Noted qawwali singer Amjad Sabri was shot dead in Pakistan on Wednesday in an attack claimed by Islamic extremists.
The Sufi singer was shot multiple times while on his way to a local TV appearance. An associate travelling with him in the car was injured in the attack as well.
One of five brothers, Amjad hails from a family noted for their qawwalis – the older Sabri brothers. His younger brother, Talha Sabri, says he will now take care of Amjad’s surviving family – his wife, three sons and two daughters. The eldest boy is 12 years old.
“Amjad Bhai was the captain of our team… Now I’m the family elder… Please pray for my brother’s departed soul,” Talha said, according to Dawn news, a Pakistani news agency.
Amjad and his late father, Ghulam Farid Sabri, were well-known qawwali singers, a style of music rooted in Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. They carried on a family tradition that goes back to the 17th century, when their ancestors performed for the Mughal emperors who ruled much of the Indian subcontinent.
“For so many in Pakistan, Amjad Sabri was an iconic cultural ambassador of Pakistan just like his ancestors were for our previous generations,” said Shezreh Mirza, a prominent legal consultant. “I am at an utter loss to understand this senseless killing of a legend at the prime of his life. Pakistan’s soul stands tormented yet again today.”
Islamic extremists have targeted Sufis in the past and destroyed their shrines, accusing them of promoting idolatry. A splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban said it killed Amjad because he was a “blasphemer.”
A blasphemy case was filed in 2014 against a local TV station after it aired a show in which the 45-year-old sang a qawwali that made reference to historic religious figures. The case has been pending in court.
Karachi has long been gripped by violence, with attacks carried out by Islamic militants as well as ethnic separatists, criminal gangs and rival political parties. For the past two years, the Pakistani military has been cracking down against these suspected militants, leading to a sharp decline. However, it has by no means stopped the violence. On Tuesday, gunmen killed a member of the Ahmadi religious minority, and the son of a provincial judge was abducted.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the killing and ordered an investigation.
Police, who are yet to determine a motive behind the shooting, said it was a targeted attack and a senior police officer called it “an act of terrorism”.
Ghulam Ahmed, who witnessed the incident, told SAMAA TV that he saw the killers fire at one side of the car. “Then they turned and fired four shots on the other side of the car,” he recalled.
But for fans of Amjad, they can’t understand why Amjad was targeted at all. People in his neighbourhood remember him as a gentle soul, someone who would mingle with them, playing cricket or dubboo (a board game similar to caroms) when he had the time, Dawn reported.
Outside Sabri’s house in Liaquatabad, residents congregated to offer their condolences to the singer’s family. Shopping areas and businesses were shut down in the area.
“I cannot believe it,” Aashiq Hussain, a student at the University of Karachi, said, standing outside Sabri’s residence. “Yesterday night, I listened his song live on a TV channel.”
“Who would kill a gentle soul like Amjad Sabri? He was such a simple, straightforward and down-to-earth person. He had no enemies,” Shakeel Khan, who used to make paan for the singer, told Dawn news.
The political party Muttahida Qaumi Movement announced three days of mourning for Amjad in Karachi.
There was outpouring of grief and outrage on social media as well as celebrities, politicians and fan remembered the singer.
While PM Sharif prayed for the peace of Amjad’s soul, former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan expressed his shock. “A complete failure of law and order and writ of the government,” he posted on Twitter.
Popular actor-singer Ali Zaffar also posted: “This is extremely sad, disturbing and unacceptable, specially since he had submitted an application for his protection.”
Fans posted videos of Amjad’s performances, while others pledged that his message of love would carry on.
Another popular Sufi singer, Arieb Azhar called Amjad’s death a “great loss”.
“Our own dear Amjad Sabri, son of Ghulam Farid Sabri and nephew of Maqbool Sabri, the renowned Sabri brothers, was a true lover of God, life and all that’s good... His mission of love has tragically been cut short by those who spread hate in the world,” he said.