KABUL, Afghanistan

Afghans on Wednesday mourned the assassination of revered religious scholar Mawlana Mohammed Ayaz Niazi, killed in a bomb blast inside a mosque in the capital Kabul the previous day.

The 54-year-old was widely respected for his wisdom and demeanor even during the turbulent years of the war-ravaged country’s recent history.

Niazi led prayers for decades as the Khateeb, or preacher, at the Wazir Mohammed Akbar Khan Mosque in Kabul’s highly guarded diplomatic zone and was widely watched on state broadcaster RTA during weekly Friday prayers when he would reflect on pressing issues concerning not only his country and people, but Muslims around the globe.

Despite his long and close allegiance to the ruling Jamiat-e-Islami party, Niazi remained critical of the US’ involvement in Afghanistan and at times did not hesitate to extend sympathy towards the Taliban.

“Dear and beloved Afghans, we are in a very dangerous and historic moment when we have to take our destiny in our own hands in a brotherly fashion. I’m addressing my Taliban brothers, my dear brothers. I honestly endorse the deputy leader of the Taliban’s stance [on peace],” he said in one of his speeches, in which he accused the US and “enemies of Afghanistan” of “evil” plots against the country.

He was an alumni of Al-Azhar University in the Egyptian capital Cairo and a teacher of Islamic studies at Kabul University.

President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani rushed to pay homage to the slain scholar on Wednesday morning, ordering a thorough probe and urging the Taliban to make way for peace talks in the country through a cease-fire.

“Today, we all are collectively mourning along with all Afghan academics, especially from Kabul University and those who pray at the Wazir Mohammed Akbar Khan Mosque, who for years were followers and students of Mawlawi Niazi”, he said.

Abdullah Abdullah, the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation and close friend of Niazi, also paid his respects.

“Personally, in various situations, I used the valuable advice of that great cleric. He always emphasized peace, stability and the end of war and bloodshed in the country and prayed for the happiness and well-being of the Afghan people. The absence of Mawlawi Mohammad Ayaz Niazi is an irreparable loss to the academic and religious society of the country and the Islamic world,” he said.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for Niazi’s killing, which Taliban insurgents have dubbed a “massive crime.”

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