The Federal Ministry for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony has drawn criticism for allegedly ignoring the Christian religious leadership at an event it hosted in Islamabad on Tuesday to discuss the issue of forced religious conversions in the country, sources said.
Advocate Waheed Javed told Kross Konnection that he was surprised to see that no prominent Christian religious leader was present at the event.
“It is appalling that representatives of the Hindu and Sikh communities were present on the stage to give their point of view on the issue but no Christian religious leader was there to speak on behalf of their marginalised community, which is a major victim of forced conversions,” he said.
Waheed said that when he and some other Christians raised this issue, the ministry officials claimed that they had invited a Christian member of the National Commission for Minorities, Albert David, but he didn’t show up due to a family emergency.
“They should have also invited our top religious leadership for this important discussion on a government platform. When we prodded the ministry officials, they asked me to speak on the issue on my community’s behalf since the only Christian speaker they had invited didn’t come,” he said.
The lawyer said that the ministry had invited Muslim cleric and politician Abdul Haq, better known as Mian Mithu, as a speaker even though he is notorious for converting minor Hindu girls and solemnising their marriages with Muslim men in Sindh province.
“The ministry’s intention can also be gauged from the fact that it had invited some new converts to Islam to give their testimonies. This was ostensibly done to show the world that all Islamic conversions in Pakistan are without coercion.”
“During my speech, I pointed out that no community had an issue with adults changing their faiths. Our main concern is the forcible conversion of our underage girls and the government’s indifference to this crime. I asked the Muslim speakers to explain why only our minor girls change their faith and not boys?”
The lawyer said that the event was disrupted by Christians after a convert from Christianity slandered against the Bible and Jesus Christ during his speech.
“We were naturally offended by his words and all Christians present in the hall protested against the speaker and boycotted the event. The government should think carefully before holding such events as they can be counterproductive to interfaith harmony instead of bridging differences,” he said.
An Islamic religious leader, on the condition of anonymity, confirmed to Kross Konnection that the ministry had not invited any mainline Christian religious leader to the event.
“They should have invited representatives from the national churches since the subject of discussion related to their community. It is unfortunate that the event was disrupted due to some inciteful speeches but nevertheless we should appreciate the ministry for organising this dialogue between faiths.
“It’s a step in the right direction and I have requested the minister to include the main religious leaderships of all communities in future endeavors,” he said.
‘NOT THE FIRST TIME’
Commenting on the issue, Church of Pakistan’s Moderator/President Bishop Dr Azad Marshall said this was not the first time the government had ignored the Christian religious or political leadership in important consultations.
“It is a matter of great concern to us that the government does not take us on board on issues facing our community. The government of Imran Khan did not include any mainline church body in discussions on issues, including the legislation regarding forced conversion of minority girls, which was ultimately discarded, and the Single National Curriculum. It seems this government is also following the same policy.
“Consultations on issues facing our people without hearing our point of view are meaningless and a futile attempt to show the world that all’s well with Pakistani minorities whereas the situation is different on the ground,” he said.
The senior church leader said that the Christian community had time and again demanded protection of its underage girls and bringing a deterrent to the misuse of the blasphemy laws.
“Instead of sidelining us, the government should sit with us and address these issues if it is really sincere in projecting Pakistan’s better image,” he concluded.