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One man’s seva for another man’s death

Published Apr 13, 2012 05:42pm


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Muhammed Khurshid Khan has traveled to Sikh shrines in Pakistan and India, volunteering to polish shoes, clean bathrooms, cook meals and do other chores. – Photo by AP
Muhammed Khurshid Khan has traveled to Sikh shrines in Pakistan and India, volunteering to polish shoes, clean bathrooms, cook meals and do other chores. – Photo by AP

HASAN ABDAL: Thousands of Indian pilgrims barely registered the man in the orange bandanna and Ray-Ban sunglasses taking their shoes and storing them in wooden cubbyholes before they entered the Sikh shrine in Hasan Abdal.

The unassuming 62-year-old tending to the shoes is a top government lawyer and devout Muslim. At the shrine, he is on an unusual solo quest—taking on menial jobs to atone for the beheading of a Sikh by militants.

Over the past two years, Muhammed Khurshid Khan has traveled to Sikh shrines in Pakistan and India, volunteering to polish shoes, clean bathrooms, cook meals and do other chores. Such service is known as “seva”—selfless service—in Sikhism, and it holds a special place in the faith.

Attacks against Sikhs, Christians and Hindus have spiked in Pakistan in recent years as the Taliban and their allies gained strength. Atrocities by extremists against religious minorities now are so common that they rarely illicit more than routine condemnation by officials, much less collective contrition or shame.

In helping Sikhs, Khan is reaching out to an extremely small minority.

“I have a desire to serve the Sikh community because my community has done them serious harm, and that hurts me,” said Khan, taking a break from his work at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib.

Khan, one of two dozen deputy attorney generals in Pakistan, began his mission in 2010 after militants kidnapped three Sikhs returning from Afghanistan to their homes in Pakistan. The militants demanded some$240 thousand dollars—an amount the families could not afford. Two of the captives were freed in a commando raid, but 30-year-old Jaspal Singh had already been beheaded.

“That news pierced my heart,” said Khan. “How could Muslims do such harm to such a peaceful community?”

A day after Singh was beheaded, Khan went to the dead man’s home in Peshawar to offer condolences. He sat on the floor with Singh’s relatives, but they became wary once they realised Khan was a government official.

Khan then visited a Sikh shrine in Peshawar and asked religious leaders if he could perform seva to atone for the beheading. After two weeks his request was approved, and for the next four months he went to the shrine in Peshawar every day after work, polishing worshippers’ shoes for hours.

Handling the shoes of devotees is considered a particularly worthy form of seva because it shows humility and a belief that all people, rich and poor, are equal in the eyes of God.

“When I was permitted to do seva, that day felt like the happiest day of my life,” said Khan.

He said he initially hid his quest from his family because he worried they would be embarrassed and ask him to stop, but they are now supportive. He also avoided media interviews until a reporter reminded him that Islam tells followers to publicise good deeds as an example to others.

“My message is love and peace,” said Khan, who also visits Hindu temples and Christian churches to reinforce the belief that religious minorities should be protected. “These minorities have been living here for centuries.”

Khan has not contacted the beheaded Sikh’s family since just after the killing.

Harnam Singh said his slain brother left a widow and four young children and the family has trouble making ends meet.

“We appreciate what Khan is doing because it shows solidarity with the Sikh community,” said Harnam Singh. “It would also be good if someone could provide some help for the family because they are facing serious problems.”

Sikhism was founded in the 15th century by Guru Nanak Dev in the Punjab region of South Asia, which was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947 when the countries gained independence from the British Empire.

The shrine in Hasan Abdal is revered because it houses what is believed to be a handprint of Sikhism’s founder. This week, there was a festive atmosphere at Gurdwara Panja Sahib, a brick building adorned with arched windows and topped by a large dome. Indians, and some Pakistanis, were visiting as part of a 10-day pilgrimage to celebrate the Sikh New Year – Besakhi.

Khan surveyed the gathering from his perch behind a long wooden counter and said he hoped his actions would highlight the need to protect Pakistan’s minorities.

“The message is a soft image of my religion Islam, a soft image of my country Pakistan,” said Khan. “We are not terrorists.”


