The professor of Islam had been accused of blasphemy in a text message allegedly circulated by his peers.
Police on Friday interrogated University of Karachi faculty in connection with the murder of a professor of Islam known for his liberal views who had been labeled a “blasphemer” in a text message campaign.
Mohammad Shakil Auj, the 54-year-old dean of Islamic Studies at the university, was called an apostate in the widely circulated message that said he should be beheaded after he issued controversial religious decrees. They included allowing a Muslim woman to marry out of her faith and to pray while wearing lipstick and nail polish.
He was shot dead while driving to an Iranian cultural center where he was invited as a guest of honor on Thursday, while a junior colleague traveling with him received a bullet wound to her arm. Auj, a recipient of a presidential medal of distinction, had been fighting a case against the originators of the text message campaign, which began two years ago.
“We are currently interrogating at least three professors, who were the former colleagues of Dr. Auj and were blamed for the SMS controversy,” said Pir Mohammad Shah, a senior police officer in charge of the case.
The suspects were named as Abdul Rasheed, the department’s previous dean, along with Auj’s colleagues Naseer Ahmed Akhtar and Ubaid Ahmed Khan. Another suspect named Mohammad Samiuz Zaman was a secretary at the nearby NED Engineering University.
“They all were involved in the SMS controversy for which the late Dr. Auj had registered the case two years back fearing risks to his life,” Shah said.
The SMS reads: “The blasphemer of [Islam’s] Prophet and Quran, Dr. Shakil, curses be upon him, deserves only one punishment—beheading.” At the time he opened the case in 2012, the late professor told police: “It has endangered my life and on the basis of the propaganda I could be murdered.”
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the majority of the 180 million population is devoutly Muslim. Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response.
A recent report from a U.S. government advisory panel said Pakistan used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world. It listed 14 people on death row and 19 others serving life sentences for insulting Islam.