A professor of Islam known for his liberal religious views has been killed in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, officials say, two years after he was labelled an "apostate" in a text-message campaign.

Mohammad Shakil Auj, the 54-year-old dean of Islamic Studies at the prestigious University of Karachi, was gunned down in his car on Thursday while on his way to an Iranian cultural centre where he was invited as a guest of honour.

His car was being driven down a ramp from a flyover, when "bullets were fired, one hit the professor in the head and he died", Pir Mohammad Shah, senior police officer, told the AFP news agency.

Another bullet struck a junior colleague of Auj in the arm, wounding her.

Auj, a recipient of a presidential medal of distinction, was known for his unorthodox views and was fighting a legal case against the suspected originator of a widely circulated text message that called him an apostate or a person who has abandoned their religion.

Colleagues alleged his predecessor was to blame.

At the time Auj opened the case, he told police: "It has endangered my life and on the basis of the propaganda I could be murdered."

Controversial fatwas

Auj had issued controversial fatwas [religious decrees] pronouncing for example that a Muslim woman could marry a non-Muslim man, and that women need not remove lipstick or nail polish before saying their prayers.

Such views can cause serious offence to some conservative Muslims in Pakistan.

"We would tell him to be cautious as he was very aggressive in promoting his liberal views regarding the religion," said Tauseef Ahmed Khan, an old friend, and chairman of the Mass Communications department of the Federal Urdu University.

Atiq Shaikh, a Karachi Police spokesman, said: "Police investigating the case are considering various aspects, including personal enmity and other possible motives."

Karachi University students held a protest inside the campus, demanding the arrest of Auj's killers.

They held placards that read: "The murders of teachers is a murder of the whole society," and "Security should be provided to the teachers."

The university will remain closed for three days of mourning.

Source: Agencies