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Comments (69) Closed

Sameem Apr 17, 2012 11:01am
Mr. El Cid, first be a good human than a good Muslim. I am Muslim too but I believe humanity is for better religion than Islam or other... Did you ever experienced to do good deeds not for Allah, not for any religion but for humanity, for community, for people regardless what religion they have. Your previous posts shows you don't have such experience. I ensure you'll feel yourself much happier If you would have such thinking while doing good deeds.
El Cid Apr 16, 2012 02:11am
The Sikh communty has specifically asked for financial help for the family. Please read the article. However the family has the right to reject it. But the criminals MUST be punished for their attack on society and humanity.
El Cid Apr 16, 2012 02:06am
Please read the article: 1. Mr. Khan did NOT commit the murder. And if you commit the crime YOU should do the time, not that some one else atone for you. That is silly. 2. The Sikh community has specifically requested financial help for the destitute Sikh family who may be starving with the bread winner gone. 3. Mr. Khan is shinning shoes while the window and orphans are starving. 4. The criminals are free to do more crime and destroy other families. The Noble Quran absolutely matters and is against such atrocities and offers solutions to rectify the harm already done.
Psyckosama Apr 16, 2012 05:29pm
Faith in Humanity +1 :) Honestly though, I've gotta say, this man is an example of an honestly decent human being, a true righteous soul, an actual GOOD MAN. Gimme us a million more men like him and we could do some real, lasting good in this world.
Agha Ata Apr 13, 2012 11:27pm
Khurshid Khan deserves Tamgha-e-khydmat. Everyone should take lesson from him. It is not important what he does for minorities, the important thing is HIS ATITUDE towards them. If all Muslims had such an attitude towards minorities what a PAK-ISTAN would it have become. It would have such far reaching effects that even Muslims in India would feel safe. There aren’t many Muslims in the entire history who did such great things. Thank you Khurshid Khan for setting such a precedence!
masud Apr 13, 2012 11:34pm
You make us all proud to be Pakistan's. I wish we all can learn from you, and many thanks for reporting this. Perhaps Mr. Khan can set up some sort of fund to help victims of these brutal crimes.
nipunarora Apr 13, 2012 11:37pm
if only people could emulate the high thinking of this man, the world would be a more peaceful place. I'm an Indian, and an avid reader of dawn to follow politics in the subcontinent region, I have to say compared to most newspapers especially TOI, dawn editorials on contentious topics are non-partisan and full of insight.
AHA Apr 13, 2012 11:44pm
My salutes to Muhammed Khurshid Khan.
BINU RAVINDRAN Apr 13, 2012 11:45pm
unbelievable !! Hats off to Muhammed Khursheed Khan Saheb !!!
Baighairat Apr 14, 2012 12:58am
Hats off to you Khan Bhai! Not only Pakistan, but entire humanity needs more people like you.
tariq Apr 14, 2012 01:04am
Singh Apr 14, 2012 01:21am
Wish we all like Mr Khan. Our religion is our way of life, not to hate others. Only people who don't have faith in their belief, hate other religions. Thanks Khan at least you changed my prospective how I look at other religions.
v Apr 14, 2012 01:35am
May God bless people like him, my faith in humanity is reaffirmed, no matter what they say or do, I know that there are good people everywhere, Thank you Pakistan.
El Cid Apr 14, 2012 01:53am
The man was beheaded by criminals, NOT Muslims, for ransom default. Motive was money, NOT Islam. Muslim soldiers rescued the other two. A Muslim government would be liable for the one lost. Muhammed Khurshid Khan is a noble person. However his "Seva" is directed to earn the goodwill of the local Sikh community. This may be appealing to his psyche. However, according to the Noble Koran, Allah will be more pleased with him if he took care of the widow and orphans left destitute because of the crime. This is a fundamental good deed acceptable to Allah as advocated in the Noble Koran. Also if he has political knowledge and mind, or connections, he should consider working for Kashmiri freedom and for liberation of Sikhistan. A humble suggestion: Muhammed Khurshid Khan should direct his energy and resources in the way most appealing to Allah and help out the family left behind.
Arpit, Indian Apr 14, 2012 02:10am
