A member of the Ahmadi minority Muslim sect who was shot and killed during his hearing on blasphemy charges in a Pakistani courtroom Wednesday was a U.S. citizen, the U.S. Department of State confirmed.
Tahir Ahmed Naseem, 57, allegedly proclaimed prophethood in 2018 and was fatally shot by a teenager who reportedly justified his action as a defense of Islam.
In a video posted on Facebook, the teenager claimed the Prophet Muhammad “came to me in my dream and told me … to finish [Naseem].”
Mainstream Muslims believe Muhammad was the last messenger of God and any claim of prophethood after him is heresy.
In a tweet hours after the killing, the State Department urged Pakistan “to take immediate action and pursue reforms that will prevent such a shameful tragedy from happening again.”
VOA contacted Naseem's family in the United States, who said Ahmad suffered from mental health issues. They did not wish to provide more details given the sensitivity of the matter.
Naseem was a teenager when he left his village in Peshawar in 1978 and attended high school in the U.S.
Saleem ud Din, spokesman for the Ahmadi Jaam’at in Pakistan, told VOA that Ahmad had disassociated himself from the Ahmadi minority and embraced Sunni Islam.
“He announced in a gathering with other Muslim clerics that he denounced Ahmadiyya and embraced Islam,” ud Din said. “He made different claims about prophethood. … We believe mental health issues were also there.”
Videos circulating on social media platforms showed Naseem declaring himself a prophet. In other videos, he appeared with a group of local villagers, clerics and police in Peshawar apologizing and renouncing his claim to prophethood and affiliation with the Ahmadi community.
“I made a mistake about the claims that I made, I have a lot of stress on my brain. My brain is not well. I apologize for everything I have said. I am a Muslim, and God willing, I will die a Muslim,” Naseem said in the video.
VOA could not independently verify the authenticity of the videos.
Speaking to VOA, police officials in Peshawar used a religious slur for Ahmadis when referring to Naseem. Ahmadis are considered non-Muslims according to Pakistan’s constitution and can be punished if they self-identify as such.
Naseem jailed since 2018
Officials added that Naseem had been charged with insulting the prophet in 2018 and was in jail awaiting his trial.
“Charges of blasphemy had been registered against him under sections 295A, 295B and 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code in Sarband [the police station]. He was accused of insulting the prophet of Islam by a local mullah,” Ejaz, a police officer at the Sharqi police station, told VOA.
Mufti Wajid Ali, the local cleric who allegedly arranged Ahmad’s conversion, told VOA that Naseem had signed a written document renouncing his Ahmadiyya belief and agreed to punishment by law if he backtracked on his belief in the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad.
“After signing and accepting the terms to the agreement, the people forgave him, and he returned to America, where he continued to make blasphemous statements and claims to prophethood online," Ali said. “And he continued to visit Pakistan fearfully until 2018, when our friend and follower of the Khatme-Nabuwat, Awais from Nowshera, who was in contact with him, lured him and informed the police.”
The official First Incident Report (FIR) charge sheet provided to VOA by the Sarband police indicates that an individual named Awais Malik of Nowshera, a student of Jamiat-e-Muhammadia, a hardline Islamic educational institute, registered the complaint that landed Naseem in jail without bail.
VOA reached out to Malik, who claimed Naseem contacted him in 2018 through Facebook and seemed “completely mentally stable.”
Assailant charged with murder
Under Pakistan’s penal code, individuals accused of blasphemy or insulting Islam and the prophet may face life imprisonment or death.
Peshawar police confirmed that the teenage assailant was taken into custody and charged with murder.
Following the incident, many Pakistani hardliners lauded the teenager as a hero on social media.
Rights groups have condemned the killing, calling on the Pakistani government to repeal what Amnesty International called “the draconian blasphemy laws that enable abuse.”
In a statement Wednesday, Amnesty said Naseem’s killing “is yet another example of how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws embolden vigilantes to threaten or kill the accused.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in 2020 because of its “systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws.”
USCIRF has called on Islamabad to repeal its blasphemy law, which, according to the commission, exacerbates interreligious tensions.
US involvement limited
The U.S. Embassy and consulates in Pakistan say they are limited in their capacity to assist U.S. citizens in the country.
“A U.S. passport does not entitle anyone in Pakistan to any special privileges,” the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad says on its website. It adds that its American Citizens Services (ACS) unit “cannot get an American citizen out of prison, prevent the local authorities from deporting an American after release from jail, or interfere in civil or criminal proceedings.”
The Pakistan Foreign Office has not responded to a VOA request for comment on the case.
VOA’s Abdur Razzaq and Arshad Mohmand contributed to this report from Peshawar.