When Mashal Khan fell victim to our criminal mind-set

Published: April 14, 2017

What happened yesterday to Mashal Khan at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan is not something new.

Yesterday, I received the news through a WhatsApp message wherein my younger brother sent me a video clip and requested me to watch it. Although the video was brief, about 45 seconds, but it was long enough to make me sick to my stomach. What I was seeing was barbarism at its worst – a large crowd beating an already dead man. Many were silently watching and no one was even trying to stop it. That video, along with many others, has gone viral. At a time when the global opinion about Muslims and Pakistan is already worsening, this occurrence has merely aggravated the problem. 

And yet, despite the extremity of the incident, I was not surprised. What happened yesterday to Mashal Khan at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan is not something new.

My mind flashed back to an incident which had occurred during my teen years and had shaken me to the core. It was a case which, along with Salamat Masih’s case, played an instrumental role in transforming me as an individual.  It was the case of Hafiz Sajjad, who was burnt alive by a mob in Gujranwala for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran. According to the details in the newspaper which I was reading at that time, Sajjad had allegedly burnt pages of the Holy Quran and as soon as the nearby cleric got the whiff of it, he issued a fatwa. Resultantly, a mob had gathered outside his residence, dragged the individual out of his home and started beating him. As they were thrashing him, someone in the mob stopped the others and suggested that the culprit should be meted out proper Islamic punishment of stoning. At that point, the police reached the spot and took the individual into what under normal circumstances would have been a protective custody.

But soon an even larger crowd had gathered in front of the police station and started to demand that Sajjad be handed over to them. Due to the huge size of the increasingly vociferous mob, the police inspector buckled under pressure and handed Sajjad over to the mob who started stoning him mercilessly and thereafter set his body on fire. If this were not enough, they tied his corpse to a motorcycle and dragged it through the streets for two hours.

However, two days after the incident, details of the case were revealed which established beyond doubt that Sajjad had in fact been a traditional devout Muslim and had accidently dropped the Holy Quran on the stove while reciting it. Although it was a genuine accident, someone from the neighbourhood reported his action to the nearby mosque as a deliberate act. Needless to say, the cleric did not even bother to ascertain the facts before agitating the nearby community to take action. This agitation “convinced” people to do what they did. Although the incident was shocking, the reaction to all that barbarism was even more tragic. There was hardly any agitation or debate and no political party even raised the issue.

The said incident has been followed by a flurry of such incidents of religion inspired mob violence. In 2009, there was a similar incident of mob violence against Christians in Gojra. In 2013, a Christian colony in Lahore was attacked. A Christian couple was burnt alive in 2014. In 2016, Ahmadi places of worship in Chakwal were attacked. Hence, what has happened in Mardan is only the latest in a series of such incidents.

Although specific details of each incident vary, there are nevertheless several things common. All of the aforementioned incidents, along with countless others not mentioned here, demonstrate a variety of elements – use of religion in perpetuating violence, venting out of core violent instincts, complete inability of anyone near the mob to even raise a dissenting opinion, impotence of the state apparatus to give protection at the time violence was taking place, and lastly but perhaps most importantly, the reluctance of political parties to stir any debate on the failure of our administration to give protection and on the controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

The last element shows that the issue perhaps does not register as an issue with the populace. After all, by design, political parties try to stir debate on issues where there is some political meat which in turn emanates if there is some genuine concern for it in the public.

One can claim that these incidents are still occasional and therefore do not represent the so-called “moderate” majority. However, I beg to disagree. The majority may not be physically participating in such violence, but it holds views which are conducive to such violence. Many of us are willing to believe in the accusation of blasphemy even without any proof and often demand “maximum” punishment for the accused.

