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Family of Afghan Woman Murdered by Mob Says She Was 'Devoted to Islam' and Did Not Burn the Quran

We spoke to the father and brother of the 28-year-old woman whose horrific killing Thursday near a shrine in Kabul was captured in graphic video footage.

by Ali M Latifi
Mar 21 2015, 6:00pm

Image via YouTube/Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Hours after an angry mob in Kabul brutally murdered a 28-year-old Afghan woman named Farkhunda, her still-grieving family was forced to flee their home under the cover of night.

They knew the accusation that led to Farkhunda's death — that she burned pages of the Quran inside a downtown Kabul shrine — was false, but there was little they could do Thursday in the hours after her she was beaten, run over by a Toyota hatchback, and burned in a patch of dirt in the Kabul River. Immediately after briefing them on the situation, security officials told the family to head to their homeland in Kapisa province, an hour north of Kabul.

It took nearly 24 hours for the truth to come out: Farkhunda, her older brother Najibullah told VICE News, "devoted her life to Islam," and bore no resemblance to someone who would enter one of Kabul's holiest shrines and burn pages of the sacred text she held in such high esteem

"How could a student of religion do such a thing?" asked Najibullah, an engineer, from his family's home in Kabul.

Related: Graphic video shows mob violently attacking woman accused of burning Quran in Afghanistan. 

According to her family, Farkhunda left the school of mathematics at Kabul's Education University, enrolled in a madrasa (a school for theology), and eventually applied to the school of Islamic studies at Kabul University. While awaiting the start of her studies, Farkhunda taught 30 students to read and recite the Quran.

In the 48 hours since her death, investigations by Afghan security officials and the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs found that the papers Farkhunda was accused of burning were actually Persian-language tawiz charms, written by the mullah of the shrine in Dari — not the Quran.

"I personally followed the case but I didn't find any evidence that this woman burned the Holy Quran," Daiul Haq Abid, deputy minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs, told local media. "The burned papers were pieces of a Persian book."

Her family insists Farkhunda — who for years had been suffering from an unspecified mental illness — burned no papers at all that day.

"At the shrine, she told women inside to end these practices of lighting candles, asking for charms and tying ribbons," her father, Mohamad Nadar, told VICE News.

Farkhunda's family said her request angered the mosque's mullah, who collected donations of money and goods in exchange for the charms.

"The mullah burned the tawiz himself," her father claimed.

The mullah was taken in for questioning by police.

Though many Afghans decried the gruesome killing, others praised the 1,000 young men who had gathered to watch Farkhunda's body burn in one of the busiest commercial and religious landmarks of the Afghan capital.

The morning after the violence, a cleric at the Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque in Kabul said during Friday prayers that the mob had a right to defend Islam.

"I am warning the government not to arrest those who did this, because it will mean an uprising," the cleric said in a sermon broadcast on a loudspeaker, according to Reuters.

Farkhunda's family said reports that she discouraged visitors to the Shah-Do Shamshira shrine of engaging in "un-Islamic excesses" seem more in line with her character, recalling a recent funeral where she encouraged relatives to pray — rather than weep — for the deceased.

Though subsequent investigations have seemingly cleared her of the charge of burning the Quran, Farkhunda's family said the case has still not been given the respect it deserves. When they went to the morgue, they allegedly found the charred remains of their daughter lying in a corner instead of the cold storage units.

Related: Family of Pakistani Christian couple accused of blasphemy say mob burned them alive.

The site in Kabul where Farkhunda was burned. (Photo via Ali M Latifi)

Her father told VICE News he wished he never let Farkhunda go to shrine that Thursday morning.

"She left at 11am and by 2pm I began to get worried," he recalled.

When he called her, Farkhunda said the shrine was particularly crowded and she would be home in a couple of hours. As more time passed, the family became increasingly worried.

"I called her at 3 at 4 and 5 but there was no answer," her father said. Around 5pm, his phone finally rang. The voice on the other end, Mohamad said, belonged to a member of the nation's intelligence agency.

The family said they were told to come to the Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital because their daughter had been beaten after being accused of burning the Quran. The authorities said nothing about her death or her body being set on fire.

"Finally, I asked a female police officer where my daughter was," Mohamad said.

He said the police officer, who was also injured by the mob near the shrine, told him, "Your daughter has been martyred."

Farkhunda's family, however, maintains that she has not been afforded the rights befitting a martyr. Her body has yet to be handed over to the family for a proper burial. Islamic tradition dictates a body must be buried immediately.

Ahmad Zubair Massoud, a 26-year-old security advisor to President Ashraf Ghani, was the first to visit Farkhunda's family, arriving about 48 hours after her death. He came with flowers and condolences.

"People must [come] to her support, this is a matter of extreme importance for all of Afghan society," the family recalls Massoud saying before handing them a bouquet of flowers in their Khair Khana neighborhood home.

"What they did to my daughter was an insult to Islam… to the people of Kapisa… and the mujahideen (who fought to free Afghanistan from Soviet occupation)," her father said. "She always said she wanted to be a martyr for Islam, but not like this."

Nine people have been arrested so far in connection with Farkhunda's murder. Najibullah, her brother, said the family has only request from the government.

"All ask is that the perpetrators be brought to justice for their brutality," he said. "Nothing else."

Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye