The spiritual leader of Scotland's biggest mosque has praised an Islamist assassin amid fresh concerns about the threat of radicalism at the Muslim centre of worship.

Habib ur Rehman, the imam of Glasgow Central Mosque, said extremist Mumtaz Qadri was a "true Muslim" and equated his actions with the French resistance against the Nazis during World War Two.

He made his remarks last month as he protested the execution of Qadri for the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who had championed the rights of Christians being persecuted under blasphemy laws.

Mr Rehman's views, expressed to a small group on messaging service Whatsapp - have sent a chill through Scotland's Islamic community as news of them spread among his congregation.

Picture: Imam Habib meeting the moderator of the Church of Scotland

The Herald: Imam Habib meeting moderator of Church of ScotlandImam Habib meeting moderator of Church of Scotland

Progressive figures in Scotland's Muslim community are concerned that what they called the Old Guard - the conservatives who are desperately fighting to control the mosque - are failing to stamp down on ultra-orthodox or extremist views.

HERALD VIEW: Glasgow Central Mosque must better reflect its community

Lawyer and activist Aamer Anwar said it was "rank hypocrisy" for an imam to praise the killing of man promoting religious tolerance.

He said: "Many within the community are horrified and scared that such views will filter down the Muslim community and radicalise our children. To describe a convicted terrorist as a ‘true Muslim’ or draw parallels with the ‘French resistance fighting the Nazis’ is grotesque.

"There can be no moral or religious justification for remarks which glorify murder.

"Silence is not an option, Glasgow Central Mosque must take action otherwise their calls for peace following each terror attack will mean very little."

Picture: Aamer Anwar

The Herald: Aamer Anwar

But the imam, who this week condemned the terror atrocities in Brussels, insists he is being misunderstood and that he merely wished to oppose Qadri's hanging in late February.

He added: "A true Muslim was punished for doing [that] which the collective will of the nation failed to carry out."

The Qadri case has sparked huge controversy in Pakistan and the killer's funeral was attended by thousands, many carrying "I am Mumtaz" placards.

Picture: slain Pakistani politician Salman Taseer

The Herald: Salman Taseer

The assassin, who was Mr Taseer's bodyguard, is seen as a dangerous zealot in the West and among Pakistani moderates but a martyr by fundamentalists.

On Whatsapp a member of the congregation challenged Mr Rehman over Qadri, saying he was "murderer".

Mr Rehman responded: "According to some he was a murder but according to many others he did what was the collective responsibility of the ummat [the Muslim community].

"Just when France was occupied by the Nazis, French did all they had to do to protect their nation. They were national heroes."

Pictures: Imam's Habib's WhatsApp postings

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His words came as liberals and conservatives fought a brutal turf war for control of the Mosque amid an investigation by Scotland's charity watchdog.

Independent accountants, as revealed by The Herald, have warned the Mosque is vulnerable to money-laundering.

Dinancial investigator John O'Donnell, formerly of the HM Customs and Excise fraud investigation service, said he believed previous accounting practices left the body vulnerable to "unscrupulous" individuals.

Liberals, meanwhile, have questioned a loan to the ultra-orthodox group Tablighi Jamaat, which is legal in the UK and which has been banned from preaching in Punjab educational institutions.

Progressive figures in Scotland's Muslim community are concerned that what they called the Old Guard - the conservatives who are desperately fighting to control the mosque - are failing to stamp down on ultra-orthodox or extremist views.

The liberal ruling committee of the mosque resigned this spring citing intimidation. An interim committee is in place. OSCR, the Scottish Charity Regulator, has been investigating the Mosque's governance for months.

A preliminary report last year was hugely criticial of the mosque's historic and conservative leadership.

The Herald: Friday prayers at the Central Mosque in Glasgow

The president of Glasgow Central Mosque, Shafi Kausar, said he did not see grounds to act against Mr Rehman.

He said: "He is entitled to his opinion. I don't think it is right to take anyone's life."

Dr Kausar said he believed Mr Rehman's remarks were taken out of context, which was that he thought Qadri had been unjustly executed when an American, Raymond Davis, in another Pakistan cause celebre, had been allowed to leave Pakistan after killing two people.

Asked to explain his remarks, Mr Rehman said they were a "private issue"; that they had been leaked by "an unauthorised third party" then  "misconstrued and taken out of context" and that they referred to his criticism of judicial process in Pakistan.

The Herald: Exterior of the Glasgow Central Mosque.Picture by Stewart Attwood

In a statement, Mr Rehman said: "The assassination of Salman Taseer is and was widely condemned.

"As the former acting Governor of Punjab and as a private individual, his freedoms and rights should have been respected, in particular his right to life and his right to face due process.

"Personal views about his conduct are irrelevant.

"Whether I agree or disagree with the views he expressed, as an Imam and as a human being I express abhorrence at the manner in which he was executed and convey sympathy for his family.

"The execution was not in accordance with Islamic teachings and principles."

Picture: Imam Habib, far right, with other Scottish Religous leaders

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Mr Rehman added: "Similarly, Mumtaz Qadri’s execution is condemned as it is not in accordance with due process nor is it in accordance with Islamic teachings and principles.

"The selective messages disclosed to you by an unauthorised third party have been misconstrued and taken out of context."

"Capital punishment on this particular occasion was inappropriate and any expressions of sympathy or compassion are relevant to that disposal and are extended in my capacity as a private individual and not in any professional or public capacity.

"As far as I am concerned, the matter is a private issue and freedom of expression and criticism of the judicial process in Pakistan are relevant features."

A senior Scottish Muslim, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr Rehman's remarks were "shocking". Some parents are understood to be mulling whether to withdraw their children from religious instruction at the Mosque, which is under Mr Rehman's control.

Mr Taseer was ultimately replaced as Punjab governor by Mohammad Sarwar, a former Glasgow MP and a highly influential figure at Glasgow Central Mosque.

The assassination of Mr Taseer was a major event in Pakistan. The politician had championed the cause of a Christian woman called Asia Bibi, who was charged with blasphemy for allegedly desecrating the Koran and is now on death row.

Some hardliners believe that Mr Taseer was himself effectively a blasphemer and now regard Qadri as a hero. Accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan are extremely dangerous. Mobs have killed scores of blasphemers in recent years.

A Scot, Mohammad Asghar, is also on death row after being accused of blasphemy when he claimed to be the Prophet. His family say he has mental health issues.

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