A few months ago, when the five bloggers were abducted, a malicious campaign was waged against them on electronic and social media, accusing them of blasphemy. Some TV anchors were openly demanding their death, a view endorsed by a large number of Pakistanis on social media. Since I knew Salman Haider through Facebook, I therefore decided to write an article defending him. I was aware that Haider was a devout Muslim and there was no way he could be a blasphemer. I still remember the response to the article on the Facebook page of The Express Tribune. An overwhelming majority of commentators was simply insistent on calling him a “blasphemer” despite the fact that no proof had ever been presented against him. Based on their perception, many of the commentators wanted him to die. Some even said that I should be abducted or killed just for writing an article defending him.

The entire abduction episode gives us a good and clear idea of the collective mind-set of our society. It is this very mind-set which lowers the threshold of mob violence whenever an accusation of blasphemy is made.

But what is the cause behind it? I think the general diagnosis of some liberals that the root cause is Pakistan’s blasphemy laws is somewhat misplaced. In my opinion, the blasphemy laws are only a symptom. Yes these should be amended but we need to address the real problem.

In fact, in blasphemy cases, people have even been killed while in jail while their cases were in progress. Repealing the laws, if such repeal is even successful, will only remove a symbol of the religion’s infusion with the state; it will by no stretch of imagination prevent people from endorsing or instigating violence. In this matter, repealing the laws without addressing the real issue will cause people to become even more bigoted than they are now. In fact, the law cannot be repealed through democratic ways in the first place until the major issue is tackled.

Let’s not forget that laws, even if imposed through dictatorial ordinances, can only be repealed through legislature. No party has the guts to do it and one of the main reasons is that unfortunately, most of the ordinary Pakistanis want these laws in place. These laws are the reflection of Pakistan’s general populace, and assuming that a sizable number even supports the notion that these laws should be amended, they are completely impotent due to extreme reverence of religion and their inability to bring any counter argument to conservative religious scholars and clerics.

In my opinion, it is our cultural setup which is the main reason. This system gives religion extreme reverence and cultivates an identity based on it, which is extraordinarily sensitive on all religious matters. This reverence of religion is primarily cultural through the state as its major patron. The issue is not restricted to the fusion of religion with the state; the state is one of the patrons of religion, but is not the sole determinant of its reverence.

All of this cultivates an atmosphere where a mob can actually get away with extremely violent acts in the name of religion. People, even if they do not actually feel the anger, can still get violent to vent out their instincts under the guise of religious sensitivity, knowing fully well that no one will be able to stop them. In fact, we know of several instances where the police and respective administrations were merely silent spectators while the mob was imposing their “justice” on the victims.

Can we change it? Yes, it is an extremely tall task but something we need to start. We have to first control the hate speech on electronic media and also present a counter narrative to violence in the name of religion. Only by coming up with an effective counter narrative can we tackle the issue. Most importantly, we need to make ourselves understand that when we kill, endorse violence or even express excessive outrage, we are portraying the legacy of our Prophet (pbuh) in a wrong manner.

Somewhere between the labels of “Tum Kaafir, mein musalmaan” (You’re a disbeliever, I’m a true Muslim), some people lost a son, a brother and a friend.

Acting violently, endorsing violence or even tolerating it, and then expecting the world to consider our religion as peaceful is not going to happen until the narrative changes.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ReXXaR

    Welcome to PakistanRecommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Pakistan’s Jinnah too has defended a man who killed another man for Blasphemy.


    Nations take on some of the qualities of the founders.Not surprising.Recommend

  • Agha

    Meanwhile Pakistanis are busy on another story proclaiming US “the most extremist nation” for a non fatal attack on a hijabi woman, they are also quite curiously upholding the message of “liberty and tolerance” supreme on THAT story.Recommend

  • qasim ali

    I agree with you on most points. The religion in Pakistan has became politicized. The main stream Hanafi (deobandi) are feeling the heat because of the Afghan War, World Wide Terrorism, Socio-Economic unrest etc. Also i think that after the golden age of Islam and particularly after the Ottomans, we have not produced the Intellectuals which can deal with the Modern and Post-Modern Philosophies that are shaping the current world. We need Intellectuals who can revive ISLAM so that it re gains its teaching of Love and Peace which are core values for every religion.

