Mohammad Iqbal was remarkably calm and composed as he spoke to the reporters of television channels at the funeral of his son, Mashal Khan, who was lynched by a mob at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan.
He was sad, but not emotional. There was pain in his voice, though the words he spoke were reassuring. Whatever he said seemed to be an attempt to forget his personal tragedy and think about the society at large. He wanted to move on by reminding those in positions of power and influence that the intolerance sweeping Pakistan needs to be checked and efforts made to enable the people to live in peace and harmony with each other.
Iqbal Shair is how he prefers to be known because he is a “shair” (poet). He is fond of reciting his own Pashto poetry or from other known poets. Even on the day Mashal’s body was being lowered in the grave in his village, Zaida, in Swabi district in Khyber Pakhtunhwa amid the gloom prevailing in the area, Iqbal Shair in his talk to the media was trying to make his point by interjecting his comments with poetry. He even quoted Ghalib’s exquisite Urdu verses to highlight the way his son was blamed for blasphemy and then mercilessly killed.
From his simple appearance, it doesn’t look that Iqbal Shair is a lover of arts and literature. One has to listen to him to realise that he has a refined taste and is equipped with a repertoire of prose and verses. He has a deep understanding of the unequal social conditions and the injustices in our society. Calling himself a man of peace and non-violence, he wasn’t in a revengeful mood and didn’t talk about vengeance. Instead, he wanted the state of Pakistan to ensure its writ and the rule of law so that the people don’t take the law into their hands and kill someone on mere suspicion as his son was killed.
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Iqbal Shair gave logical answers to difficult questions. He said senior cops had asked him if he had any reservations about the police investigations into the murder case of Mashal. He added that he told the police officers that he wasn’t aware who killed Mashal and didn’t want to accuse anyone for it. However, he said CCTV cameras installed at the university could help identify those involved in the incident.
When asked as to who was responsible for his son’s murder, Iqbal Shair in a philosophical manner listed quite a few persons in position of power and institutions without naming anyone. He argued that the local nazim, system of education, the weakness of law and the chaos in the society all shared responsibility for failing to prevent the lynching of a student who happened to be inquisitive. In his view, the Pakistani society was like a pond of sins in which everyone was immersed except some exceptions and that, too, barely keeping their heads above the water.
At this stage, Iqbal Shair quoted from his own poetry to augment his argument and mentioned the late Afghan conqueror, Ahmad Shah Abdali, to ask him to rise again and see the plight of his fellow Pashtuns. He argued that no issue could be solved through war and anarchy and, therefore, love and dialogue ought to be used to restore peace in the region.
Asked if he was hopeful of getting justice, Iqbal Shair pointed out that normally this doesn’t happen in Pakistan. He noted that the poor don’t get justice and the rich and the resourceful get away with everything. He remarked that he won’t be bothered even if he didn’t get justice as he wanted his son’s sacrifice to herald reforms in the society. He put his faith in the human rights organisations, the civil society, the lawyers, writers and poets to highlight this issue as it will raise awareness among the people and the society would march ahead.
Iqbal Shair was pained that not only was his son killed, but was wrongly blamed for blasphemy. He wondered who would know his son Mashal more than him as he had raised him and seen him grow from childhood to adulthood. He said Allah and the whole neighbourhood knew how he brought up Mashal and his other siblings under “lock and key” and taught them to become good human-beings. He recalled inculcating the love of arts and literature in his children.
Offering to be held accountable if anyone in his village or circle of friends testified that his children had done or said something wrong concerning Islam, Iqbal Shair recalled that Mashal and his sister got 48 marks out of 50 in the Islamiyat paper in their examination. “Once I finished the holy Quran 15 times in a month. I don’t think I am a lesser Muslim than others,” Iqbal Shair maintained.
The bereaved father took pains to highlight Mashal’s devotion to Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and the reverence in which he held the messenger of Allah. He argued that being a student of journalism, Mashal was curious and often critical of the interest-based economy and the anti-poor system of government and justice in Pakistan. He said Mashal used to highlight the glorious period of rule of Hazrat Umar and wish such a system of good governance and justice was enforced in Pakistan.
Iqbal Shair had many things to say. He explained how he and his family sacrificed a lot despite poverty to educate Mashal and even send him to Russia for higher education in the hope that he would succeed in life and lessen his parents’ burden in old age. And then pointing to Mashal’s coffin, he remarked that this what he got in return.
He said his loss was huge, but it wasn’t intolerable. He hoped to continue to give the message of love and peace despite the tragedy. Iqbal Shair couldn’t help to recite another Pashto couplet, which meant that one cannot tie the rays of sunshine with a chain. Brave words from an old man who had just lost a son who was punished unheard.
Still going strong as mourners gathered around him, Iqbal Shair narrated how his wife phoned Mashal to come home the coming weekend as she hadn’t seen him for a while. He said Mashal promised to come, but instead his badly mutilated body was brought home.