Sabir Masih comes from a family of executioners [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]
Malak al-Maut (the angel of death) was once, it is said by Islamic theologists, one of God’s favoured angels; a loyal servant who was entrusted with separating people’s souls from their bodies, when their time came.
To the righteous, it is said, the angel of death appears in a friendly form, a companion come to ease one’s passage to the other side.
For those who have sinned, however, the angel appears as a terrifying beast, a demon come to wreak divine judgment and wrench their souls away to eternal damnation.
For most prisoners on Pakistan’s death row, he appears as Sabir Masih.
Since 2006, Masih has been one of three executioners in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the country’s most populous province. Although he says that he does not keep track, he claims to have hanged more than 250 people since he started work.
Masih comes from a family of executioners. His father, Sadiq, hanged prisoners for 40 years before retiring in 2000. Masih’s grandfather and his brothers all did the same work, too. Indeed his granduncle, Tara Masih, hanged Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first elected prime minister, in 1979.
Tara had to be flown from Bahawalpur to Lahore because the executioner at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail – Sabir’s father Sadiq – refused to hang the popular leader.
As a child, Sabir Masih always knew he would end up in the family business.
“I knew that this was a family profession,” the 33-year-old explains, sitting cross-legged in his maternal uncle’s simple home, about 25km outside of Lahore.
He was 22 the first time that he killed a man, a convicted murderer whose name he cannot recall.
“I didn’t know anything at that time. I had just seen a man hanged once in front of me,” he says. “I saw [my teacher] tie a noose once, the second time I did it myself.
“When I pull the lever, I don’t really think about it. You pull the lever, the man falls,” he says. “My focus is on the sign, from the jail superintendent.”
It was his first day on the job. Read more