ISLAMABAD – The government has declared Friday a national holiday (Yaum-e-Ishq-Rasool) in honour of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and called for peaceful protests against a US-made film deemed insulting to Islam.

The cabinet decided to make Friday an official day of expression of love for the prophet in response to the sacrilegious movie, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said.

The sudden announcement of the holiday came after religious parties called for a day of protest on Friday to denounce the film and lawyers demonstrating in Islamabad denounced the government’s ‘criminal silence’ on the issue.

“We will send a message to the world that Muslims of Pakistan are protesting about this, and we won’t tolerate even a single sentence against the dignity of the Holy Prophet,” Kaira told a news conference.

He said, “Ishq-e-Rasool (SAW) Conference chaired by the prime minister will be held on Friday,” adding that the forum would convey a message that sentiments of Pakistani people were badly hurt because of the blasphemous film. “We should make peaceful protest and pray to god to remove the weaknesses of the Muslim people, because of which we are facing this situation.”

The head of a leading Sunni party, the Sunni Tehreek, on Monday urged people across the country to close their businesses and hold rallies against the film.

Sources said traders and transporters associations in the largest city and commercial hub Karachi had backed the call.

Earlier, the federal cabinet meeting suspended its routine agenda to discuss the situation created as aftermath of the anti-Islam movie, as Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf appealed the masses to stay peaceful in their protest.

The prime minister told the cabinet that the government, while taking strict notice of the blasphemous film, blocked all websites containing the profane material.

Raja demanded immediate removal of the movie from YouTube and appealed to the people not to destroy the public property during the protest.

Later, the federal cabinet adopted a resolution to strongly condemn the blasphemous film. The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Raja, suspended other agenda items and called upon the protesters to register protest peacefully without damaging public property. The members of the cabinet also offered fateha for the persons who died in Karachi and Lahore fire tragedies and in recent floods.

Kaira said those involved in uploading, production and exhibition of this defamatory film should be dealt without any leniency.

“We will not tolerate such kind of things and it is the responsibility of the country where this film was made to take action against the responsible persons,” he added.

To a question any proposal to demand the US to handing over the writer and producer of blasphemous, Kaira paused a little to reply the query and said government had yet not taken such kind of decision.

“This incident has badly hurt the Muslims all over the world and all-out efforts made to avoid it in future,” he said, adding that Muslims should get united to register their peaceful protest.

“The federal cabinet has requested President Asif Ali Zardari to raise the issue at the platform of United Nations (UN) to avoid such hateful incidents in the future,” Kaira said.

Meanwhile, a report said Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has invited all heads of political parties to join him at Convention Centre, Islamabad, where he will have a vigil’ to show solidarity on the occasion of Yaum-e-Ishaq-e-Rasool at 10:00am on Friday.