when an intellectually stifled nation murders its future: why Mashal Khan of Mardan was lynched

Readers’ discretion advised. This is about violence and the dangers of ignorance, arrogance, irresponsibility, and hypocrisy.

What happened?


Mashal Khan.

So, on Thursday, April 13th, a lynch mob of some two or three thousand university students killed a Pakistani (and Pukhtun) man named Mashal Khan. On university premises in Mardan, Pakistan. Rumor had it that he had committed “blasphemy,” as though anyone knows what that means. Videos and pictures of Mashal’s dorm room has statements like, “Be curious, crazy, and mad.” He was intellectual curious, and Pakistan is no place for people like him. Wonderful job, Pakistan. Just wonderful.

I’ve made the mistake of watching parts of the videos available, and they’re bloody, violent, merciless. People jumping on him, beating him with wooden planks as he lays lifeless on the ground, people taking off his clothes. It is inhumanity on display. Just devastating to know it happened but something else to physically see it. And of the thousands in these videos, NO one has the humanity, the compassion, the decency to stop anyone else. When given power, humans are capable of everything.

As if that wasn’t enough, even in death, he was rejected: The local mullah refused to perform the funeral prayer, so when a local technical did it, he was condemned by the people afterwards.

EDIT: I’ll post links later, but turns out, there’s a huge possibility the university staged the whole lynching in retaliation for Mashal’s open criticism of the university (e.g., high fees relative to other public universities in PK, no voice chancellor, etc.). Mashal was leading a protest to express his and other students’ concerns, was interviewed by Khyber TV two days before the lynching, and the uni wasn’t cool with that.

Reportedly, then (I hear from friends I trust), the university decided to incite the students against him abt this blasphemy business, knowing the students would act. That also explains why the police didn’t do anything about it (they could’ve saved him), and one police even said, “Let that sinner burn in hell!”

Also, the fake account created in his name was still posting things (& things against the Prophet & Muslims) after Mashal had been murdered! The account is no longer there – but screenshots on Twitter. Find them yourself.

Damn. Who’s responsible for it all, tho?

The university where this violence took place, Abdul Wali Khan University, is responsible for this incident because they, AFTER the lynching of Mashal Khan, issued a statement saying that three students (Mashal Khan, Abdullah, and Zubair) have been banned from the university and are being investigated!  (See image to left.)

Mashal KhanAnother way the university is responsible is that university leaders were a part of the mob that lynched Mashal.

The rest of the responsibility, of course, falls on Pakistan as a dangerously hypocritical and arrogant state (with few exceptions, anyone who publicly challenges the idea of blasphemy laws gets killed, so these blasphemy laws are still in place there), on the utter ineffective educational system of Pakistan (what are you teaching at a university if the university students think it’s okay, necessary even, to gather in thousands, attack a human, beat him nonstop, and then shoot him to make sure he’s dead?), and the individuals who partook in killing this man AND the ones who support this and blasphemy laws.

However, it all started with the other student (Abdullah). Abdullah was accused of being Ahmadi or of “promoting” Ahmadi Islam. So they forced him to recite the Qur’an, and he did. But they still continued. The police come and rescue him, but the mob goes into Mashal’s dorm. They break the doors, go to his room, break down the room door, and use the planks of the doors to beat him. They begin there, continue to outside. They kill him, but they’re not done. Once his body was taken by the police, the students still demanded to get the body back because they wanted to burn him. Meaning they weren’t done with him yet.

Also – and this is very important – Mashal Khan had complained about a fake Facebook profile being created in his name and maligning him. There’s a theory that whoever that person was totally set him up.

This is Mashal Khan’s Facebook profile. Just, just see what you’ve done, Pakistan. See what you’ve done, and feel completely ashamed of yourself. Maybe learn a lesson from this.

I’m also angered that, from what I hear, 300-500 people attended his funeral. Why isn’t Pakistan shutting down over this? Why isn’t Pakistan mourning this? There should be a long-ass period of mourning over this.

Wait, at a UNIVERSITY?! Isn’t that, like, supposed to be a place where you unlearn  bigotry?

Yep. At a university. At a university. At an actual university. That speaks more to the education system in Pakistan than it does to anything else. And another terrifying part of this? University officials/leaders were involved in it, too; they participated as well. (A friend even tells me the officials started it all. So there’s that.)

Have there been any arrests?

