KARACHI: Professor Dr Muhammad Shakil Auj, the outspoken dean of Islamic Studies Faculty at the University of Karachi, is no longer with us.
On Thursday, the 54-year-old scholar was silenced by a single 9mm bullet in Gulshan-e-Iqbal when he was on the way to attend a ceremony that was being organised in his honour at the Khana-e-Farhang Iran [Iranian Cultural Centre].
The tragic incident followed the killing of Dr Maulana Masood Baig, another teacher of the same faculty, who was targeted in a similar fashion in North Nazimabad a week earlier, said Gulshan-e-Iqbal Superintendent of Police, Abid Qaimkhani.
Dr Auj had left his KU staff colony residence in a metallic-grey Toyota Probox station wagon along with the varsity's Mass Communication department head, Prof Dr Tahir Masood, his 12-year-old niece and one of his students, Dr Amna, who had earned a doctorate under his supervision. All four were seated in the rear seat of the vehicle.
Prof Masood, who was sitting beside Dr Auj in the wagon, told The Express Tribune that as soon as the vehicle descended the NIPA Chowrangi flyover, two loud bangs, one after the other, were heard from the back.
"When I turned behind, I saw two holes in the wagon's rear windshield," he said. "One of the bullets had pierced through Dr Auj's head to hit the front windshield, and the other hit Dr Amna in the arm."
Aziz Bhatti SHO Sarfaraz Alyana confirmed Prof Masood's version, and said that unidentified assailants, riding a motorcycle, fired two bullets at the vehicle's rare from close distance.
Dr Masood asked the driver to rush the vehicle towards the nearby Aga Khan University Hospital, where the doctors pronounced Dr Auj dead.
The police is investigating the murder from various angles, including the ongoing sectarian target killings in the city, as well as the blasphemy accusations that surfaced against Dr Auj around two years ago, said East district SSP Pir Mohammad Shah.
On November 6, 2012, Dr Auj had registered an FIR 460/12 in the Mobina Town police station, stating that a message, declaring him guilty of blasphemy, and thus liable to be killed, was circulated via a mobile phone number, 0303 273 8856.
The FIR, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, stated that the deceased professor wanted the police to take legal action against those responsible for circulating this message because the accusation of blasphemy with the explicit words 'Dr Shakil Auj maloun ki saza, sar tan se juda [Beheading is the punishment of accursed Dr Shakeel Auj]' could get him killed.
Later, during police investigations, the names of four of Dr Auj's colleagues, including a former dean of Islamic Studies Faculty, Dr Abdul Rasheed, surfaced for their alleged involvement in the circulation of these text messages.
Dr Rasheed was formally arrested by the police under Section 25 of the Telegraph Act and Section 506 of the Pakistan Penal Code in the case pertaining to sending objectionable text messages to Dr Auj through a third person. He was, however, granted bail by a judicial magistrate on November 28, 2012 in the case.
"It still remains a very serious matter. We cannot proceed with the investigations without reverting to the four colleagues and interrogating them yet again," said SSP Shah. "And it may be that someone was not happy with the orientation of his research."
Meanwhile, Karachi police chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo formed a committee under the supervision of the East district DIG Munir Ahmed Shaikh to investigate the high-profile murder. SSP Shah, SSP Specialised Investigation Unit Farooq Awan, East district Investigations SP Abdul Hameed Khoso, and CID counter-terrorism unit incharge Raja Umar Khattab, will assist DIG Shaikh.
Last month on the occasion of Independence Day, Dr Auj was awarded Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by the President of Pakistan for his contributions to the field of education. He had also been conferred the Doctor of Letters.