On January 7, 2021, due to complications arising from Covid-19, Dr. Kimat Gul Khatak passed from this world. He leaves it a much better place. Few individuals rise from such difficult and limiting circumstances to make the kind of impact he did, not only on institutions and communities, but on the lives of thousands, from his patients to his congregants.
His is a life worth honoring and remembering.
For the past forty-two years, Dr. Khatak practiced internal medicine and cardiology in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and continued to until the time of his passing. A passionate, visionary leader, a generous activist, an extraordinary humanitarian, and a respected community organizer, Dr. Khatak left a mark in his profession, in his community, and on his country. He used to love participating in the St. Patrick’s day Parade and was fondly referred to by Holyoke Medical Center staff as Dr. O’Khatak.
During the course of his forty-seven years in the United States, Dr. Khatak founded and led many Pakistani American and American Muslim organizations, all with the aim of empowering the next generation of Muslims and Pakistanis to succeed in their fields of work, areas of service, and the civic life of this country. His commitment to the political, religious, and cultural rights of American Muslims and Pakistani Americans is evident in the remarkable work that he pursued and contributed.
The journey begins in the most modest of circumstances in his ancestral country of Pakistan.
Dr. Khatak was born in Talab Khel, Karak, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, Pakistan, on February 19, 1937 to Sadmira and Khanzad Gul and was the eldest of 12 children. He moved to Sanghar, Sind when he was 10 years old and attended Noor Muhammad and, thereafter, Nawab Shah High School in Hyderabad. He completed his pre-medical and science studies from Government College, Hyderabad in 1955 and graduated from Liaqat Medical College in 1962. After his House Job at the Civil Hospital in Hyderabad, Dr. Khatak joined the Medical Corp of the Pakistan Army as a captain.
He fought bravely on the frontline Lahore/Attari/Wagah sector during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. He was seconded to the Pakistan Air Force in 1967, and again served on the frontline during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
In 1974, Dr. Khatak retired from the PAF as a major.
That same year, Dr. Khatak came to the United States and completed his residency at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York. He completed his Fellowship in cardiology in 1978 from Baystate Medical Center and then went into solo practice in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1979.
He combined his excellence in medicine with a profound dedication to those around him.
He was a founding member of Association of Physicians of Pakistani-descent of North America (APPNA), when the organization was launched in Dearborn, Michigan, in 1976, and a long-time trustee of the organization. He was instrumental to initiating some of APPNA’s seminal programs, such as APPNA SEHAT, Pak Pac, SAYA, and vital support for current Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cancer hospital. In 2003, Dr. Khatak was a founding member of APPNE, the New England chapter of APPNA, and served as its first Vice President.
Moreover, Dr. Khatak established the Pakistan Association of Western Massachusetts in the 1990s and was active in the Pakistan Association of Greater Boston.
In addition to this work with Pakistani American communities, Dr. Khatak was also intimately involved in founding, shaping, and leading American Muslim institutions, a pioneer in the infrastructure that has formed American Islam today. This work began in 1982, with his establishment of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, along with Dr. Mohammad Saleem Bajwa, through the purchase of a small home as its seminal space. He served as the Society’s first President, from 1983 to 1995, overseeing its development into a purpose-built mosque that now hosts hundreds of congregants.
Further, Dr. Khatak was a lifetime benefactor of the Islamic Council of New England, or ICNE, joining in 1987 and serving as its President in 2008. In 2011, Dr. Khatak established the Masjid Baitus Salaam and served as its President until his untimely passing, leading a community even as he oversaw a thriving medical practice. He complemented this tremendously consequential legacy with his active participation in and support for the Interfaith Council from 1984 onwards, believing strongly in the tolerance and acceptance of all faiths.
There is no doubt that this work alone is enough to ensure that Dr. Khatak’s legacy continues for generations to come, including, as it does, the future of Pakistani American and American Muslim life in this nation. But even beyond this, it is Dr. Khatak as a person who shone in his life and the memory of which shall remain in the hearts of the countless people he has touched.
He was friendly, jovial, a joy to be around, compassionate and generous to a fault, a wonderful storyteller and a compelling conversationalist. His brilliance was never in doubt—he graduated top of his class at every academic institution. He was born into poverty but made his way in the world on his own wits and resources, receiving full academic scholarships at all his educational institutions. He spoke six languages fluently—Pashto, Punjabi, Sindhi, Urdu, Persian, and English. He educated his siblings, established scholarships in Talab Khel, loved Pakistan, and always wanted to give back to the country that made him who he was.
Over the course of his sixty-year medical career, he donated to countless charitable causes, contributed his medical skills in a volunteer capacity and, above all else, healed. He healed thousands of people. His patients adored him, and he loved and dedicated himself to them and their welfare. Before his passing, he was on his third generation of patients, a testimony to what an amazing physician he was. On the news of his passing, the administration and doctors at Holyoke Hospital remarked unprompted how beloved he was by his patients. Many called, crying, asking how they could extend his legacy and honor his work.
We can do so by cherishing and extending his example, giving to those in need, providing our knowledge, expertise, and passion to those who can most benefit by it, and even, as he did, offering a place to stay to those who fell upon hard times. From the children in his ancestral village to the thousands who were shaped by the organizations he shaped, his death is mourned, and his contributions honored. This kind man, this thorough gentleman, this servant leader, this humble, simple, warmhearted soul left an indelible mark on all those whose lives intersected, however briefly or enduringly, with his own. The world is a brighter place for his having passed through it.
Dr. Khatak leaves behind his wife, Gulnigar, and their four children - Nafees, Nabeela, Saema and Kaisar. He also leaves behind his granddaughter, Neshmeeya and son-in-law Ahmar. They are heartbroken but honored to have called him husband, father, grandfather, uncle. His legacy will always inspire and motivate them.
Dr. Khatak was buried on January 8th according to the Islamic tradition. In lieu of flowers, contributions to help the homeless can be made to Baitus Salaam at 148 Pleasant Avenue, Springfield, MA 01108 or at http://bit.ly/2LOHdJB