Yes. About 40 men have been arrested, including university professors who were involved.  BUT I have just been notified that there are efforts (from a political party) to free these students. I’ll share details when I get them.

Has Pakistan issued a statement about this?

Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, supposedly says that the nation must unite in condemning this brutality — but his condemnation was over people taking the law into their hands! That’s not the kind of condemnation we need from officials and “leaders.” But even this is pretty ironic, since he totally supports blasphemy laws, AND a month ago, he totally said that “blasphemous” content online must be banned.

Why did this happen, tho?

That’s an unacceptable question to ask. Unless it’s a rhetorical question, it’s misplaced and irrelevant, and it implies that something this unacceptable could ever have any sort of justification for occurring. What could possibly explain why anyone—a whole group of people—could do something like this to anyone else?

But generally, the people who did this are from the same group of people (a special kind of Muslims) who believe it’s acceptable to kill a governor who defended human rights and believed that the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan are backward and need to be removed. And then on top of that, because that’s obviously not enough, the right thing to do is to celebrate the man who killed said governor.

In January 2011, Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab at the time, was murdered—shot some 27 times– by his guard for challenging Pakistan’s blasphemy laws’ existence. Sure, there was a three-day mourning period held across the country, and the murderer was eventually hanged (in 2016), BUT a lot of other Pakistanis celebrated his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri. (There are pictures on the internet of people worshiping Qadri because “yay, you killed someone who was attacking Islam for saying blasphemy laws are ridiculous!” See this, for example. Or this.) Religious parties and “leaders” in Pakistan demanded that he not be mourned because he was killed for legitimate reasons – more here, like how fan pages for Qadri sprung up after the murder, not acknowledged as a murderer but a hero and a son of Pakistan.

So, what is the REAL reason why all this happened, then? 

Let’s get one thing clear first: What happened is not about religion, faith, God, Islam, or disrespecting someone’s faith. It’s not about religion at all. It is about asserting our power over other people. It is about censoring critical, analytical thinking; it is about the erasure of creativity *and justice*. It is about the fact that over the last few decades, Pakistan has been regressing into a nation of arrogant, unthinking minds fueled by a profound and dangerous insecure sense of faith. Self-righteousness leads to death, and this one example of it.

This is about larger political, religious, social, economic frustrations in Pakistan among lay folks who are so deeply disempowered that they believe the only way to express their power is by claiming what they claim is their faith in violent ways. As any of my friends in Pakistan will attest, there’s no electricity, no gas, no water. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, because the electricity issue is pervasive everywhere. You don’t have the power or the energy or the will to stand up and demand justice for yourself for these basic necessities.

But someone else’s beliefs that affect you in no way – and that are rumors to begin with – can ignite this furor in you? I don’t know what explains this but a complete and draining sense of powerlessness.

So, to quote a friend of mine about this, this is about the bigotry that our generation has been raised in – mosques, schools, other institutions. Our neighborhoods, our families. If it’s not in these places, then it’s the TV. How many TV programs are available to Pakistanis where they can get a decent, non-violent (non-sectarian, non-sexist, non-racist, non-classist, non-bigoted) message about Islam? When Pakistanis think about their teachers of Islam as a nation, as a collective group, how many people can we name who do not promote hate against the “other”? What kind of Islam is taught in our schools?

This lynching occurred because Pakistani schools lack critical thinking, important debates on empty but  violent ideologies like the Blasphemy Laws – actual conversations on actual issues. Pakistan promotes unanimity of beliefs – because that’s what unity means – and it defines “blasphemy” as challenging the status quo. And according to the current status quo, Shi’a Muslims are blasphemous and ideally not even Muslims; Ahmadi Muslims are certainly not Muslims – but yet, we’ll go ahead and subject them to “Muslim” laws like blasphemy laws!

In a nutshell, our teachers are trained to stifle humanity, justice, love. It takes a lot of courage to live in Pakistan, to be a Pakistani amidst such a political and social and religious atmosphere, while having a conscience. To have a conscience as a Pakistani is to live in danger.

Is this an isolated incident?

No.  See above for Taseer’s example. Google up things on those who genuinely support the violence that Asiya Bibi, a Christian woman accused of committing blasphemy, has been subjected to. In 2010, Pakistan decided to hang her for the “blasphemy” she’d committed. The sentence is currently on hold, cuz the judge recused himself from her case. But the family’s in hiding and continues to receive death threats. The person who started the case against Bibi was someone coming from a family that Bibi’s family had some tensions with.

