Pickerington doctor killed by gunmen in Pakistan

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

By Earl Rinehart

What is a son to feel when his father is slain for the offense of providing free medical care to the poor in his native land?

Abdullah Ali considered the question. “I am disappointed,” the 16-year-old calmly said.

Not anger or vengeance. Disappointment in the sectarian-fueled hatred that led gunmen to kill his father, Pickerington cardiologist Mehdi Ali Qamar, 50, in front of his wife and child yesterday morning in Rabwah, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab region.

Qamar, a follower of the Ahmadi sect of Islam, had stopped at a cemetery to pay his respects at the graves of relatives. He was returning to his car when two motorcycles pulled up and gunmen opened fire. Qamar was hit at least 10 times and died immediately. His wife, Wajiha, and 2-year-old son sitting on her lap were not hurt.

The physician had arrived a couple of days earlier to volunteer at the Tahir Heart Institute in Rabwah, which provides free medical care to the area’s poor. He had taken a three-week sabbatical from Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster to make the mission trip, one he had made several times.

The institute was started and funded by members of the Ahmadi sect in Rabwah, where most of the 100,000 population is Ahmadi, said Dr. Abdus Malik, a nephrologist and colleague of Qamar’s at Fairfield Medical. Members do not condone jihad and condemn terrorism, they do promote love and tolerance among the religions, and they do not have a political agenda.

Malik was with Abdullah last night along with other colleagues, friends and relatives at the Pickerington home of Dr. Ahsan Syed, an anesthesiologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Mrs. Qamar had called the Ahmadi community in Columbus asking members to care for her oldest son until she arrives home later this week. The couple has a third child, a 6-year-old son who was in Pakistan but not with his parents at the time of the shooting.

Abdullah was home in Pickerington because he was taking exams this week at Pickerington North High School.

“My father trusts me,” he said. “No wild parties.”

He had accompanied his parents to Pakistan before. Had he gone this time he might have walked with his father to the graves and back to the car.

“They most likely would have taken him out, too,” Malik said of the killers.

A police spokesman in Pakistan said there were no suspects and that the killers’ motive was unknown. But a photograph of Qamar lying on the ground in a blood-soaked shirt was posted on Twitter yesterday, and it made him the latest symbol of the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan.

“It is a major crime against humanity that a doctor who came a few days back to serve his country has been killed,” said Saleemuddin, a spokesman for Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, the group that represents Pakistan’s Ahmadi population. The spokesman goes by one name.

Malik said the 94 Ahmadis massacred by the Taliban at two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan, on May 28, 2010, are buried in the cemetery that Qamar visited.

“Do you know how many arrests have been made, in all of these?” Malik asked. “None.”

Ahmadis contend that Pakistani authorities are influenced by the Taliban, who have labeled the community anti-Muslim. Pakistani law forbids members from presenting themselves as Ahmadis.

The attack on Qamar came after leaflets appeared declaring that treatment at the Tahir clinic was forbidden by Islamic law.

“They consider the way to paradise is to kill for their faith,” Malik said of Islamic extremists. “We consider the way to paradise is to die for our faith.”

“And we follow the same book,” he said, referring to the Quran.

Abdullah listened to the adults and was asked again how he felt about the tragedy.

“I am not a person who feels anger,” he said in a quiet, measured tone. It was partly the influence of his parents and “who I am.” Perhaps later he would feel the need to speak out for justice for his father and other victims of extremism.

Abdullah enjoyed conversations with his father, especially on long drives.

“He liked to tell me that no matter what people said I should do, I should always have strong faith in myself.”

He planned to call his teachers today about postponing his exams. Service arrangements must be made for his father, who will be buried in Toronto, where most of his brothers live.

Abdullah stands and shakes a visitor’s hand with both of his, as his father might have.

And he will become a physician, as his father was.


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