“My wife said to me this morning that she had spent her life taking care of her son. Those who killed him have wasted all that long struggle,” these words spoken by Mashal Khan’s father during an interview express the grief that perhaps only a parent who has lost their child can fully understand.
Referring to false accusations of blasphemy raised against his dead son, Iqbal Shair said, during an interview given to Reuters, “First they killed my son and now they are adding salt to our wounds.”
The brutal murder of the 23-year-old student has laid bare the extent to which violence, ignorance and prejudice have become entrenched within our society. Taking an innocent life is inimical to the most fundamental principles of Islam. Though Mashal’s killers purportedly acted to avenge an alleged slight against the Holy Prophet (PBUH), the chilling video footage showing the killers celebrating the murder and vowing to conceal the identity of the person who fired the shot only goes on to reinforce the harrowing savagery of the horrific crime.
Tragically, Article 295-C of the Constitution that prescribes death penalty for blasphemy seems to have encouraged vigilante justice, allowing the ‘blasphemy card’ to be deployed routinely as an exonerating factor in acts of cold-blooded brutality. The fact that such a defence or justification can be even entertained is indicative of a disturbing social dysfunction.
Prior to the constitutional amendment through which Article 295-C was added to the Pakistan Penal Code during General Ziaul Haq’s tenure, there were punishments in the penal code only for defiling a place of worship or imperiling law and order by causing outrage to religious beliefs of any community. None of these offences were punishable by death.
The sheer absurdity of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws is illustrated by the fact that not a single person was ever killed for blaspheming the Holy Prophet (PBUH) during his lifetime. On the contrary, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) responded with unparalleled compassion towards his detractors.
Motivated solely by an urge to galvanise power, successive governments have allowed Pakistan’s hardline religious elements to gain undue influence. This is in spite of the fact that such political parties have remained marginal players in electoral politics. Our mosques have been hijacked by obscurantist forces propagating hatred and violence.
The local cleric’s refusal to lead Mashal’s funeral rites only further demonstrates the damage wrought by self-appointed religious representatives. With the ongoing police investigation, the full horror of this tragedy continues to unfold. Mashal’s death should serve as a clarion call to the authorities to act against those preaching hate speech and inciting violence in the name of religion.
The outpouring of grief and anger in Mashal’s hometown of Swabi and the collective voice of media and civil society following the lynching incident must go on to ensure that the loss of Mashal’s life is never forgotten. At a time of senseless violence where a brilliant young man’s life has been cut short so cruelly, Jalaluddin Rumi’s words resonate profoundly, “We were with the spheres, among the angels — let us return there, friend, for that is our native city.”
The writer the founding editor of Blue Chip magazine. She tweets @MashaalGauhar