The savagely violent murder of Mashal Khan on April 13 is a grim reminder of our consistency in aversion for critical minds and free thinking from olden times down to present day. This lynching is not a unique episode in human history. Socrates (470-399 BC), the classical Greek Philosopher was accused of corrupting minds of youths and impiety. He preferred death over disgrace of changing his view under severe pressure. The accusations later on turned out to be personally and politically motivated. Galileo, the Italian. Physicist and polymath suffered for his views. He was condemned by the Catholic Church for "vehement suspicion of heresy.” The 16 th century Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno too was “burned at the stake for stubborn adherence to his then unorthodox beliefs—including the idea that the universe is infinite…” Imam Hanbal, Mansoor al Halaj, and Ibn Rushad to name a few ,were yet others who suffered for clinging to their views and thoughts.
The lynching of Mashal Khan has immensely tarnished the already damaged image of Muslims in general and Pakhtuns in particular in the world. The barbaric slaying of Mashal Khan by a self righteous mob is out of sync with the teachings of Islam, the faith in which name the murder was carried out. Islam‘s primary message is peace. It instructs its followers to remove even a sharp edged article from path so that it may not hurt anyone. The holy prophet (pbuh) was himself an epitome of magnanimity and kindness and the biggest peace maker in history. Allah in the holy Quran says that He has sent Muhammad (pbuh) as a mercy to the worlds. Islam also enjoins upon its followers not to believe in hearsay and unverified news. The Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) in one of his saying has identified this as a chief quality of a true believer that he never trusts hearsay. To be patient in the face of any exasperation is highly appreciable act in Islam. Seeking knowledge and exploration is another hallmark of Islam for true knowledge of anything leads to light and right track and one can avoid to be tempted to malicious ways and thinking.
The cold blooded murder of Mashal Khan is alarming in the context of the death of critical thinking on our campuses which are supposed to be bastions of logical thinking and critical questioning. The culture of questioning is usually discouraged and avoided lest it may ‘pollute’ the “cerebral hygiene” of our youth. As a Masters student when I asked my honorable teacher about a book written by Willaim Muir, the said teacher forbade to read such books at that level. When one tries to say something about any Meta narrative, he or she does so at the cost of being declared, anti-Pakhtun, anti-Pakistan or anti-Islam. And this is this fear that one’s hand tremble and tongue stammer to write and say something, badly damaging and stunting one’s mind’s growth. A renowned Pakistani, historian, K.K Aziz has particularly bemoaned this trend. The erudite historian is of the opinion that no question is an “awkward question”. Our youth has become so radicalized that at times one has to be extra cautious while discussing any narratives. What surprises me to no ends is that everyone seems to have become an expert on issues of which they have negligible authentic knowledge. Majority tend to be judgmental and jump to conclusion without any solid arguments. For instance, they have no qualms in casting aspersions on the character of Malala and dwarfing her achievements. Instead of celebrating her as the pride of the Pakistan and the Pakhtuns, they dub her as an agent of the west If someone questions the concentration of wealth in a few hands such as ownership of big land holdings then he or she is equated with communists, and being communist means devoid of all rules and regulations, a porn star believing not in chastity, inclined to incest and immorality.
Sadly and ironically enough, the university where this sad incident took place is named after the renowned Pakistani politician Abdul Wali Khan whose name evokes principle, love and respect. He was a champion of pluralism and scion of the non-violent and pacifist Ghaffar Khan who is also known to Pakhtuns by his affectionate name Bacha Khan. Wali Khan in his own times called the Afghan War of 1979 as a war between two super powers and a Fasad rather than Jihad. His revered father Bacha Khan nurtured in Pakhtuns the spirit of non-violence and raised an army of non-violent volunteers. For his non-violent Movement, Khudai Khidmatgars, he is wrongfully called Frontier Gandhi by some writers. The colour of their uniform, Red,bracketed them with the Communist Russia. However, reading his auto-biography, Zama Zwandao Jadojihad (My Life and Struggle) and the Book, Ethnicity, Islam, and Nationalism by Dr. Wiqar Ali Shah, it was the Holy Prophet who inspired him with ideals of non-violence and the Red Shirts name has its own history having nothing to do with the Bolsheviks. He fought with the British colonialism with this culture of non-violence. Lately, some students arose and killed their fellow and brother in a place where Bacha khan had strived hard in the face of every adversity to rid Pakhtuns of the obnoxious and despicable customs and traditions which hindered their enlightenment and advancement. Today the souls of Bacha Khan and Wali Khan might be trembling at the temerity of the murderous band. In distant times and climes, the gory incident of Mashal Khan’s lynching would send waves of shock and terror even to the coldest of its readers and viewers. However, the father of Mashal Khan really displayed the true meaning of non- violence.
The callous murder of Mashal Khan is also a blemish on the fair name of Pakhtunwali. Pakhtunwali, the time-honored code and way of Pakhtun life has its own rules and principles. Like Islam it also stands for the dignity and respect of human life. It works under the rules that one is innocent unless proven guilty. It is extremely unpakhtunlike to kill a defencelss person what to speak of dishonoring and mutilating a dead body. The very tenets of Pakhtunwali call for standing with the aggrieved against the aggressors which was shown by Mashal’s village fellows.
This region has been bleeding for the last many years because of extremism and militancy. The misguided souls have more often than not employed religion for their heinous acts against humanity. The growing and disparaging milieu of extremism and intolerance needs a thorough and compassionate cognizance of the situation and introspection too. It requires a complete overhauling of our curriculum and thorough teacher training, vigilant check on use of pulpit by the religious establishment, imbibing the values of pluralism and harmony, encouraging book readership etc. May it would of some use to rectify the gloom and doom around.
Hanif-ur- Rahman* Jamshid Khan*
*The writer teaches History at University of Peshawar. *Jamshid Khan teaches at AKDC