Hats off to the you sir.. All religion teaches us to love god, serve humanity (irrespective of religion, caste and creed) and be humble. Most of these mullahs just speak but don't follow in their own life while you are living example of these values. My sincere gratitude to you. Gandhi ji said "if you want a change, then be the change"
moin Apr 14, 2012 03:05am
I would like to help in taking care of the slained and murdered man's family. Is their any way to get in contact with them. Please provide with contact information
Singh Apr 14, 2012 03:16am
Today I started respecting Islam due to Mr.Muhammed Khurshid Khan's action, I wish I can do same kind of Sewa in local Mosque here in Toronto to show my Muslim brother's that I respect their religion...
Imran Apr 14, 2012 03:17am
jd Shami Apr 14, 2012 03:19am
Your statement that" Attacks against Sikhs, Christians and Hindus have spiked in Pakistan in recent years as the Taliban and their allies gained strength" is absolutely not true. Talibans have killed fellow muslims. Please check ur records and do not write if u r not sure about something.
Thor Apr 14, 2012 03:23am
Mr.Khan is a true Muslim and a great Human being. He is portraying the kind of Pakistan our beloved Quaid-e-Azam M.A.Jinnah had wanted Pakistan to be. Thank You Khan Sahib, hamen Aap pe fakhr hai. Pakistan Zindabad
AK Apr 14, 2012 03:28am
Hats off to Mr. Khan. It's people like him who make the world a better place and give hope when one starts loosing faith in humanity.
G.a Apr 14, 2012 03:36am
If there is a ying, there is a yang. For every dreaded Taliban there are people like Mr. Khan. Example of humility indeed. Hats off to you sir!
Karachishehar Apr 14, 2012 03:41am
And nobody has to atone for thousands of Karachites murdered in the last few years.
ali Apr 14, 2012 03:48am
Atleast someone in Pakistan has shame.
Ganesh Adithya Vakra Apr 14, 2012 04:03am
Divine, this how spirituality works ... He lives how a muslim has to live
Salahuddin Khan Apr 14, 2012 06:09am
We appreciate the gesture of strong protest against barbrous act of terrorist doing heinous crime in the name of Islam. They are criminals of humanity. Islam ordains every Muslim to protect innocent - murder of an innocent is murder of humanity.
Syed Ahmed Apr 14, 2012 06:25am
Higly appriciated. I hope Zardari realizes the plight of hundreds of poor waste pickers who sleep at the bus stands, garbage sites and streets having no shelter or supervision of adults? Ddozens who commit suicide, forced to sell their children, due to extreme poverty even kill some of them and numerous women compled by circumstances to sell their chastity.
haroon rooha Apr 14, 2012 07:40am
Vaisakhi,1st day of vaisaakh,is the beginning of new yr in Asia.Guru Nanak Dev was considerd as a Guru,Teacher,of Vedas.Guru Granth is the 10th book of Indian Ethoes.There is a difference bwtween Guru and Jewish concept of Prophets.There is no begining of Guru Shishya-Sikh Relationship.Please try not to translate the terms, or explain them in proper way.
mehar ali Apr 14, 2012 07:46am
I wish there were more people like this in Pakistan.
savio rodrigues Apr 14, 2012 08:11am
GOD BLESS YOU,the world needs more muslims like you.
Harpreet Grewal Apr 14, 2012 08:51am
Thank you Mr Khan for your Seva.
sagecaptial Apr 14, 2012 08:58am
Muhammed Khurshid Khan salute you sir may your tribe grow
Pramod Apr 14, 2012 10:49am
Yes Humanity is still alive...
Ruffs Singh Apr 14, 2012 12:18pm
At least there is 1 man in Pakistan who recognises other religions too
gaurav Apr 14, 2012 12:21pm
A true noble soul. A person who has immense faith in his own faith ...who dosent believe he or his faith becomes lesser because he demonstrates contrition on behalf of his wayward compatriots . We need gentleman like him to visit us in India rather than Zardari.
Shah Hussain Apr 14, 2012 01:15pm
It would be much better if Mr Khan provide some financial help to the family of the slain person....
Umair Cheema Apr 14, 2012 02:01pm
Hats off to Khurshid Khan Sahib. I wish more people would think and more importantly act like him. May the peace prevail all over the world.
Vivek Singh Chandel Apr 14, 2012 02:10pm
It shows people of India and Pakistan are brothers but only small minority of fundamentalists are trying to submerge the relation in name of god on both sides. After all we are same sons and brothers of same land separated by destiny.
Ahmed Apr 14, 2012 02:18pm
Mr Shah, I think you missed the point.
Ib Apr 14, 2012 02:35pm
