The Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony on Thursday returned the draft of the Anti-Forced Conversion Bill to the Federal Ministry for Human Rights after raising objections on several clauses of the proposed legislation.
A press statement released by the Religious Affairs Ministry stated that it was opposed to the clauses related to the 18-year age bar on religion conversion, appearance before a judge, and a 90-day waiting period, saying these restrictions were anti-Islamic, illegal and violated the fundamental constitutional rights of an individual.
The statement quoted Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noorul Haq Qadri as saying that the draft bill had been returned to the Human Rights Ministry after thorough consultations with religious scholars and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).
The minister stated that the draft bill in its current form was contrary to principles of the Islamic Sharia and basic human rights. He added that the bill could be used to discourage people from converting to Islam, and would create divisions between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
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Qadri said that Islam prohibited forcible conversion and there was a need to discourage this practice. He claimed that incidents of forced conversion in Pakistan were few but they projected a bad image of the country.
On Aug 26, clerics belonging to all the four mainstream schools of thought had also rejected the draft bill, calling it a conspiracy and warning the government not to fall into the trap of the West by taking it to parliament.
The opinions were expressed by clerics belonging to the four mainstream Islamic schools of thought in the country – Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi and Ahle Hadis – in a meeting chaired by Religious Minister Qadri.
Incidentally, not only the clerics but even the government officials were unanimous in declaring that there was no forced conversion in the country and most of the cases related to “love affairs between individuals”.
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 judgement 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.