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Thursday Mar 26 2020

Imam wins defamation case from Mail over false Khadim Rizvi allegations

Photo by author

LONDON: A British Pakistani Imam and British government advisor on Islamophobia has been awarded damages and a full public apology after the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online falsely accused him of supporting Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) leader Khadim Rizvi’s November 2017 Faizabad dherna and the hanging of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi.

Qari Muhammad Asim, who is a senior Imam at Leeds Makkah Mosque and Chair of Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board, won apology from the Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) at the London High Court after suing the publishes of Mail newspapers.

Speaking to Geo and The News, Qari Asim confirmed that publishers of Mail Online and Mail on Sunday have paid him libel damages as well as his legal costs.

The Mail on Sunday claimed in an article - ‘Revealed: government advisor on Islamophobia and cleric who called for hanging of Christian’ - published on 6 April 2019 that Qari Asim supported Khadim Rizvi’s Faizabad dherna after a Statement was issued by British Muslim Scholars (supported by a number of British Imams) asking the Pakistani government to avoid violence and resolve the dherna issue.

The statement by British Muslim scholars expressed hope that “through dialogue a swift and sustainable resolution is achieved between the parties so that any civil unrest and violence can be avoided”, as there was concern that violent clashes had begun between the government and the protestors.

Qari Asim told Geo News: “I shared the statement which called for peaceful resolution of Faizabad sit-in to avoid loss of lives. I didn’t support Khadim Rizvi or his demands and have never supported him. I have always worked for peaceful coexistence in the UK and for the projection of Holy Prophet’s (Peace Be Upon Him) message of peace, religious harmony and human fraternity. What the Mail article said was opposite to what I stand for. The allegations were shocking, baseless and damaged my reputation.”

The Mail publishers admitted in the court that the allegations made were false and Qari Asim MBE publicly and vociferously condemned both these crimes. The Associated Newspapers withdrew the false allegations and issued a full apology to Qari Asim.

News story from the British publication accusing Qari Asim. — Photo by author

The apology has also been published on MailOnline, on the MailOnline App, and in the print edition of the Mail on Sunday as part of the settlement.

Qari Asim, who is also a commercial lawyer, told this reporter: “I am pleased with the outcome of the case against Mail on Sunday. The allegation made against me in the Mail on Sunday was fundamentally incorrect. A cursory look on the internet would have confirmed to The Mail that I actually hold completely the opposite views than those alleged in their article on 6 April 2019.

“There is no one single statement of myself supporting Mr Khadim Rizvi’s extreme views, yet despite lack of factual evidence, Mail on Sunday decided to publish a story linking me to Mr Khadim Rizvi. The inaccurate reporting about me is yet another example of the plethora of inaccurate, myth-making stories reported about British Muslims in sections of the media in recent years.”

Qari Asim blamed a section of right-wing media for constantly publishing anti-Muslim stories which are at the root of anti-Muslim hate in the UK and other western countries.

He said: “Journalism plays a vital role in society and democracy. Lazy journalism, erroneous reporting or even fake news about Muslims is extremely reckless and dangerous; such incorrect reporting painting overwhelmingly negative picture about Muslims fuels prejudice and hatred against Muslims in society. It also tars the diligent work by many journalists across the country. I believe the religious and cultural literacy of journalists also needs to be improved.”

Talks between the federal government and TLP ended in November 2017 after the two sides reached an agreement.

Qari Asim’s parents are originally from Sialkot. Asim’s father Professor Hafiz Fateh Muhammad was a Professor of English at Islamic University Islamabad. He went on to teach at University of Leeds.