Pakistan (MNN) ― Following the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, over 500 Muslim clerics and scholars boycotted the Punjab Governor's funeral. Extremists have praised Taseer's assailant and condemned anyone from mourning the loss of the Governor.
Taseer's funeral prayer was reportedly delayed almost an hour as multiple clerics refused to lead it. Clerics have urged Muslims to rejoice over Taseer's death, and to pray that Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer's body guard and murderer, would ascend to heaven.
"They're going to boycott the funeral to show that this was the right thing to do; [that] this was justified because of his desire to have a more moderate stance on blasphemy laws," explains Tom Doyle with E3 Partners.
Justification of the murder is widespread in extremist circles. The Wall Street Journal quoted leading Pakistani cleric Raghib Hussain Naeemi as saying, "Everybody is in favor of Mumtaz Qadri. Everybody is thinking that Salmaan Taseer was on the wrong side. He's standing with the person who committed blasphemy."
Of course not "everybody" in Pakistan is actually in favor of Qadri. Thousands of people are mourning Taseer's murder and have spoken out about the injustice of his untimely death. Disturbingly, though, thousands more have joined Facebook groups in support of Qadri. MSN India reports finding pages with titles such as "Salute to the greatness of Ghazi Malik Mumtaz Qadri," which gained hundreds of followers within hours.
"The person who committed blasphemy" is in reference to believer Asia Bibi. Debate surrounding the harsh penalties for breaking the blasphemy law stirred when Bibi was sentenced to death in November for insulting the prophet Muhammad. Taseer stood in defense of Bibi, a citizen of Punjab Province, and vowed to help her get out of her sentence. It was for Taseer's outspokenness against the blasphemy law, which he called a "black law," that Qadri killed him.
One of Bibi's biggest advocates is gone, her enemies are clothed in rage, and a bounty of $6,000 has been placed on her head. "We must pray for her, because her life is obviously in danger," Doyle urges.
But Bibi is not the only one in danger. Reignited outrage of Muslim extremists toward "blasphemers" does not bode well for Pakistani Christians in general. Clerics and scholars have warned that anyone showing sympathy for Taseer could suffer the same fate. Indian news network DNA reports that a statement put out by the 500 Muslim leaders read that those "favoring the person who indulged in blasphemy are themselves blasphemous."
"So the underground church in this country just has to be especially mindful, because they are being watched, and [Pakistan] is an epicenter of fanaticism for Central Asia," says Doyle. "Pakistan is just off the charts with terrorist groups and the literal interpretation of the Qur'an."
The unstable government has made Pakistan's future as a whole somewhat hazy. "Some leaders in the area have said, ‘Pakistan always seems like it's just one car bomb away from someone like a Bin Laden taking over the country.' It is just a factory for radical groups."
Pray for the many believers in Pakistan who may now be in danger. Pray for their safety, and their trust in one another as tension mounts. Pray that the Gospel would continue to spread, despite the rise of Islamic extremism.