Liberal Islamic Studies Dean Murdered in Karachi, Pakistan

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The dean of Islamic studies at the University of Karachi in Pakistan, who had previously been accused by his enemies of blasphemy, was shot and killed yesterday, reports the New York Times. Muhammad Shakil Auj was struck in the neck and head while riding in a car to an event, held in his honor, at the Iranian Consulate. The man who shot him escaped by motorbike.

Auj was described by the Times as "a liberal Muslim scholar." He had been the target of backlash, even accused of blasphemy by his university colleagues and a religious seminary, after a speech he gave in the United States in 2012. Since 2012, he became the target of death threats and eventually filed charges against the four professors who condemned his work. The trial had not yet begun and at the time of Auj's death, all four professors were out on bail.

Blasphemy is a high crime in Pakistan that is punishable by death. Recently, the power of these laws has been taken advanatage of as a way of weeding out professional or personal enemies. The Human Rights Without Frontiers organization notes the historic uses of the law, "The Blasphemy Laws have been mostly abused by religious extremist organizations as well as banned terrorist outfits, resulting in the persecution of minorities. It is important to point out that this includes a large percentage of Muslim minorities such as Shiites and Ahmadis."

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It is also a strange charge to argue in court. HRWF notes in their study of blasphemy, "Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law does not clearly define blasphemy, but states that the offence is punishable by death. Anyone can file a blasphemy case – claiming his or her religious feelings have been hurt."

Auj was a particularly well-respected scholar. He had written 15 books, appeared on a number of television broadcasts, and received honors from the Pakistani government. That is all to say, his professional enemies had a lot to be jealous of, and may have thought an accusation of blasphemy would weed him out. His students and some fellow professors, devastated by Auj's murder, held a protest on the university campus.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.