A mob of enraged Muslim students in Pakistan murdered a journalism student on Apr. 13 because he allegedly blasphemed Islam. Now police have arrested 22 people for the crime, The Washington Post reports.
This week, everyone affected is considering what happened, given how no blasphemy occurred.
Mashal Khan, 23, was studying at a university in northwestern Pakistan and considered a paragon of youthful potential in his home community. But when he was accused of blasphemy, he couldn’t a friend.
He found a lot of enemies and earlier this month when a group of them attacked Khan, beat him up and shot him dead. His family received no consolation from neighbors who ran in the other direction. The local imam wouldn’t even give the young man a funeral.
Later, the facts began to surface, facts that indicated Khan hadn’t blasphemed anyone or anything. Turns out the university officials and radical Muslim students who made the charges got it wrong.
Police investigated the “crime” and soon revealed that none had been committed. This week, the neighbors returned to express their condolences to the Khan family.
It is a chilling warning about the dangers posed by over-zealous Muslim students who support a faith that often demands brutal punishment for what the democratic world views as free speech.
“I lost my son, my friend and my light. It shattered my world,” said his social worker and poet father, Iqbal Khan Iqbal. “But my greatest sorrow was that no one in the village came to offer condolences.”
Iqbal says his son may have had eclectic interests that included Sufi mysticism, may have been opinionated, but he was always a devout Muslim. His father cannot believe that the son was murdered by other students, who may have been encouraged in their act by university fanatics who were angry that Khan objected to some university policies.
“Universities are places of learning and knowledge,” Iqbal said. “If such incidents are taking place there, what can we expect from the rest of society?”
The lynching did prompt a huge outcry in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan. It may be a seminal moment in the continuing debate in this country over whether blasphemy against Islam should remain a capital offense deserving of the death penalty.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the murder and urged other Pakistanis to do so too. But the country’s National Assembly reacted to the murder not by reconsidering the blasphemy law but by issuing a statement about the need to ensure that the blasphemy law is not misused by mobs who take the law into their own hands.
Though Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy does not routinely result in executions for those found guilty of violating it, it has been used to attack religious minorities and can result in vigilante justice if people think an accused offender is going to escape the death penalty.
Khan’s murder illustrates both factors. He had alienated Muslim extremists — both students and faculty — at his university and he was lynched by a mob who suspected he might get off easy.
The new factor is the setting of the killing: a university campus, where one might assume academics would be less inclined to reflect the worst excesses of Islamic extremism.
“A seat of higher learning was the venue. The motive was to silence a brilliant student who dared to speak his mind. The charge of blasphemy came in handy to inflame sentiments,” wrote commentator Zahid Hussain.
“It reminds one of the Inquisition in Europe during the Middle Ages,” Hussain said.