- Government Islamophobia adviser Qari Asim backs radical cleric Khadim Rizvi
- Rizvi led a campaign, which called for the execution of Pakistani woman Asia Bibi
- Ms Bibi spent nine years on death row for blasphemy, before being acquitted
- Mr Asim posted on Faecbook that he stood in solidarity with Rizvi and his group
- Another adviser on Islamophobia manhandled Labour MP Dr Rupa Huq in 2015
An imam recruited to advise the Government on ‘tackling Islamophobia’ has publicly supported a cleric in Pakistan who has campaigned for a Christian woman to be hanged for blasphemy.
Qari Asim, who is part of an 11-strong panel assembled by the Communities Department, supported preacher Khadim Rizvi, who demanded the death penalty for Asia Bibi, who was falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
She spent nine years on death row until she was acquitted in October.
Mr Asim’s past emerged as part of a Mail on Sunday investigation into the Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, which advises Ministers and senior civil servants on measures to combat anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes.
When Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Ms Bibi last year, Rizvi’s group, Tehreek-e-Labbaik, caused nationwide riots, demanding that she be hanged.
Rizvi also endorsed the actions of Tanveer Ahmed, a British extremist who killed a shopkeeper in Glasgow, Asad Shah, because he belonged to a ‘heretical’ Muslim sect known as the Ahmadis. After the murder in 2016, Rizvi praised Ahmed in his preachings, hailing him as a ‘ghazi’, or ‘warrior’.
Ahmed, 34, from Bradford, is now serving 27 years for murder.
Qari Asim did not publicly support Rizvi’s campaign against Ms Bibi, but issued a statement on his Facebook page in November 2017 in solidarity with the cleric, whose organisation at the time was behind protests in Islamabad, which were marred by violence.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik supporters were protesting after the Pakistani government changed the wording of the oath of office for politicians so they no longer had to say Mohammed was the last Prophet of God.
Mr Asim described the protesters, some of whom engaged in violence, as ‘peaceful demonstrators’, and said they had a ‘democratic right to ask the government to expose people who have tried to amend the constitution’.
The investigation also established that another member of the working group, Karim Sacoor, was once filmed manhandling Labour MP, Dr Rupa Huq, in 2015, when she was the Parliamentary candidate for her West London seat of Ealing.
Dr Huq was pushed and shoved by Mr Sacoor when she approached then London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who went to Ealing to campaign for the Tory candidate, Angie Bray.
The local Tory party in Ealing later apologised to Dr Huq, and there were calls for ‘thuggish’ Mr Sacoor to resign from the party.
Another member is Ahmed Peerbhai, an imam from Nottingham, who is listed as a supporter of the Friends of Al-Aqsa (FoA) organisation, according to a document belonging to the campaign group.
The FoA’s leader, Ismail Patel, has been accused of supporting the militant Islamist group Hamas in the past. Patel has previously said: ‘Hamas is no terrorist organisation… we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel.’
The working group, which was established in 2012, has been controversial, with a number of moderate Muslim leaders saying that some of its members were religious hardliners with bigoted views.
One former member said: ‘I resigned because I felt extremists were on board, and I could not work with them.
‘I also felt the group was just a box-ticking exercise.’
The ex-member said the group met quarterly, and reported its findings to senior civil servants who would attend its meetings.
A Communities Department spokesman said Mr Asim never intended to ‘endorse’ cleric Rizvi: ‘Imam Qari Asim did not intend that publication to be an endorsement of Rizvi and so took the article down, which he replaced with one calling for tolerance for all.’