Searching for meaning in Martyrdom



In certain rare and singularly exceptional moments, world history is punctuated by moments that stop in time and encapsulate a whole chain of meanings and consequences. That happened with the execution of Shaikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, when the entire globe woke up to the injustice of his killing and the message of his life struggle, only after his execution. Precisely the same has resulted with the murder of Syed Khurram Zaki: the number of tributes that have been paid to his life’s work and the injustice of his brutal killing are astonishing. From the USA to UK, India, and other countries, his martyrdom has been documented and he has rightly been hailed as one of Pakistan’s most vociferous champion of human rights.

The superlative work that Khurram Zaki carried out and reached us though both LUBP and the visual media will certainly not come to an end: however there are many points of concern that face us now. Each martyrdom leaves us standing either at the threshold of something greater to follow, or it leaves us at the precipice of a chasm that we may not emerge from. Which one it is depends entirely on us.

Khurram Zaki’s work is done: he lived by Husaini principles of speaking out against injustice: and he died by them. However, are Pakistanis capable of picking up his mantle and continuing the struggle? The work of all human rights activists is to fight for a better society where there is safety, equality, acceptance and fairness for all, regardless of differences. Pakistan was built on a vision of plurality, but one which the Deobandi Salafi / Talibanisation of the nation has squarely eliminated. While we are still mourning his loss, we must ask ourselves, can the nation really continue his good work? Is it capable of honouring his legacy?

Shias have been at the brunt of a slow genocide in Pakistan: while our Hindu, Christian, Ahmedi, Barelwi brethren have also suffered losses, the greater number are from the Shia community. Thus we expect this community to take up his mantle. However at the expense of sounding glum, perhaps a word of caution: disappointment is not far away. Over the last two days, the number of Pakistani Shias who have asked ‘who was he, what did he stand for?’ is cause for alarm. I find the same old vocal activists at the forefront continuing the struggle, and the majority of Shias beyond Karachi stuck in a quagmire of apathy. Lahore, a city with a respectable Shia presence, saw a pitiable handful of people protesting against the murder. A man who steadfastly came out, come rain or sunshine, to be a voice for the dead, today saw the same nation that he loved hardly speaking out for him. This is an exceptional moment in Pakistani history, when it is time to come out, en masse. Every man woman and child who cares about peace and justice and no longer wants to see mothers and wives crying over their loved ones being taken from them must stand up and make a difference.

We can no longer afford for the Shia population of Pakistan to be indifferent, apathetic and reactive. We can no longer expect just the same loyal hardworking few to protest and shout. We need every Pakistani who wants a safe, secure nation to come out and protest, petition, organise, and unify. To the youths who think that protesting does nothing but spill further blood, I say that Alavi bravery demands that you speak out, until change comes. Even God the Gracious has warned that He will not change your situation until you change it yourself (surah Ra’ad verse 11).

LUBP has bravely stood against those internal elements who have been selectively vocal against Shia killing and suitably silent in condemning their liberal friends who attacked respectable personalities attached to the Ahlul Bayt (as). But now it is time for the Shias of Pakistan to stand shoulder to shoulder with LUBP and honour the martyrdom of Khurram Zaki, by rising from the quagmire of despair and self-indulgent pity, and searching for meaning in the martyrdom of Khurram Zaki. He did not put his life at risk and pay the ultimate price so that we might shed a few tears for him then return to the safety of indifference: He laid his life down in the hope that the struggle would continue. And continue it must! That requires every free-thinking human across the world but specifically in Pakistan to stand and be counted.

It is the threshold of something greater that beckons – a free, safe, Pakistan, where extremists will be brought to justice and minorities will be free to live with dignity. This is the meaning we must search for in the martyrdom of Khurram Zaki.

Dr. Syeda Raana Bokhari

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