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U.S. citizen slain over his religion in his native Pakistan
By David O’Reilly
When Habib Peer closed his Germantown newsstand last year and moved back to Pakistan, his passport made no note of his religion.
Since 1990 he had been a resident and citizen of the United States, where being an Ahmadiyya Muslim is no offense. But in his homeland, Peer’s faith made him a target, his family said.
On Thursday, as he drove with a young nephew through the southern city of Sanghar, two motorbikes approached his car. One of the masked drivers fired a handgun twice through the open window, instantly killing the 60-year-old Peer.
His nephew, 13, survived to describe the assassination. “That’s just how [the boy’s] father died,” recalled Mujeeb Chaudhary, Peer’s brother-in-law and a Philadelphia pharmacist.
“It was a targeted killing, only because of his religion.”
Four years earlier, Peer’s brother, Pasha, a physician who cared for the poor of Sanghar, was shot twice in the head as he left his clinic one evening. His killer ran off and was never found.
Widowed the year his brother died, Peer had moved back to Pakistan to care for Pasha’s widow, whom he married, and to help raise his brother’s children.
Ahmadis follow the Indian mystic Mirza Gulam Ahmad, who in 1887 announced that he was the messiah, or Mahdi, predicted in early Islamic writings as one who would purify Islam near the end of time.
Nearly all Muslims view Ahmad as a heretic, and his followers as inauthentic Muslims. Although tolerated in some Muslim nations, they are especially disdained in Pakistan, whose constitution and passports identify Ahmadis as non-Muslim.
That nation’s four million Ahmadis are forbidden by law to publicly practice their religion, and they can be jailed for blasphemy if they greet Sunni or Shiite Muslims with the traditional “salaam alaykum” or wear Muslim garb.
Mainstream mullahs and imams denounce Ahmadis, with some blaming their presence for the floods ravaging Pakistan. “Some [leaders] even tell their people it is their duty to kill us,” said Chaudhary, who came to the United States in 1972 and is president of the 450-member Philadelphia-area Ahmadiyya community.
The failure of the Pakistani government to suppress such virulent talk, he said, is tantamount to “state-sponsored terrorism.”
Chaudhary added, “The authorities made very little effort for Pasha, and they will do the same for Habib.”
Nadeem Kiani, press attache at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, denied on Tuesday that his government fosters a climate of hostility toward religious minorities, including Ahmadis.
“Yes, they are considered a religious minority,” he said, “but they have complete protection and all the constitutional rights.”
Kiani said he was not familiar with Peer’s murder, but said “if any person is murdered, there are legal ways for the family to prosecute the person accused,” although “these can take time.”
Nicole Thompson, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Tuesday that the Obama administration was “in constant engagement with the government of Pakistan on issues of religious freedom.”
Teresita Schaffer, former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, said Tuesday that the Ahmadiyya community’s cause “is far down on [the State Department’s] list,” though recent violence against Ahmadis is among the worst that nation has seen since its founding in the 1940s.
Schaffer cited the May grenade and assault-weapon attacks by the Pakistani Taliban on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore that left 78 worshippers dead and dozens severely wounded.
Ahmadis, she said, “are a very controversial part of the community… . The people willing to raise their voices in their defense are few.”
In 2002, the House of Representatives issued a bipartisan resolution calling on Pakistan to repeal the second amendment of its constitution, declaring Ahmadis non-Muslim, and its blasphemy laws.
Since then, the Pakistani government has only toughened its blasphemy laws, Chaudhary said.
On Friday, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan released a statement expressing dismay over Peer’s murder and that of another Ahmadi in Karachi earlier in the week.
The commission wrote that it also was concerned by reports of denial of shelter to Ahmadis displaced by massive floods in south Punjab.
Although some Muslims are upset by the resistance to a proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, Chaudhary said he welcomed such debate as “proof of America’s freedom of speech and freedom to practice religion.”
In March, he said, the Philadelphia-area Ahmadi community plans to break ground for a new mosque, with dome and minaret, on West Glenwood Avenue near Temple University. The plan, he said, has encountered no hostility from the neighborhood.
Chaudhary said he was delighted when an employee in the city zoning office asked him, “When will you have your jumma prayers?“ - Friday services.
“Here it is easy to take for granted,” he said, “but this is the greatness of America.”