A WELL-RESPECTED East Lancashire Islamic leader has been killed in a blaze in the holy city of Medina.

Mufti Yusuf Bismillah, 58, from Blackburn, is understood to have suffocated when the Saudi Arabian hotel he was staying in caught fire.

Tributes have poured in for the ‘pious’ and ‘humble’ Islamic scholar, of Ripon Street, who was associated with the mosque on Audley Range, Blackburn.

Mufti Yusuf’s wife Fatimah, who was with him, was taken to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation.

Two of their eight children flew out to Saudi Arabia yesterday to be with her.

Coun Salim Mulla, who also lives in Ripon Street and is Mayor of Blackburn with Darwen, said news of Mufti Yusuf’s death had sent ‘shockwaves’ throughout the area.

He said: “Mufti Yusuf was a pillar of our community and it is a massive, tragic loss. We cannot get over it.

“He was such an inspirational man of Blackburn and he was very, very highly regarded.

“He was a very moderate man and he understood living in the UK.”

Mourners and well wishers from across the country gathered at the family home yesterday to pay their respects and remember Mufti Yusuf, who also taught at an Islamic school in Preston.

Coun Mulla said that Mufti Yusuf’s body would not be flown back to the UK, but instead laid to rest in the Jannatul Al-Baqi cemetery.

He said that because Medina, a major religious pilgrimage destination for Muslims, was such a holy city, it was a ‘blessing’ to die there.

Medina is also the burial site of the Prophet Muhammad and is Islam's second most important religious city after Mecca.

Amina Dalal, of Ripon Street, said her sons had been taught Islamic scriptures by Mufti Yusuf.

She said: “His death is not only a loss to us, it is a loss to the whole community.

“He was such an intelligent, modest and humble person.

“Mufti Yusuf helped us in incredible ways.”

The blaze at the Ishraq Al-Madina Hotel killed at least 12 people and injured around 130 other pilgrims when it broke out shortly after 2.30pm local time on Saturday.

Newspapers in the country reported that the flames had been brought under control by around 5pm.

An investigation into the cause of the fire was launched, with initial reports indicating it was started by a short circuit during maintenance work.

It is understood 30 people were treated at the scene, with others being sent to the King Fahd Hospital and the Ansar Hospital.

Most pilgrims died of suffocation, it was reported.

Authorities evacuated the 700 guests, of different nationalities, staying at the hotel. Those who were trapped inside were said to have climbed onto the roof for safety.