    I don’t know how it will happen, but i believe that this is due and this will happen in the next two generations. We need to faster its speed. I think violence is not the way to go. Some times seculars also get violent which makes the matter worse. We need to act with patience and forbearance for this to happen…Recommend

  • Nana

    There is no hope for this nation in thousand years after the turn they have taken.


  • Kushal

    Thank you jinnahRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    A land where it is becoming increasingly difficult to know the difference between the victms and the perpatrators who are regularly creating artificial storms every now and then and projecting the country’s ugly image in the outside world A tough time for the secularists who are still dreaming of a secular State. .

    Rex Minor .Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    America is not the extremist Nation but is becoming a criminal one with Trumpers who have just dropped a mother of all bombs in Afghanistan to avenge the loss of their soldier of special force.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Kasturi K

    Yes, thank you Jinnah from saving us from the lynching mob who kill in the name of cow eating. For saving us from double jeopardy.Recommend

  • sam

    This is a very sad story.
    This should not happened.
    We are full of hatred, anger and frustration.
    Those students took out their frustration on him in this way.
    Things in our life are not going good.

    What we are teaching our kids in the name of religion?
    we have taught our children the 5 pillars of Islam.
    Roza, zakat etc
    But we have not taught them the manners to live life.
    This is the main problem.

    We also have to teach our kids how to respect others opinion.
    how to criticize. How to debate. How to argue.
    If someone don’t believe on our religion then it doesn’t mean that we should kill him.
    IT is our right to clear other person’s concepts instead of killing.Recommend

  • AJ

    I don’t dare to watch the video and I don’t know much about the case itself.

    However, I believe that protection of Islam or Quran is in hands of the Creator and there is no need of a bunch of people who try to be the savior and protector of the religion by killing people, either blasphemous or not blasmphemous.

    You are NOT helping Islam or humanity. Recommend

  • Fuzail Ayaz

    Killing has become easy in PAKISTAN. Country has become an array of killing. the other day an other killing occurred in Nankana Sahib. An Ahmadi lawyer named Salim Ahmad , who was cousin to Dr. Mohammad Abdussalam the only Nobel laureate of Pakistan.His killer confessed his murder saying that mr. salim said words of blasphamy in front of him. A total lie, and now the killing od mishal khan, on the same account. The cat of extremism if out of bag. This recalls me the days of the Spanish and the French inquisition. The state of Pakistan has lost control over its subjects. The war against terror is now taking another shape.
    May Allah save my country.Recommend

  • Mughal

    Actually Jinnah merely represented him in court and claimed that he was too young to be executed (18) and that he had been radicalized by Mullahs who should be blamed instead.

    He did not defend Ilm-Deen actions as lawyers are not responsible for the actions of their clients and used the same arguments in favour of Bhagat Singh too.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    I’ve been reading up on Mashal Khan. Everything about him suggests that he was a young, smart and politically active guy, not involved in any blasphemous or anti Islam activity. The Jamiat academics and student wing at Wali University was hostile to him.

    Jamat e Islami is known to bring religion into politics and any opposition to them is declared opposition to Islam and Quran.


  • sidra shafiq

    Exactly,as Indians have qualities of Nehru..
    He had a nice extramarital relationship.


