Fatal Knifing of Professor in Pakistan Brings Women’s Rights to Fore

Alleged attacker apparently felt mixed-gender folklore production planned for student party would be anti-Islamic blasphemy

[ISLAMABAD] A graduate student allegedly stabbed and killed a professor over perceived blasphemy last Thursday at a university in Pakistan.

The student, Khateeb Hussain, was arrested and, according to police, confessed to killing Prof. Khalid Hameed, head of the English Department at the Sadiq-Egerton Post-Graduate College in the southern Punjab city of Bahawalpur. According to police, Hussain claimed he attacked Hameed because the professor had disparaged Islam.

Wali Muhammed, director of the state-owned college, told The Media Line that Hameed – who had been due to retire in the coming days – was organizing a farewell party for departing students and that on the day before the attack, Hussain had argued with him over plans for the mixed-gender event.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a college official and several students told The Media Line that the party was to include male and female students performing the Jhoomer, a folk dance, and that Hussain felt this went against the teachings of Islam.

Another college official said that prior to the attack, the Directorate of Student Affairs received letters from unidentified men complaining that female students being made to dance at the function would be tantamount to “promoting vulgarity, and Islam doesn’t allow it.” Other staffers said a group of students had written a letter to a senior city official demanding that “vulgar” practices not be allowed to take place at the college.

Senior police official Farhan Hussain told the Media Line that in his confession, the suspect insisted that during an argument with Hameed, the professor repeatedly made comments against Islam. Some of the students who spoke to The Media Line said they had never seen or heard Hameed expressing anti-religious views.

Abreesh Fatima, a recent Sadiq-Egerton graduate, told The Media Line that during her four years at the college, she never heard Hameed utter a single word against Islamic norms.

“Prof. Khalid was very kind to female students. He was just like a father, a soft-spoken and kind-hearted teacher,” Fatima said, breaking into tears.

Prof. Nasim Taqi, head of the college’s Urdu Department, told The Media Line he believed that Hussain was just one of many people seeking domination over females under the cover of self-proclaimed Islamic norms.

“The deceased professor’s only sin was that he always encouraged female students to participate in extracurricular activities,” Taqi said. “It is a kind of sickening extremism that a senior teacher was killed by a student.”

The educational facility was established in 1886 during British rule. It is named for the then-ruler of the Bahawalpur principality, Sir Sadiq Khan, and Sir Robert Egerton, at the time the lieutenant-governor of Punjab State.

Another police officer, Amir Taimoor, told The Media Line that investigators were looking into possible ties with extremists.

An anti-terrorism court remanded the suspect to police custody for 15 days.

Shahbaz Sharif, a leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and a former Punjab chief minister, voiced alarm over the fatal stabbing of Hameed.

“The killing of a teacher at the hands of a student on the basis of differences of opinion is a cause for concern for the whole nation,” Sharif wrote in a statement. “We should think for a moment how each of us can play a role to prevent such an extremist mindset.”

Religion and gender are sensitive topics in Pakistan, where women’s rights are considered un-Islamic by some orthodox groups. Last year, a student shot and killed a female principal after she questioned him about skipping class to attend a protest organized by an ultra-right-wing Islamist group. The student accused the principal of blasphemy.

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