wow...Khan sahib's seva brought tears to my eyes.
M. SaleemRaikodi Apr 14, 2012 02:44pm
I pity your statement chum. Khan is already doing his bit volunteering and atoning for someone's sin. What are you doing buddy? atleast appreciate for his good deeds rather than armchair comment to do this or that.
moonjely sony Apr 14, 2012 03:02pm
its only for cheap publicity ,what about those people who got killed every day in karachi?
S Patel Apr 14, 2012 03:44pm
Even better if he dose some thing that brings down the this HATERATE for other RELIGIONS . Hats off for what he is doing NOW ..
Da Man Apr 14, 2012 04:08pm
Shah Sahib, why don't you provide the financial help, instead of judging the good deeds of others.
sridhar Apr 14, 2012 04:14pm
A very nobel way of supporting the minority. As far as supporting their family financially is concerned, everyone in pakistan should come forward and contribute to the cause. That will show that there are many among the muslims who will stand by the minorities whenever any attrocity is done against them.
Lahore_a Apr 14, 2012 05:43pm
What he is doing is noble and helped highlight the problem and brought many people forward to do something about this problem ,religion or even sects based hatred in Pakistan. This is the menace we have to fight. The next step - that obviously Assistant Attorney General cannot take- would be to bring like minded people on a platform to raise awareness about this , also to form some kind of financial mechanism to help the victims of such heinous crimes.
Rajah Apr 14, 2012 05:50pm
Mr. Khan. hats off to you for the gesture. Need more people like you in your country(and in other countries too) to atone the mistakes being done in the name of religion in Pakistan and in other countries. We call it Karma Yoga and it is a way to reach Almighty
Ahmed Apr 14, 2012 07:47pm
that's for you to answer as Mr Khan is already doing his bit .... you can be famous too!
KK Apr 14, 2012 08:06pm
I second that! :)
singh Apr 14, 2012 08:06pm
the sikh verses say ( vich duniya sev kamiye;a - taa'n dargeh baisa'n paayiye") which means the person who does seva here get seat in the house of ALLAH. KHAN SAHAB U R THE AMBASSADOR OF PEACE . Sikh community should reward u with BHAI MARDANA JI award . he was a mirasi muslim & a freind (yaar) of HAZRAT BABA NANAK (a sufi who founded sikhism) he served all his life to BABAJI.
Jawwad Apr 14, 2012 08:21pm
That's a harsh statement my dear friend. You will be surprised to find out the number of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs in Pakistan. I am married to one too.
Jawwad Apr 14, 2012 08:30pm
Special thanks to Dawn News for highlighting the issue and make it known to public. However, it would have been nicer to inform the readers how they can possibly financially help the slain family. Please publish a contact/fund name or how to help the family?
Venkat Apr 14, 2012 08:47pm
He is setting an example for all human kind, not just muslims. Wonderful man.
Aprophet False Apr 14, 2012 10:36pm
Great work!
Sai Apr 15, 2012 12:44am
Oh Cid, What you say is so sick. If I commit a crime against my neighbour, I should atone for it on their terms, not my own. In this case, it doesv not matter what the Holy Quran says, its what the deceased persons belief dictates, is what one should do. Mr Khan is doing just that. Hats Off to you Mr Khan. Its people like Mr Khan that makes Pakistan "Zindabad".
Irfan Baloch Apr 15, 2012 01:10am
When I read all these comments, I only see love for the human race, couple of exceptions of course. And then I wonder why are we in such a mess. Maybe it's because of these few exceptions. May Allah give us the wisdom to choose the right path. The path of love and caring for our fellow human beings and all that He has blessed us with in this world.. Khurahid Khan is already closer to Allah for his noble deeds.
brijesh Apr 15, 2012 01:39am
Some good can come out of Pakistan after all. Hats off to the gentleman.
Ram Apr 15, 2012 04:39am
Remember Khan Abdul Gafar khan and Khuda-I-Khidmatgar? Time to revive sense of service and cut down fanaticism in Pakistan.
Ranjit Apr 15, 2012 05:57am
Best news item I have read in a long time and very heart warming too. This gesture from Mr Khan restores for many people hope and realisation that there are good people everywhere. Sikhs are a loyal, honest and hard working community that Pakistan should try to protect. I wish Mr Khan a full and healthy life and may good bless him in this life and the next.