  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Sure. If you say so.. I’ll take that any day over murder.Recommend


    pak has many talented people thn nehru. imran khan the message talaaq specialist.Recommend

  • Razzy

    Perhaps the KPK government must brutally punish the offending lads but must NOT spare the fake Mullahs that inspire such acts. Now that would a game changerRecommend

  • Razzy

    nah India has slowly started to take on the character of nathuram godse. Perhaps he is much more liked today than the likes of Nehru and gandhiji who are reviled like anything if you read much of what the gen X thinks.Recommend

  • Agha

    And Pakistan is not a criminal nation? A nation who wants muslims treated equally but refuses to do so for their minorities (that includes religious minorities, irreligious and sexual minorities). The “mother of all bombs” killed IS fighters and their infrastructure, even Afghan government testifies to it. I would say job well done. I would take US over Afghanistan any day.Recommend

  • Agha

    Not to mention the fact that you completely missed the point: Our collective hypocrisy.
    Want another example of it? US Syrian bombing. It brought Syria back into the minds of Pakistanis. It killed 13 people. What didn’t bring Syria into their minds? A chemical attack (by muslims whether by Assad or the rebel we can never know but consensus tilts towards Assad) which killed more than 80 Syrians huge number of them children.

    Here is another more recent example: A bus bombing (we don’t know who did it; IS or rebels) which killed more than 80 (yes 80) children. In fact it WAS targeted towards children, the terrorist attracted children with “chips”. Did you hear about it in Pakistani press as ferociously as the US attacks (which has far less casualties)?Recommend

  • sidra shafiq

    Look,everyone in pakistan condemn mishal’s murder.I am seriously unable to understand,why in every situation indian drag jinnah?
    Whether you check videos or comments on any blog,every indian tries his best to pass some ranchy comments on jinnah.
    Do you people do the same in your trivial conversation as well?I am curious to know about it.
    I hardly heard anyone in pakistan thinking or saying something about gandhi or Nehru.
    Please leave 1947 behind you,its 2017.


  • sidra shafiq

    Are you sure???

  • sidra shafiq

    Anoop,I must say murder is a big crime.
    But adultery,extra marital affairs and sexual abuse too are not that much defendable.
    I just want to say,every bad happening is condemnable,whether it’s scale is large or small.
    Indians usually think that jinnah is responsible for every event in pakistan.
    Please just change your mind frame.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    What Jinnah did equals


    Same scenario, same British laws(inherited by Pakistan), same self confessing killer, who is proud of what he did and is clear why he did it.
    You seriously don’t know why Jinnah is relevant here? Really?Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    You are right.. I’m sure that is the same reason Qadri got 90 lawyers to defend him. All for free..



    You have an image of Jinnah and its hard to violate it, I get it. Jinnah is not the man you thought he was. If he was he wouldn’t have nearly disowned his daughter for marrying a non-Muslim.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Yes, that is why we have Nathuram’s photo on our currency. Brilliant analysis.Recommend

  • Razzy

    You sure will have his statues soon and there have been talks to ‘re-discover’ him. Ditto for ‘veer savarkar’. They all will soon be eulogized and ‘re-discovered’ very soon going by the current trends in India!Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Can we have a timeframe? How much money are you willing to bet?
    You were the same guy who said Hindus are fanatics and Muslims are peaceful. I asked you why Hindus all over the world are peaceful and Muslims violent, you ran away, blaming everything on America and Cold War.Recommend

  • Razzy

    I ran away? You need to re-read my answer (the one) which I believe you are talking about. It’s a long one and it talks about human nature as well. Perhaps reading long essays is something you don’t like. But if you don’t read it in it’s entirety you won’t get it.

    Perhaps this would help you better:

    It’s straight and to the point and devoid of any political correctness that is typical of mainstream publications. And remember I rejoiced when Trump won. At least he spoke his mouth and was of the non-interventionist ideology that could itself go a long way bringing peace in the region. But then again the globalists have got him it seems

    Nevertheless he is still far better than Hillary who would have drowned the region in blood yet be seen as a (neo)-liberal at home! Same goes for Le-pen. Heck she may have some extreme views but as a politician, she is not a puppet of the globalist cabal and would be that much hard to control. Some of her saner things include not taking france into unneccesary “missions” abroad (mostly in Muslim majority nations in Africa) and looking inward. Heck she has some crazy views. But as long as she is an inward looking politician who actually support REAL sovereignty, both at home and abroad, the fire that they’ve lit across the region would slowly abate and that itself gets her my vote!