A mob was involved in Bibi’s case as well.

In October 2012, a violent mob stormed the school where Arfa Iftikhar worked – Farooqi Girls High School – because of some supposed blasphemy in some homework assignment. (The school stated officially that they had nothing to do with this “dirty act” and that the teacher should be investigated! This.)

Then there’s Rimsha’s case: Also in 2012, Rimsha, an 11-year-old Christian girl with Down Syndrome, was accused of blasphemy – by Pakistani police. It was later discovered that the mullah (local religious leader) who’d accused her of blasphemy had planted evidence against her. Rimsha and her family managed to escape Pakistan.

In 2011, a man named Muhammad Ajmal was attacked by a mob of religious groups who accused him of blasphemy (the smell of blasphemy coming out of his apartment, apparently). He’s disappeared since.

The list is non-ending. See this page for more cases and details.

So you don’t think this was about blasphemy or Islam at all?

Right. Remember that hadith we love to quote left and right about that woman who used to throw her trash on the Prophet s. (I always imaged this as a woman on, say, the 2nd story of an apartment complex dumping out stuff on an innocent person walking by). everyday that he’d be passing by her house? And how one day, she’s not there to throw stuff on him, so he’s like, “Oh, man, I hope she ok! Lemme go and check.” So he knocks on the door and learns that she’s ill. She’s so ashamed of herself. According to the story, she coverts to Islam because what kind of a human would be so kind to someone despite what the latter did to them.

Or that story of Ali r. where he’s fighting in a battle, and his opponent spits on him and he gets real angry. So he puts his sword down and says, “Na, I can’t kill you now because I’m angry, and this isn’t supposed to be about me. I’m not supposed to kill you just because you angered or upset me.” (Google these hadiths on your own.)

Also, turns out Pakistani religious scholars themselves condemn what happened. (This is shocking, actually. It’s not the norm at all.)

So it’s not about blaspheming anyone. It’s certainly not something that follows the example of the Prophet s.

This is why I find it unacceptable when people go, “He wasn’t even blasphemous! He loved the Prophet Muhammad, s.!” Goodness gracious, that’s not the point! Especially because whoever started these rumors about him being blasphemous was also clearly involved in impersonating him on Facebook. So if you’d please stop emphasizing the fact that he loved Islam and the Prophet s. and God, it’d help in highlighting the real problems at hand here.

Also, hypocrisy! Cuz remember when Junaid Jamshed, who totally supported the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, was once in a situation where he was accused of blasphemy, and homeboy fled to London for security?! And then he begged for pardon, buh, like fuck you, man. How many Pakistanis can just pack up and leave when they get in trouble with a law that they support in the first place?

? So then how’s this related to the disappearance of human rights supporters?

See response above to the question “what is the real reason all this happened?” Particularly the part about Pakistan’s producing and nurturing generations of unthinking humans who are deprived of the faculty of reason. We’re not raising humans. We’re also not raising animals, because this isn’t what animals do. Animals have mercy. (Folks need to stop insulting animals.)

When you teach and preach and promote only the status-quo and you’re not allowed to think for yourself and be yourself, be your own person, it’s hard to grow as a justice-conscious human being. When everyone around you believes that a specific brand of Sunni Islam is the only legitimate way to practice Islam (never mind that no two Sunnis practice Sunni Islam the same way at all), then of course all beliefs and thinking and practices and habits and attitudes outside of the boundaries being drilled into your head are absolutely haraam and unacceptable and wrong. It takes immense courage to break from the status quo and think outside the box.

When you’re raised in an uncritically patriotic country like Pakistan (and Pakistan isn’t alone in this, #weKnow – the U.S. is like that, too), you’re taught that everything Pakistan is saying and doing is legitimate (be it the genocides it commits against Shia Muslims, Ahmadis, Pashtuns, Balochis, Kashmiris, and so on); not only do you believe everything Pakistan does is totally acceptable and legitimate, you don’t even think of it is violence. So when a group of people with a conscience rise up and say, no this is violence, and it’s not acceptable, they disappear. Activists have always disappeared in Pakistan; that’s nothing new. But in January, it fortunately started getting more attention. See here for details on these disappearances.

k, I’m not sure I’m following this connection between Mashal Khan, the disappearances of activists in Pakistan, and  why Pakistan’s at fault here. Pakistan’s my dil, my jaan ❤


