A Canadian cardiologist shot dead in Pakistan was remembered Wednesday as a selfless humanitarian who was “murdered because of his faith,” with mourners making impassioned calls for Ottawa to better pressure the South Asian country on religious freedoms.
Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar, a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, had just returned to his birth country to do volunteer work at a hospital when he was gunned down by assailants in front of his wife and two-year-old son on May 26. They were visiting his parents’ graves.
At a funeral service in Vaughan, outside Toronto, Qamar’s nephew Nasir Chaudhary read a family statement that remembered the heart doctor as a “real servant of humanity” who cared for all, regardless of their beliefs.
“He possessed a strong sense of service to humanity. His compassion knew no bounds,” Chaudhary said to a solemn crowd.
“The only comfort we find in his passing is that he gave his life doing something he loved: helping others.”
A dual citizen who had lived in Ohio for the last decade, Qamar’s open casket was draped in both Canadian and American flags as a ring of mourners wearing traditional black-and-white scarves stood silently around it.
Relatives spoke of Qamar as a positive, generous man who was always cracking jokes and penning poems. A niece recalled one such piece, written to honour her brother after his sudden death.
Speakers mourned Qamar, 51, not only for the loss of his life, but as what they see as another sectarian killing of members of their religious group, who in Pakistan have long been the target of Islamic extremists, accused of blasphemy and are not officially recognized as Muslims.
“Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar was murdered because of his faith,” said Lal Khan Malik, president Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada, a group representing Ahmadis.
He said Qamar’s death was the “direct result of the state-sponsored extremism that is practiced in Pakistan,” and called on the Harper government to pressure the South Asian country to end what he called the persecution of Ahmadis.
“As loyal citizens of Canada, we ask the government of Canada to urge the Pakistan government to stand up to extremists and promote freedom of religion.”
He noted that last year Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the same Ahmadiyya mosque hall where Qamar was remembered to name the first ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom, meant to spread religious tolerance abroad. Malik said Qamar’s killing tragically underscores the importance of the initiative.
“I did not think I would be standing here a year from that day burying one of my community members to demonstrate the critical need and work of that office.”
He said the Qamar’s slaying was part of a “pattern” that has seen 137 other Ahmadis killed in Pakistan over the last four years.
Federal, provincial and local politicians were in attendance, as were officials from the U.S. consulate in Toronto along with friends and family stateside.
Local Liberal MP Judy Sgro said the Harper government must get tough with Pakistan to act against extremism targeting minorities, saying options such as trade sanctions should be on the table. “We must not let him die in vain,” she said of Qamar.
Speaking next to her on a panel at the service, Conservative MP and government representative Chungsen Leung called on Pakistan to “stop the persecution of Ahmadis.”