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15 Mar 2006 10:16
In his office in Peshawar’s historic Mohabat Khan mosque, prayer leader Maulana Yousaf Qureshi smoothes his beard from the white roots to the henna-orange tips.
“There’s no time limit. If someone kills the cartoonist in 50 years he will still get the million dollars,” he says.
In a blazing sermon on February 17, Qureshi promised the money—and a new car—to whoever assassinates any of the 12 Danes whose drawings of the prophet Muhammad ignited a firestorm of protest across the Muslim world.
On the same day, anti-cartoon protests in the conservative northwestern city turned into full-fledged anti-western riots that left foreign fast-food joints and businesses in flames.
The unrest has abated since then, but not the anger.
“We want them to spend the rest of their days like prisoners, under police protection,” nods the imam, between two sips of sweetened green tea.
“We would like Denmark to sentence them to death, but since they don’t do that there we would settle for life imprisonment.”
Qureshi himself offered a 500 000 rupee ($8 333) reward while the rest is being collected by the Peshawar Association of Goldsmiths.
The group also offered the car.
In Peshawar, the narrow lanes of the gold market adjoin the massive white mosque.
Ahmed, who would not give his first name, is one of them. In his tiny shop he hammers out a gold sheet. “I’m ready to donate my share. No one is refusing to pay, it’s an honour. I’ll give as much as possible, everything I have.”
A little further off Haji Zarin Khan, the association’s secretary general, sits in his office surrounded by gold and mirrors. “All contributions will be voluntary. The richer ones will naturally pay more,” he says.
“When the prophet was alive, one day someone insulted him. He ordered they should be put to death. So it’s normal that the people behind these abominations should be killed. It’s simple.”
He lowers his voice. “Look, what we basically want to do is send a message to the rest of the world. No doubt it will be difficult for someone to actually go to Denmark and kill these people. But we want to express our anger. And to ensure this never happens again.”
Some visitors in the room nod in agreement.
“The solution is for them to say they are sorry. The cartoonists or the Danish government. Islam says you must pardon those who repent,” Khan adds.
Rehmat Khan, who runs a modest shop near the entrance to the mosque, said he had “not been told about this reward. The association has not made any official announcement”.
“But if they ask me I will give them what I can. I am a small jeweller, I won’t be able to give much ... but I will give something.”
Asked if he had seen the offending cartoons, he replied: “No, no, of course not. I’m too busy working every day. And anyway it would be a sin to look at them.”
Sat cross-legged on a rug, behind his three telephones, his fax and his computer, Qureshi closes his eyes and smiles.
“These unfortunate drawings have had one positive effect: they have woken up the Muslim world, which is now more united.”
A ringing telephone interrupts him. “Inshallah [God willing], my son,” he says.
“A mujahedin [holy warrior],” he explains. “He is asking if someone can sort out his trip to Denmark ...” - AFP
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