A sectarian dispute in Pakistan was played out in Glasgow when Bradford taxi driver Tanveer Ahmed stabbed shopkeeper Asad Shah to death in a religiously motivated murder.
Simmering hatred towards Britain’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community spilled over into violence the day before Good Friday this year when Shah was murdered in his shop by Ahmed, who remained defiant even as he was sentenced on Tuesday.
Ahmed, a Sunni Muslim, was offended by Shah’s religious proclamations on social media. On Wednesday morning, as Ahmed was being taken down to the cells after being jailed for a minimum of 27 years, there were chants from his supporters in the public gallery, and he shouted: “Muhammad is the prophet, he is the only one.”
Shah, whose final Facebook update, posted a few hours before his death, had offered Easter greetings “to my beloved Christian nation”, was a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. This minority group faces persecution – most recently in Pakistan and Indonesia – and is treated with open hostility by many orthodox Muslims because it differs from their belief that Muhammad is the final prophet.
Some who identified themselves as friends or extended family of Shah’s 32-year-old murderer Ahmed, whom the Guardian spoke to in Bradford, refused to condemn the killing and claimed that he was driven to commit it by events unfolding thousands of miles away in his home country of Pakistan.
The father of three, who came to Britain on a marriage visa more than a decade ago, was a staunch supporter of Islamic fundamentalist Mumtaz Qadri.
Qadri, a policeman and bodyguard, was hanged in Pakistan for the murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who campaigned against its blasphemy laws as well as Ahmadi persecution.
The 2011 murder of Taseer was one of Pakistan’s most high-profile assassinations. The prominent liberal politician was an outspoken critic of the country’s harsh blasphemy laws, arguing that they discriminated against religious minorities, and sought liberal reforms. He had called for a pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death in 2010 for insulting the prophet Muhammad.
Taseer claimed Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were used primarily to terrorise and exact revenge on religious minorities there: from Shias and Ahmadis to Hindus and Sikhs. Yet, for some living in the UK, Taseer was a divisive figure and after his murder some hailed his killer Qadri as a hero. Ahmed was among this tranche of supporters.
Friends said Ahmed became increasingly vocal about his support of Qadri. Living with his wife, Razia, and three children in the Gurlington area of Bradford, Ahmed would preach to friends about those he believed were committing blasphemy.
Ahmed, who does not speak fluent English, is understood to have become aware of Shah online after the shopkeeper posted what he believed to be contentious comments. Just before murdering Shah it is understood Ahmed was offended by a remark Shah made where he allegedly purported to be a prophet of Islam.
In a chilling turn of events Ahmed called Shah in the days before he murdered him. Ahmed’s friends said the two men had a heated discussion with Ahmed asking Shah to take back his assertion that he was a prophet. The pair also discussed the recent events in Pakistan.
The night before Good Friday, Ahmed travelled more than 200 miles to Glasgow and stabbed Shah to death.
In the aftermath of the killing pockets of support were identified for Ahmed with a Facebook group set up. The page has since been taken down but when the Guardian visited Ahmed’s home city some members of the community still supported his actions.
One person, who refused to be named, claimed the shopkeeper “should not have been able to get away with” his actions.
In a highly unusual move, following his second court appearance in April, Ahmed released a statement through his lawyer claiming that he had killed Shah because he disrespected Islam, stating: “This all happened for one reason and no other issues and no other intentions. Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam, the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.”
A friend of Ahmed, who also wanted to remain anonymous, said: “They rang Shah to discuss what he had been saying about the prophet. They told him what he said was wrong and told him to take his words back. It is a big sin to say the things he did and they talked about this dream he had about being a prophet and told him it was wrong.”
He added: “We didn’t think Tanveer would do this but you will find that many people have a lot of sympathy for him over here.”