referred back to the Mosque Committee for action, which has now been taken.

We are satisfied that the Committee has done this, not just in the interests of community cohesion and adherence to the rule of law and national security, but also because they wished to assert a fundamental Islamic teaching - that the Qur'an describes the Prophet of Islam as a ' Mercy to the whole of Mankind' and not just for Muslims. The Divine attributes of Mercy and Grace are mentioned more than any others in Islamic scripture. It is through these teachings that the majority of Muslims of High Wycombe understand their faith and their obligations to fellow citizens. They see no place in Islam for the glorification of murder whatever the motive.

We are grateful to the Mosque Committee for taking a strong stand on this matter and commend the members on the series of presentations which they are organising to educate families and young people about key words like 'shaheed' and 'jihad'. The sermons, of which the Committee disapproved, clearly show that the Imams had not taken into account, albeit unintentionally, the possibility that, by applying the word 'shaheed' to a convicted murderer, this could make young Muslims much more vulnerable to radicalisation and terrorism.

We hope that some good may come out of this incident by making the whole faith community of High Wycombe reflect on what it really means to be a compassionate and merciful Muslim or Christian and responsible members of society.

Chaudry Shafique, MBE, Chairman
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vice Chairman

June 2017

Mission Statement

The Aims of the Council are:
1. To raise the profile of the need to build good relations between people of different faiths and beliefs in High Wycombe
2. To share as partners common concerns and aspirations and to strive together to confront the problems and challenges of our time.
3. To promote inter-religious dialogue based on mutual respect recognising that differences are inherent in the human condition and are a manifestation of divine wisdom.
4. To engage in constructive dialogue aimed at promoting and transmitting common values and common standards of citizenship.
5. To develop and implement a programme of activities which can contribute to and support community cohesion.
6. To work in partnership with other organisations in both the public and voluntary sectors to achieve the aim.