Who Was Khurram Zaki?



(This is a brief narrative of the writer’s experiences with Zaki, a human rights activist, who was mercilessly killed in Karachi, Pakistan.)

I met Khurram Zaki in the winter of 2009. The meeting was short but worth remembering.

Our initial correspondence was limited to social media where he actively participated in discussions pertaining to religious, academic and political topics. Afterwards, a mutual friend of ours introduced me to Khurram Zaki in person and his response was totally unexpected. “Oh I know you, sir. Have had fruitful discussions with you over social media! Bashing too!”

*He winked*

As a(n insignificant) teenager, I was shocked; how can Khurram Zaki know me this well and relate so well to the arguments we have had?

During our short meeting he raised important questions about society, beliefs, culture and the effect of the latter on the former. What I loved about him was he was always ready to question and be questioned, regardless of his surroundings. He saw arguments as an academic dialogue where either party should have a fair share of speaking space – and not a battle to be won.

I would not claim that I never disagreed with Khurram. Of course, I did. I, however, loved the way he would respond to criticism and arguments. Yes, I had reservations with him openly challenging extremists who have no set of values to adhere to. But, after attending his funeral, I think all my questions have been answered. The slogans, the awakening, though strictly temporary, but speak of Khurram’s success in making the living listen to the tales of the dead.

Our last and most memorable meeting was at an event pertaining to brotherhood/fraternity and was attended by people from different sects and religions. There too, he talked about a serious lack of understanding of academia, a horribly incapable state machinery and a lack of leadership.

At the end of the event we met briefly and I will never forget our last conversation.

Khurram: How are you going home?

Me (pointing at the left lane public bus): Via this.

Khurram: Oh, great. Then I should take the right side bus! Meet you soon then insha Allah (God willing)

To anyone reading this article this would be just another conversation. Why am I narrating this here? Someone taking the bus from the right lane, what is so important about this?

So now, this was Khurram Zaki who defied extremists in their stronghold. The right lane bus stop would be a Takfiri-sponsored mosque and seminary, the same branch of seminary where Sarah Pundith (Obama’s religious affairs adviser) could speak but an activist like Khurram couldn’t stand the chance to live!

For Karachites this is Numaish – the same spot where two scout kids of ages 11 and 13 were shot and the assassins took refuge in the seminary. Woe on the sanctity of a seminary that could not be violated to arrest the killers. Naturally, the murderers were left free.

I stood there, assessing my options. Should I ask someone to drop Khurram Zaki home? How exactly can I help? But somehow, he moved past the road just like a carefree teenager who has nothing to worry about. I remember my entire journey back home was filled with thoughts about how he would survive this journey in a city like Karachi with its wretched law and order situation!

Gladly, he reached home safely – at least then.

Let’s just say there was one cardinal difference between us and Khurram Zaki. He didn’t accept world as it is, we did.

We stopped speaking about certain issues because we thought it would infuriate people (and so they became so powerful that they ended up victimizing the entire country), Khurram didn’t. He would occasionally speak against the clergy, the politicians, the state, the bureaucracy, the establishment and I would always wonder what he’s trying to achieve.

I would argue, ‘Slay one demon at a time,’ since the number of Khurram’s enemies was exponentially increasing.

On a TV show on Mother’s Day, while explaining the merits of motherhood, the host gave the example of the Prophet’s daughter and how she brought up her son, Husayn, so that he would stand against oppression one day.

Being one of the attendees of the program, Khurram proclaimed on television, “True, but the other side of the coin should be looked at too. If mother’s aren’t well aware of their duties and the ethics of bringing up a (responsible) generation, they will give Yazids to the community who would slaughter the Husayns of our time for they can’t bear the truth (to be victorious).”

The very next day, a very popular banned outfit issued a verdict to killing him, and Khurram’s social media accounts were flooded with death threats, declaring him an infidel.

If you ask me, was I shocked at Khurram’s death, then I would say, no, I was not.

I knew it was coming, I only wished I could be wrong.

Khurram knew this too, he knew he had little time, one of the reasons he would not agree with my remarks of, ‘Slay one demon at a time.’

But that’s not it.

The problem lies with us as a society.

Did we act when Khurram Zaki was facing threats? No, we didn’t. Maybe because we hold our lives dearer than the teachings of Islam. The core of the problems of our society lies not in the acts of extremism but our alarming silence over them.

Khurram was just an outcast, he would speak against the Ahmadiyya oppression in Pakistan, the discrimination against minorities, including Christians and Hindus… Who does that? And after doing so, who would sit at a road-side restaurant right opposite the seminary responsible for espousing such hate?

Sadly, that was the point where he was murdered.

Anyone would logically ask why Khurram would choose such a place to have dinner when he could have picked any other place in the entire city.

The answer is very simple; he believed in a free world. A world where you can freely agree or disagree without resorting to violence, for only the weak resort to violence in an attempt to silence the evident truth.

Khurram was not the first one. This city has lost several human rights activists over time. The only distinction Khurram had was that he chose his path rather than inheriting it. He would not talk about his sectarian affiliation, but would call himself a researcher and a believer in his research.

Somehow, we will never find someone like him!

Since his death many twitter trends and hashtags have popped up. Some by the name of #IamKhurramZaki and others in a similar vein. But the truth is, we are deluding ourselves. We are not Khurram Zaki, and we can never be like that man. For we do not hold the courage to defy the boundaries set on us by the extremists.

We may condemn the horrendous murder of Khurram Zaki but the truth is, just few days before his murder he was protesting outside the house of Sindh’s chief minister, and the total strength of people was hardly 20. In a city of 23.5 million people how can just 20 show up for a cause so important as protesting against activities of banned outfits?

Interestingly (read: Sadly) enough Khurram’s funeral was conducted outside the same house and thousands of people were there. With crowds chanting, “We are Khurram Zaki!”; “Shias and Sunnis are brothers!”; “Death to extremism!”

Standing at a corner I wondered what slogan Khurram would raise if he were there and I am pretty sure it would have been, “Death to ignorance and silence!” – for I am sure either people have stopped caring or they have opted to wait for their turn to be killed mercilessly.

Speak, for your rights. Speak! For only the living speak!

In the end, I’ll copy his WhatsApp status that still states,

“Amare et sapere vix deo conceditur.” 

Latin for, “Both wisdom and love are barely granted, even to God.”

When he was alive, his love for activism was called unwise, now that he is dead, people love his wisdom and tell his tales.

Such a sad state of affairs!