jssidhoo Apr 15, 2012 06:32am
If a majority community is able to respect the feelings of the minorities it means its has become TOLERANT . If that happens Pakistan becomes peaceful because if you can respect others how can you kill your own
Nargis Naik Apr 15, 2012 06:58am
What are you doing about it?
Nargis Naik Apr 15, 2012 07:00am
What if his family does not want any help?
El Cid Apr 15, 2012 03:47pm
I am NO one to decide what is appealing to Allah. Allah's words in the in the Noble Quran tells Muslims that. If you had read the above comment, and understood it, you will have noted that I had said that Allah says so in the Noble Quran. I had repeated it twice, as you will note if you care to reread. Again, I am NO one to decide what is appealing to Allah. I am irrelevant. This is NOT about me. Only Allah knows what is appealing to Him. I have to go by Allah's words in the Noble Quran that helping widows, orphans, the poor, the traveler, the sick and the hungry wretch is appealing to Him, and a Noble Loan to Him - Karz a Hausna. No return or even thanks can be asked or even to be expected from the one that help is give. And it is not called charity...but Allah's command. The person receiving it is NOT obligated in anyway...the obligation is Allah's. I expect this has clarified the matter. I can reference the relevant Quranic verses where these commands are given.
shiva Apr 15, 2012 08:53am
Are you the one to decide which actions are most appealing?
Runjeet Singh Cheema Apr 15, 2012 09:06am
To 'Kar Sewa' in the 'Guru duar' or Gurudwara is a humbling experience indeed. My friend Khan Sahib you are a 'chosen' one by our "Waheguru' to 'Kar Sewa'. You have joined the ranks of other Muslim greats who helped make Sikhism. By that I refer to great Muslims like Bhai Mardana who was Baba Nanaks closest friend and travel mate, our refer to Emir Mian Mir, who laid the foundation stone of the 'Golden Temple' and gave the vast l;and for Sikhs to build the Temple. I refer to the two bravest of Muslim Pathans who sheltered Guru Gobind Singh and carried him through enemy lines as a Muslim "Pir". Now Khan Sahib we Sikhs honour you as one of us and our 'SEWAK'.
raika45 Apr 15, 2012 12:43pm
An article on this gentleman is published in our top two MALAYSIAN newspapers today.It warms one's heart to know that such humanity is still being practiced. May the almighty bless you sir.
Sukhjinder Apr 18, 2012 10:21am
Khurshid Khan is a noble human being. He is a shining example of what a truly religious and spiritual being should be like. I only wish that there were more individuals like him in all faiths. Well done, Mr Khan. God bless you and your family
El Cid Apr 19, 2012 04:04pm
The path that leads to Allah is paved with good deeds for humanity. Humanity is the test Allah sets for Man. A good Muslim and a good human being are NOT mutually exclusive as you seem to persume. You can not be a good Muslim without first being a good human being. To be Muslim is to be good, fair, just, kind, patient, enduring, tolerant, forgiving, understanding, humble, and strong enough to be gentle. This is an absolute, pre-requisite condition of being a Muslim. A Muslim is good. To say "Good Muslim" is a redundancy. And while you are welcome to your presumptious arrogance, assessment and personally targeted comments on the extent of my experiences, piety or temporal condition, you are but NO judge of that. Further, your self-righteous conceit, pride and flaunting of your 'Muslim-hood' and general uppetyness does not become a Muslim...but explains your ignorance of what a Muslim is supposed to be, and reflects the malaise that Pakistan is. Peace be with you.
Ranjit Kaur Apr 20, 2012 01:35pm
El Cid described the highest form of Seva, that is taking care of widows, orphans destitute etc., with out the expectation of a return. He used words such as noble loan to Allah, a Karz a Husna, not asking for thanks etc., and leaving ones reward to God. That is all Seva in its highest form. Cleaning shoes at a Gurdwara is the lowest form of Seva but not less. In any case to use Seva as pride( sword) or excuse (sheild) or for name and publicity etc is no longer Seva which as in karz husna requires humble anonymity and no expectation of a return, public display or recognition. To me as a Sikh professional, who has studied both religions and have Muslim friends and colleagues, you come through as if ignorant of both religions. I am disappointed that Mr. Cid has not responded to your words, so far.