ZAIDA -- Scores of Pakistanis Sunday (May 21) gathered to commemorate the chehlum (40th day of mourning) for Mashal Khan, the university student lynched by an angry mob in Mardan over allegations of blasphemy.
The main chehlum took place in Zaida, Mashal's hometown in Swabi District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Other commemorations were held in Peshawar, Quetta and as far away as Kabul, in a nod to Mashal's Pashtun heritage.
Speakers and participants at the chehlum in Swabi read passages from the Holy Koran and spread the message of tolerance, religious harmony and non-violence in society.
Ahead of the chehlum, the district government installed huge signboards inviting the general public to attend the event. Social media users invited each other to the chehlum.
Pakistanis stand with family of Mashal Khan
The April 13 killing of Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old journalism student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, drew nationwide and international outrage.
Hundreds of students stripped, beat and shot Mashal and threw him from the second floor of the university hostel where he was living. The blasphemy charges against Mashal have not been proved.
"We must take steps so that nobody else ever loses someone so brutally," his mother, Mrs. Muhammad Iqbal, told Pakistan Forward.
A large number of men and women from all over Pakistan have visited the family's house to offer condolences and pray for Mashal's eternal peace, she said.
Mourners laid wreaths on Mashal's grave, and women joined Mashal's mother and sisters to recite passages from the Koran.
"I am indebted to see such huge support for my son," Mrs. Iqbal said.
Promoting tolerance, non-violence
A large gathering took place later in the afternoon in Zaida to condemn the murder of Mashal.
Lawmakers, political leaders, intellectuals, lawyers, civil society members, journalists, students, teachers and others attended the event in Zaida. Many chanted slogans such as "Mashal is innocent" and "Mashal is a martyr".
"Educational institutions and the society as a whole must promote tolerance, peace and religious harmony so no one is ever killed in the name of religion like Mashal," Sardar Hussain Babak, a member of the KP Assembly, told the gathering in Zaida.
Intolerance in society stems from illiteracy and distance from religion, he said.
"There would be no violence if we adhered to the true teachings of Islam and our Pashtun culture," said Babak.
"This huge gathering was arranged to convey ... that we are against violence in any form and want a peaceful world where justice prevails," Ashfaq Ahmad, a University of Peshawar student who attended the Zaida event, told Pakistan Forward.
Students, civil society members, political leaders and the general public came from Peshawar and other cities in KP, and even from Islamabad and Punjab, he said.
"The students offered fateha [prayers for Mashal] and recited the Holy Koran for his eternal peace before attending the gathering," Ahmad said.
A delegation journeyed from the Afghan embassy to Zaida to express solidarity with Mashal's family.
Mashal's father, Muhammed Iqbal, addressed the chehlum event in Zaida and said the government must do its best to provide justice.
"The government has arrested the killers, but we want those behind the entire episode to be held and investigated for triggering violence in a university," he said, adding that his only demand is to establish a society where no one's son is killed so brutally in a university.
"Our educational institutions and our society must promote peace and tolerance," he said.
"Justice cannot bring back my son, but it will save other Mashals [other Pakistanis' sons]," he said.
The government needs to take more steps to protect peace on campuses, said Storia Khan, Mashal's sister.
"There must be peace in educational institutions so no one can put out another Mashal," she told media in Zaida, invoking the translation of "mashal" as torch.
Many political figures from past and present addressed the gathering in Zaida, including former senator Afrasiab Khattak, Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Abdul Latif Afridi and others.
They urged the public to ignore inflammatory rumours spread in the name of religion and demanded the arrest of the remaining suspects in Mashal's slaying.
Earlier, the Swabi District Assembly similarly demanded the arrest of those suspects and called for compensation for the family and renaming of the university for Mashal Khan.
Police have arrested all but one of the suspects mentioned in the police's First Information Report and/or identified in video, said Mardan District Police Officer Mian Saeed Ahmed.
The last remaining suspect, Arif, "probably has escaped KP", he told Pakistan Forward.
Chehlum rallies promote religious tolerance
Members of a number of political parties and civil society groups staged a rally in Peshawar Saturday (May 20), one day before the chehlum in Zaida, to express solidarity with Mashal's family and to demand justice in the case.
Participants at the rally, arranged by the Progressive Democratic Alliance, demanded that the government transfer the case to Pakistan's military courts.
"The lynching of Mashal Khan was tantamount to the killing of mankind," said Mukhtiar Bacha, a leading speaker at the rally.
Rallies and functions in connection with the chehlum of Mashal took place in Quetta and Kabul as well May 21. Participants asked for more measures to promote religious harmony, tolerance and peace in society, especially at educational institutions.
Five of the university's seven campuses re-opened Monday (May 22). The remaining two are expected to re-open later this week.