Clerics belonging to all the four mainstream Islamic schools of thought — Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi and Ahle Hadith — and officials of the Council of Islamic Idealogy (CII) have rejected the Human Rights Ministry’s proposed draft of the anti-forced conversion bill, insisting that no forced conversion of religion is taking place in Pakistan.
In a meeting chaired by CII Chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz on Thursday, the clerics called the draft bill “a conspiracy”, and warned the government against “falling into the trap of the West” by tabling the bill in parliament.
According to reports, the participants of the meeting were unanimous in declaring that there was no forced conversion in the country and most of the cases related to “love affairs between individuals”.
The meeting also unanimously rejected the title of the draft bill – Anti Forced Conversion – and one of the clerics later said the bill was a trap and the government should avoid it at all cost.
According to reports, the meeting formed a committee headed by Dr Inamullah Khan, head of research at the CII, and including officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs for suggesting an alternate name for the bill and eradicating controversial clauses in it.
Earlier on Monday, in a meeting chaired by Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, clerics and religious scholars had raised objections to several clauses, including the minimum age of religion conversion.
NCM TO PRESENT PROPOSALS
Meanwhile, in a separate meeting on Thursday, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) too decided to formulate proposals for the bill against forced conversion.
The meeting of the NCM was chaired by Cheela Ram Kewalani and was briefed by Secretary Religious Affairs Sardar Ijaz Khan Jaffar and other officials of the Ministry of Law, Human Rights, and Nadra.
The meeting noted that suggestions had been received from all stakeholders over the draft law to protect minorities, and after formulating all the proposals the draft would be sent to the Ministry of Law for vetting.
The chairman of the NCM said a law to protect religious minorities from forced conversion was the need of time and the commission was compiling proposals in this regard.
FORCED CONVERSIONS ON THE RISE
Statistics, time and time again, denote the undeniable reality of forced conversions. Even though the government does not collect data on forced conversions, minority rights organisation Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) noted that around 162 questionable conversions had been reported in the media between 2013 and 2020 and abuses which had occurred in violation of religious freedom enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution of 1973.
In his message on National Minorities’ Day, Church of Pakistan (CoP) President/Moderator Bishop Dr. Azad Marshall noted forced conversions of minority girls to be one of the major issues warranting a serious and instant response from the State if we are to truly follow the Quaid’s vision of a pluralistic Pakistan.
“It is important that we comprehensively implement in letter and spirit, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan delivered on June 19, 2014, without further delay,” he urged.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2014 had clarified that religion cannot be defined in rigid terms and held that each citizen of Pakistan is free to exercise the right to profess, practice, and propagate their religious views.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), in July 2021, noted forced conversions of girls from minority religions to be one of the serious human rights abuses that the Pakistani government needs to respond to urgently.
“The Pakistani authorities have shamefully failed to address repeated calls to curb the longstanding violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief,” it said.