ISLAMABAD: A group of hardline Pakistani Muslim clerics has bestowed a religious title on Osama bin Laden in response to a British knighthood for the author Salman Rushdie.
Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses outraged many Muslims around the world, was awarded a knighthood last week for services to literature in Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honours list.
Activists of Peoples’ Freedom League burn an effigy of Salman Rushdie at Lal chowk in Srinagar on 21 June.
Muslims say the novel, published in 1988, blasphemed against the Prophet Mohammad and ridiculed the Koran and events in early Muslim history.
Pakistan and Iran have protested the honour and small demonstrations against it have been held in various parts of Pakistan and in Malaysia.
A group of clerics, the Pakistan Ulema Council, has given bin Laden the title “Saifullah”, or sword of Allah, in response to the honour for Rushdie, the council’s chairman said on 21 June.
“If a blasphemer can be given the title ‘Sir’ by the West despite the fact he’s hurt the feelings of Muslims, then a mujahid who has been fighting for Islam against the Russians, Americans and British must be given the lofty title of Islam, Saifullah,” the chairman, Tahir Ashrafi, said.
A Mujahid is a Muslim holy warrior. Bin Laden was one of many Arabs who helped Afghan guerrillas battle Soviet invaders in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
In a related development, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto said Pakistan’s minister of religious affairs should be dismissed for suggesting suicide bombs were a justified response to Rushdie’s knighthood.
On Monday, Pakistan’s parliament adopted a resolution condemning the knighthood and said Britain should withdraw it.
Religious Affairs Minister Mohammad Ejaz-ul-Haq told the assembly insults to Islam were at the root of terrorism, and added that if someone committed a suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammad, his act was justified.
He later said he did not mean such attacks would be justified but was merely saying militants could use the knighthood as a justification.
But Bhutto said Haq had justified suicide attacks on a British citizen.
“The minister... son of a previous military dictator who had patronised extremist groups, had done a great disservice both to the image of Islam and the standing of Pakistan by calling for the murder of foreign citizens,” Bhutto said in a statement.
Haq is the son of military president Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, whose policies of Islamisation in the 1980s are often blamed for sowing the seeds of Islamist militancy.
Zia overthrew Bhutto’s father, then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1977. Bhutto was executed two years later.
Benazir called on the government to dismiss Haq, although adding that the sentiments of a majority of Muslims had been outraged by the knighthood.
Britain said it was deeply concerned about Haq’s comments and nothing could justify suicide bombings. Britain has also defended the knighthood for Rushdie.
The speaker of the National Assembly expunged Haq’s comments from the record of proceedings, citing the national interest.
Bhutto has lived in self-imposed exile for nearly a decade and faces corruption accusations both at home and abroad. She denies corruption and has vowed to return home.
The speaker of the provincial assembly in Punjab province said blasphemers should be killed while Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of Pakistan’s ruling party, said British Prime Minister Tony Blair was “personally and mentally against Islam”.