And another group of clerics warned no one should pray or "express regret" for the loss of Salman Taseer, who died essentially for committing "blasphemy" against the blasphemy law. They said, "the supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy."
In barely two days, the wide reporting of this single case may have done more than any before it to rip the fig leaf of "moderation" off of Pakistan, and to show what a uselessly relative label "moderate" ultimately is.
As one Pakistani radio host said, "Extremist thought has become so mainstream that what we need to question in Pakistan is what people think constitutes extremism now." "Cheers and tears in Pakistan after assassination," by Sebastian Abbott for the Associated Press, January 5:
ISLAMABAD - Lawyers showered the suspected assassin of a liberal Pakistani governor with rose petals as he entered court. Some 170 miles away, the prime minister joined thousands to mourn the loss of the politician, who dared to challenge the demands of Islamic extremists.
The cheers and tears across the country Wednesday underscored Pakistan's journey over the past several decades from a nation defined by moderate Islam to one increasingly influenced by fundamentalists willing to use violence to impose their views.
Even so-called moderate Muslim scholars praised 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri for allegedly killing Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer on Tuesday in a hail of gunfire while he was supposed to be protecting him as a bodyguard. Qadri later told authorities he acted because of Taseer's vocal opposition to blasphemy laws that order death for those who insult Islam.
As Qadri was escorted into court in Islamabad, a rowdy crowd patted his back and kissed his cheek as lawyers at the scene threw flowers. On the way out, some 200 sympathizers chanted slogans in his favor, and the suspect stood at the back door of an armored police van and repeatedly yelled "God is great."
Many other Pakistanis were appalled.
"Extremist thought has become so mainstream that what we need to question in Pakistan is what people think constitutes extremism now," said Fasi Zaka, a 34-year-old radio host and columnist.
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you'll be disappointed slightly farther down the road:
Analysts say a majority of Pakistan's Muslims still follow a moderate form of Sufi-influenced Islam. But there are signs that even some of those beliefs may have shifted to the right. An influential group of 500 clerics and scholars from the Barelvi sect, which opposes the Taliban, praised Taseer's assassination.
The Jamat Ahle Sunnat group said no one should pray or express regret for the killing of the governor. The group also issued a veiled threat to other opponents of the blasphemy laws.
"The supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy," the group warned in a statement, adding politicians, the media and others should learn "a lesson from the exemplary death."
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other senior ruling party officials joined up to 6,000 mourners under tight security to pay homage to Taseer at a funeral in the eastern city of Lahore. Other parties, including the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, which is more aligned with religious groups, had limited presence at the event.
After the service was delayed because several clerics refused to lead it.
The response to Taseer's murder among ordinary Pakistanis seemed mixed. Some praised Qadri for targeting the governor, who in recent weeks had spoken forcefully in favor of clemency for a Christian woman sentenced to die for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
"Salman Taseer committed a grave crime calling the blasphemy law a 'black law,'" said 30-year-old Ghulam Murtaza, a farmer on the outskirts of the southern port city of Karachi.
Others condemned the killing.
"It is sad that he spoke from the heart and was murdered," said Farhat Firdous, a communications professional in Karachi.
But even critics said the government must be very careful about how it deals with the blasphemy laws, which rights activists say are used to settle rivalries and persecute religious minorities....
The problem does not end with the "abuse" of the law: inherently abusive laws often lend themselves to further abuse, but there is no "right" way to apply a law that is wrong.