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September 15, 2015

Taking down Shakeel Auj, the dissident thinker


September 15, 2015

Professor Dr Shakeel Auj was an anomaly among religious scholars. Instead of following what was already being written and preached, he set out in pursuit of the truth himself.
He was a true believer, but unlike others, he was a believer with an open mind.
As conventional religious scholars try their best to discredit others for their ‘incorrect’ beliefs and prove them wrong without even lending an ear, Prof Auj — only one of the three research scholars in the sub-continent to have received a DLitt degree in Islamic Studies — welcomed disagreement and accepted it to test and forward his own journey for the truth.
In a memorial function held at the Arts Auditorium by his son Dr Hassan Auj just ahead of his father’s death anniversary on September 18, friends and colleagues remembered the forsaken scholar who sometimes had the ways of a “neglected poet”.
Prof Dr Tahir Masood, former chairperson of KU’s mass communication department, read out a deeply personal and brutally honest letter about the contradicting aspects of his friendship with the late scholar.
Masood was in the car with Dr Auj when he was shot dead on the Nipa flyover while returning from a ceremony organised in the latter’s honour at the Iranian consulate.
“Being a follower of conventional Islam, I tried my best to not discuss or ask him for his thoughts on matters of religion. He used to give me his books to read but I used to put them away thinking they would lead me to question my own faith,” he said.
“I used to make fun of him openly and Auj Sahab would not only enjoy the jokes made at his expense but keep seeking my company.”
Recalling the time when the late Prof Auj had asked him to write the preface for one of his books, Prof Masood shared how he had kept evading him till he returned the manuscript with a lame excuse.
“Dr Auj could have asked me why I had agreed to write the preface if I was indeed going through a

‘writers’ block’ but he did not say a word and we kept meeting as usual.”
“I remember I was shocked when once he termed music to be allowed in Islam when I had asked him about his views on it.”
“Dr Auj wasn’t a man to boast of his accomplishments which, indeed, were numerous. But he often used to remark that no one had perceived the Quran and Hadith as he had, which was true. His work is not based on what others have already found; he dug his own well with immense hard work. He accepted my open contempt for his views and never once lacked in warmth.”
The self-exiled scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamdi had sent a letter to Dr Hassan about his father for the occasion. He praised Dr Auj for his tolerance and acceptance of views which openly mocked his own without once wavering from his own pursuit for the truth.
“Though even I disagree with some of Dr Auj’s views, his acceptance for everyone else’s ideas was unparalleled.”
Eminent journalist Wusutullah Khan described Dr Auj as a ‘lunatic’ for doing his own research in religion in a world of people who bought everything ready-made, be it beliefs, clothes or food.
“Never once in the Torah or Bible are the believers asked to think and judge for themselves,” he said. “That is only provided in the Quran.”
“Historically, the preachers first declared dissenters of God and his word, the Quran, as Wajib-ul-Qatl. Then those who disputed Hadiths also became Wajib-ul-Qatl. Then the dissenters of your sect became Wajib-ul-Qatl. Now, dissenters of your belief can also be easily declared Wajib-ul-Qatl,” he said.
“It is much easier than reading up and researching to support your argument. A bullet is much quicker and much cheaper.”
Dr Jamil Kazmi, the chairperson of Karachi University’s geography department and president of its teachers’ society, said the norm of disguising personal perfidy as religion was lost on Dr Auj, who faced a tough time from his colleagues as an honest man.
“Nothing terrifies a terrorist more than when people stop being afraid of him. He then resorts to the cowardly act of eliminating those who refuse to be cower before him,” said social activist Jibran Nasir.
He ended the function on the note that universities needed to be reclaimed as safe havens for all sort of dissenters to be free, whether they be of political nature or religious.

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