Murder of American Doctor Underlines Plight of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities

By Patrick Goodenough | May 27, 2014 | 1:24am EDT
Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar, seen here with one of his three sons, was shot dead in Pakistan's Punjab province on Monday, May 26, 2014. (Photo: Twitter)

( – Just days before the State Department is expected to release its annual report on international religious freedom, the dire situation in Pakistan was underscored Monday when a Pakistan-born American physician belonging to a widely-loathed religious minority was gunned down in front of his wife and young son.

Mehdi Ali Qamar, a 50 year-old cardiologist based in Lancaster, Ohio, was on a short visit to Pakistan to volunteer at a heart hospital in Chenab Nagar, a town in Punjab province that is home to Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi Muslim community.

Pakistani media reports cited police spokesmen as saying two gunmen on a motorbike had opened fire as Qamar and family members left a cemetery after visiting relatives’ graves. They said he was shot between nine and 11 times.

Qamar, who is survived by his wife and three children, has reportedly been a U.S. citizen for at least a decade.

A spokesman for the Ahmadi community, Salim ud Din, told the Dawn daily the killing was part of an ongoing campaign of hatred targeting the minority.

“The murder of the doctor who served fellow human beings without discrimination is most painful,” he said, noting that Ali had come to Pakistan “to serve his compatriots.”

Salim ud Din recalled that leaflets have been circulated calling for the murder of Ahmadis, and declaring treatment at the heart hospital to be haram (religiously prohibited).

“In order to put a stop to murders in the name of faith it is essential to ban hate-promoting literature, and those who issue fatwas legitimizing murder of innocent people should be brought to justice,” he said.

In the coming days the State Department will issue its annual report on international religious freedom, and one things anti-persecution advocates are anxious to see is whether the administration will expand the number of designated “countries of particular concern” (CPCs).

Pakistan is currently at the top of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s list of egregious violators that have escaped blacklisting thus far.

The USCIRF, an independent statutory body, has been pressing for CPC designation for Pakistan every year since 2002, but the State Department overruled the recommendation each time.

While Ahmadis – like Christians and other minorities – are disproportionately victimized under Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws, Ahmadis face additional discrimination in that they are subjected to specific anti-Ahmadi laws as well.

“The constitution declares members of the Ahmadi religious commu­nity to be ‘non-Muslims,’ and the penal code makes basic acts of Ahmadi worship and interaction criminal offenses,” the USCIRF said in its most recent annual report, released a month ago.

It reported that during 2013:

--Individual Ahmadis were murdered in religiously-motivated attacks;

--Police repeatedly forced Ahmadis to remove Qur’anic scripture from mosques and minarets;

--Ahmadi graves were desecrated, sometimes by local police; and

--Ahmadis were effectively dis­enfranchised from voting in national elections last May.

The USCIRF says the situation face by Pakistan’s religious minorities is getting worse.

“Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for a country not currently designated by the U.S. government as a CPC,” commission chairman Robert George told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

“In the past year, religious freedom conditions reached an all-time low due to chronic sectarian violence targeting mostly Shi’a Muslims but also Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus,” he said. “The previous and current governments failed to provide adequate protection or arrest perpetrators. Also, Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmadi laws are widely used to violate religious freedoms and foster a climate of impunity.”

“Kill those who insult Mohammed” reads a banner at a 2010 protest in Lahore, Pakistan. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary, File)

‘A subversive movement against Islam and the Muslim world’

The Ahmadi (aka Ahmadiyya) sect, which venerates a 19th century messiah figure called Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and rejects all forms of violence, is considered heretical by mainstream Muslims. It claims millions of adherents in 204 countries, mostly in South Asia and Africa.

In 1974 the Muslim World League (MWL), a Mecca-based organization with close ties to the Saudi monarchy, published a fatwa ruling that the Ahmadi sect was “a subversive movement against Islam and the Muslim world” that sought to destroy Islam.

The resolution declared that Muslim organizations everywhere should declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims and “oust” them from the fold of Islam.

They should furthermore be boycotted socially, economically and culturally, not be permitted to marry Muslims, not be entrusted with any position of responsibility in any Muslim country, or be allowed to be buried in Muslim cemeteries, the MWL declared.

The 1974 ruling, still frequently cited today, had a significant impact on Ahmadis, who had already faced persecution in some countries. In September of that same year, Pakistan amended its constitution to declare that an Ahmadi “is not a Muslim for the purposes of the constitution or law.”

Under U.S. laws CPCs may be targeted with U.S. sanctions or other measures intended to encourage governments to improve.

Despite annual appeals by the USCIRF the current list of CPCs – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan – has remained unchanged since 2007.

The USCIRF believes those eight countries belong on the list, but is urging the administration to add eight more. Apart from Pakistan, they are Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

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