    So don’t call me your average Muslim who takes things at face value! I discern things and now a days things are just the opposite of what they look like from the outsideRecommend

  • Mughal

    Actually Jinnah was paid for his services and as mentioned Bhagat Singh was defended too. Would the lawyers you quote do that? If not then that is the real difference between partisans and leaders. When Jinnah took up the case it wasn’t even clear that he was the murderer as there were no witnesses. It was only later through the trail that Ilmuddin confessed.

    In any case Jinnah did not disown his daughter even nearly. She was included in his will and they kept in contact.Recommend

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani

    He never disowned his daughter I am afraid. Secondly his appearance as a counsel in Ilam Din case was purely as a barrister. He did not argue that what Ilam Din did was correct. He argued that Ilam Din didn’t do it.Recommend

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani

    Ilam Din did not confess. Jinnah’s defence was that he didn’t do it. He was a lawyer in appeal. He did not go around making statements defending Ilam Din. Please check your facts.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Nearly disowned is not same as disowned. FYI.Recommend

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani

    Nearly? Who said anything about disowning when she is clearly mentioned in his will and even her children are. Keep spinning stories. Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Yes, YLH. You are right. A father doesn’t attend his own daughters wedding and doesn’t meet her after she marries a man he disproves off and he addresses her as Mrs.Wadia. This is not “nearly disown”ing her.

    Will. Yes, adding her name in the will shows he hasn’t disowned her.

    You live in your own fanboy reality don’t you. You aren’t better than the subcontinent bhai fans who excuse his murderous behavior. Jinnah is your Salman khan. Recommend

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani

    In other words you don’t have an argument. The man clearly did not disown his daughter if he had her in the will. Only right wing Islamists and prejudiced jingoist Indians like you believe he did without any evidence.

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani

    To say that Jinnah did not meet Dina after the marriage is factually incorrect. Jinnah met Dina often in Bombay and even played with her kids. Kept their pictures with him. These are all well known facts. Also well known is the fact that he sent her flowers on her wedding day. Nusli wadia still has the cap Jinnah gave him as a young boy. The problem with you dear Anoop is that you don’t research your claims before making them.

    No none of this looks like a man who nearly disowned his daughter … He could have been like Nehru… who accepted feroze Gandhi once he took on that last name converted to Hinduism and agreed to have a Hindu ceremony. But Jinnah didn’t destroy his daughter’s life like Nehru did …. all to form a corrupt dynasty.Recommend

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani

    Fyi Jinnah did meet Dina after her marriage many times and spent time with his grandchildren. He carried their pictures with him. Nusli Wadia still has the cap Jinnah gave him. And no leaving part of his estate in the will to his daughter and her children does not look like a man who nearly disowned his daughter.

    He could have forced his daughter’s fiancee to convert like Nehru did with Feroz Gandhi but he didn’t. So what if he addressed her as Mrs Wadia ? He was always very formal and it showed that he accepted the marriage. He could have been like Nehru forcing Feroz Gandhi take up that last name and agree to a Hindu ceremony. He could have also formed a corrupt dynasty like Nehru did. He didn’t do any of that.

    In any event only Islamists and Jinnah bashers believe he disowned his daughter. But then they believe a lot of things which are untrue. You are welcome to live in your make believe world.Recommend

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani

    Only Islamists and Jinnah-bashing Indian jingoists deny the facts as you do here. Jinnah defended Ilam Din as his counsel in appeal. His argument was that Ilam Din did not do it.. not that Ilam Din was right in killing Rajpal. At no point did Jinnah argue that. Neither Islamists nor Indian jingoists can understand that a lawyer defends all sorts of people without agreeing with the crime. That is what is the backbone of the justice system – innocent till proven guilty. I wish Pakistan could take on the qualities of the founding father, his belief in equality, his abiding faith in constitutionalism. They haven’t unfortunately.Recommend