All right, let’s go through this step by step. 1) Pakistan’s been kidnapping people who call Pakistan out on its injustices against minorities and speak about basic human rights. That means standing against the status quo is officially and institutionally not acceptable. 2) Pakistan promotes the message of the status quo in such a way that young, university students–this new generation of future professionals, scholars, thinkers, leaders, etc.–accept it unthinkingly because they don’t get trained any better. 3) Pakistan has succeeded in convincing most of its citizenry that anyone who challenges anything Pakistan does is basically committing blasphemy. 4) Pakistan has blasphemy laws in place that are consistently used against innocent humans (whether or not they commit “blasphemy”) to threaten ordinary and extraordinary people into obeying its “laws.” 5)  Mashal Khan was one of those people fighting against the status quo, supporting justice for minority groups being killed by Pakistan, and he got killed *by ordinary, lay people from his university.*

Ohhh!! I get it! … hm… Is there any evidence that he committed the blasphemy? If he’s innocent, may he rest in peace; if he’s not, he got what he deserved.

Oh my fucking goodness!! Did you get ANYTHING I just said at all?! What the actual fuck. Go away. I’m done talking to you.


I just read this on Facebook. The more I read about Mashal, the more devastated I feel that the world’s lost a human like him. What my friend H.A. wrote on Facebook:

Mashal Khan was cousin of a friend. I talked to him and he gave me his life story which has shattered me into pieces. Mashal’s father, Iqbal Shayar, used to be a laborer but now as he was old, he didn’t do any work. He is a man of letters, a poet, aficionado of culture, well-read who instilled the love for reading and critical thinking in his children. Mashal Khan’s education was supported by his relatives. Later he went on scholarship to ICMS (the largest private college in KP) and he topped the college in F.Sc. He secured a scholarship for engineering in Moscow, Russia. He returned to Pakistan after completing his engineering degree.

Being an engineer and having a degree from a good place would have secured him a good position anywhere but he had other dreams, convictions and goals. He thought that he could be of use through civil service. He enrolled in Masters in Mass Media and Journalism in AWKUM and was preparing for CSS. His father supported him despite his abject poverty and ready chances of a job. This is what words and knowledge do to you; it makes you an idealist, making you throw away your immediate self-service and forcing you to strive for a progressive society.

My friend told me that he was well-cared by the whole family and the extended family aw well as the they had high hopes from him, and they thought he would be a way out from the wretched situation his family was in. They survived with little and spent everything on him to enable him to pursue his dreams. My friend told me that few months back he met his mother and told her that he wants to be a backbone to his father and make his father proud one day.

But the society had other visions. How could he survive amidst pygmies? May be he would be alive today if he had taken a job and hadn’t thirsted for serving the society, and his people. Amidst the shouts of glory of God a glorious future was lost. Amidst shrieks of Kafir an inquisitive soul was lost. Amidst mayhem a conviction to better the society was crushed. In darkness at noon a supernova was turned into a blackhole. How land is that which crushes the sons who risks their comfort to better it? Iqbal kaka served culture and literature all his life and moulded Mashal in his mould to dream big for his people and for his land. His mother survived all poverty, so, that her son can one day make them proud. And that’s what the thinking of the society did to him. I want to hug Iqbal kaka and thank him for his vision and for giving us Mashal Khan. Iqbal kaka, you raised a fine gentleman but perhaps he was too ahead of the times his people are living in.

Rest in peace, Mashal Khana. May you rest in light and power, aameen.

May you rest in peace, Mashal. Like your father said in a heartfelt message after your murder, we know you’ll never receive justice for the torture you endured and for your murder, but may this be a lesson for Pakistan. May your murder awaken a nation riddled with people masquerading as humans but how can they be human when they have no humanity? May your legacy of love for all, of justice for all be inspiration for all who come to hear of your story. May you rest in peace and light and all things beautiful. Maybe now at last you can sit in the company of your Creator and complain to Him about the injustices of your own people.  Your name – Mashal – means “light.” And truly, you were a Light for the world. I dream of a Pakistan, of a Pukhtunkhwa, of a Mardan where people learn a lesson from having destroyed a major source of light.

Aameen. Khwdey de ubakha, Mashala. Khwdey de ubakha.

This apocalyptic poem (NOT written by him, apparently!)

The poem below is accessible on Mashal’s FB here. You can listen to it on Youtube as well.

