He angered many Danes by seeking support from the Middle East in his fight against the newspaper.

 

Furthermore, many blamed him and other Islamic clerics in Denmark for fuelling anger that triggered massive and sometimes violent anti-Danish protests in Muslim countries in January and February last year.

 

Offending cartoons

 

The 12 offending drawings, one of which depicted the Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, offended many Muslims.

 

Islamic law forbids any depiction of its prophet for fear it could lead to idolatry.

 

Speaking before the protests erupted, Abu Laban described the cartoons as an attempt to "insult" and "degrade" Muhammad.

 

"There was no point but mere mockery," he said.

 

Jyllands-Posten later apologised for the cartoons, saying the purpose was not to offend Muslims but to challenge growing self-censorship among artists dealing with Muslim issues.

 

Leading figure

 

Born in the Palestinian town of Haifa, Abu Laban grew up in Egypt. He later trained to be an engineer and worked in the oil industry in the Persian Gulf and in Nigeria.

 

In the mid-1980s he emigrated to Denmark and soon emerged as a leading figure in the Islamic Faith Community, a Copenhagen-based organisation which represents about 10 per cent of Denmark's 200,000 Muslims.

 

"To me in the very beginning, Denmark looked like utopia, a perfect country," Abu Laban once said.

 

But he said his view changed to a nation fearful of its growing Muslim immigrant community and its strong values.

 

"[Muslims] have values, they have identity and indirectly [Danes] assume that this is a threat," he said.

 

'Humiliation'

 

In May 2006, Abu Laban said he felt so humiliated during the cartoon crisis that he had contemplated leaving Denmark and moving to Gaza with his family.

 

Muslim leaders said Abu Laban would be remembered as a great spiritual leader with strong political views.

 

"We lost one of our best friends and brothers," said Khalil Jafar Mushab, an imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Copenhagen.

 

"It is a great loss for the community and his mosque."

 

However Soeren Espersen, a spokesman for the anti-immigration Danish People's Party, said Abu Laban will be remembered for his role in the Prophet cartoon crisis and as someone "who opposed and indeed fought against freedom and democracy."