The article was originally published in January, 2017.

In September 2002, I got admission in MSc in Psychology at Government College University (GCU), Lahore. A few months prior, I had pledged allegiance to famous religious scholar Dr Israr Ahmed and made the struggle for an Islamic revolution my primary aim in life.

I met Salman Haider at GCU, where he was a senior in my department. We eventually became great friends. He had a gifted mind and was amongst the few bright students in the programme. Apart from being an excellent student, he was an active participant in the drama and debating clubs.

He won several prizes at the university and was popular amongst students and teachers alike. As a person, he was kindhearted, straightforward, and loving toward people around him.

I come from Multan and whatever inhibitions I had as someone who found himself in a big city, Salman helped me shed them. My integration in a new environment was made possible by Salman. Even though he was liberal and I was religious, he never allowed difference of opinion come between our friendship.

Read our Editorial: Missing activists

Just as he was close to his other friends, he was close to me as well. After completing his degree, Salman received a scholarship from the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and moved to Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) in Islamabad to pursue his PhD.

When I finished my degree, it was Salman who convinced me to apply for the same scholarship. I followed his footsteps and went to QAU for my PhD as well.

QAU’s hostel 2, room 58 had two occupants: Salman and Shahadat. I was unable to get hostel accommodation when I joined the university in 2006. But Salman came to my rescue and gave me space in his room.

The room originally had two single-beds, but Salman and Shahadat took them out and arranged floor beddings instead for the three of us. The only space we had left was between the door and the mattresses; we kept our shoes there. Although we had a fan, the room used to get so hot that we had to soak our mattresses with water every two hours.

One summer, two friends from Multan gave me a surprise visit. I thought they would go back later at night, but they were planning on sleeping over. We barely had room to move, but Salman accommodated us all. He gave his bed to my friends and slept on a chador in the little space where we had our shoes.

On the same topic: Times of iron and fire: The case of Pakistan's missing activists

As I mentioned earlier, I have been a follower of Dr Israr Ahmed since 2002. In these years, my religious thought has developed and my inclination toward Islam has increased. So when I saw the propaganda against Salman on social media, I felt it was time for me to tell people the truth about my dear friend.

I have known Salman for 14 years and in that time, I never heard him express anti-theistic or anti-Islam sentiments. He was not against religion, but against ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and socio-political oppression. It is an outright lie that Salman was against Islam.

Those who are smearing him don’t know how enlightened he was. Gifted people like Salman are assets to our society.

I found Salman’s views and values to be far more humanistic than the values of these so-called mazhab ke thekedaars.

Salman valued logic and rationality was his litmus test for accepting or rejecting ideas. He always listened to contesting views graciously. He was especially critical of people who exploited slogans and political ideologies for their own benefit. I often heard Salman criticising his own comrades.

Our deep friendship was due to his broad-mindedness and accepting nature. And even though we were on opposing ideological poles, we still found common ground when it came to our analysis of society.

We both wondered why Muslims were never able to live peacefully with each other even though they were all followers of the same religion.

Our second grievance was regarding the role of the state. We both firmly believed that it was the state’s responsibility to ensure the welfare, well-being and security of its citizens.

Read further: Salman Haider’s disappearance won’t silence our voices

We would often lament how this country, whose founders envisaged it to be a welfare state, had deviated from those ideals.

Today, power, authority and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a few. As soon as the exploited, cheated, and oppressed raise their voices to demand their rights, they are labeled ‘traitors,’ ‘foreign agents,’ ‘anti-religion’ and so on.

I think one such voice was Salman's. Unsurprisingly, he is now being labeled as a ‘traitor’ and a ‘blasphemer’.

Salman’s real crime was to raise his voice – not for his personal benefit but for the rights of others. His crime was to dream of a society where there was freedom and where people lived without fear.

It is really painful for me to be part of demonstrations demanding Salman’s recovery.

He used to protest against the missing persons and now he himself is missing.

He wanted freedom for others, but today we wait for him to be freed.

This blog originally appeared in Urdu and has been translated by Bilal Karim Mughal.



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