میں لاپتا ہوگیا ہوں
I’m lost
کئی ہفتے ہوئے
It’s been several weeks
پولیس کو رپورٹ لکھوائے
that I filed a complaint before police
تب سے روز تھانے جاتا ہوں
I go to police station daily ever since
حوالدار سے پوچھتا ہوں
and ask the station officer
میرا کچھ پتا چلا¿
Any clue about me?
ہمدرد پولیس افسر مایوسی سے سر ہلاتا ہے
The sympathetic police officer shakes his head in disappointment
پھنسی پھنسی آواز میں کہتا ہے
He says in his shaking voice
ابھی تک تمھارا کچھ سراغ نہیں ملا
That I found no clue about you
پھر وہ تسلی دیتا ہے
Then he consoles me
کسی نہ کسی دن
One day
تم مل ہی جاؤ گے
you will be found
بے ہوش
کسی سڑک کے کنارے
on a roadside
یا بری طرح زخمی
or critically injured
کسی اسپتال میں
in a hospital
یا لاش کی صورت
or dead
کسی ندی میں
in some river
میری آنکھوں میں آنسو آجاتے ہیں
I get tears in my eyes
میں بازار چلا جاتا ہوں
I leave for the market
اپنا استقبال کرنے کے لیے
to welcome me
گل فروش سے پھول خریدتا ہوں
buy some flowers from a flower shop
اپنے زخموں کے لیے
for my wounds
کیمسٹ سے
from the chemist
مرہم پٹی کا سامان
some bandage
تھوڑی روئی
some cotton
اور درد کشا گولیاں
and pain-killers
اپنی آخری رسومات کے لیے
for my funeral
مسجد کی دکان سے ایک کفن
a shroud from the shop near the mosque
اور اپنی یاد منانے کے لیے
and for remembering me
کئی موم بتیاں
some candles
کچھ لوگ کہتے ہیں
Some people say
کسی کے مرنے پر
when someone dies
موم بتی نہیں جلانی چاہیے
candles should be not lit for them
لیکن وہ یہ نہیں بتاتے
but they don’t tell
کہ آنکھ کا تارہ لاپتا ہوجائے
that when the apple of some eye goes missing
تو روشنی کہاں سے لائیں؟
where do you get the light from?
گھر کا چراغ بجھ جائے
If the lamp of a house goes missing
تو پھر کیا جلائیں؟۔۔۔
what should they burn?”

4 thoughts on “when an intellectually stifled nation murders its future: why Mashal Khan of Mardan was lynched

  1. aptly described, cannot put it better than How you summed it up….

    this is about the bigotry that our generation has been raised in – mosques, schools, other institutions. Our neighborhoods, our families. If it’s not in these places, then it’s the TV. How many TV programs are available to Pakistanis where they can get a decent, non-violent (non-sectarian, non-sexist, non-racist, non-classist, non-bigoted) message about Islam? When Pakistanis think about their teachers of Islam as a nation, as a collective group, how many people can we name who do not promote hate against the “other”? What kind of Islam is taught in our schools?


  2. Thanks for this informative & important post. This is so horrible. This violent extremism, this terrorism, is tearing our Ummah & Muslim majority countries to shreds. Remember the bombing of the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh? And the murder of Amjad Sabri? And now this.

    This post & poem also reminds me of a poem of the modern Persian poet Ahmad Shamloo, an Iranian who witnessed the abuses after the revolution of 1979. SSL once wrote an excellent post on this poet& these abuses. And it also reminds me of everything that went down -and still is going down!- in Afghanistan.

    “In this dead-end

    They smell your breath

    You had better not have said, ‘I love you.’

    They smell your heart.

    These are strange times, darling…

    And they flog love at the checkpoint

    We must hide love in the closet.

    In this crooked dead end and twisting chill

    they feed the fire with the kindling of song and poetry

    Do not risk a thought

    These are strange times, darling

    He who knocks on the door at midnight

    has come to kill the light

    We must hide light in the closet.

    There are the butchers stationed at the crossroads

    with bloody clubs and cleavers

    These are strange times, darling

    They cut smiles from lips and songs from mouths

    We must hide joy in the closet.

    Canaries barbequed on a fire of lilies and jasmine

    These are strange times, darling

    Satan is drunk with victory, sitting at our funeral feast

    We must hide God in the closet.”



You're welcome to share your thoughts - but I don't accept bigotry and don't publish all comments <3

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s