Pakistan’s forced conversion

Any resolve that the PPP-led Sindh government might have had over its recently passed law against forced conversions of religious minorities appears to be crumbling after the ante was upped by the Islamist inertial forces.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nisar Khuhro has hinted that the PPP might revisit the law, which basically entails undoing the one clause that has forced Islamist parties into throwing their weaponry out of the pram; underage conversions.

The JI and JUI-F, the two biggest Islamist parties in Pakistan that are a part of opposing coalitions at constant loggerheads, were united by the preposterous idea that children under the age of 18 should not be allowed to change their religion.

The JUI-S’ Sami-ul-Haq, the ‘godfather of the Taliban’, has chipped in with the call for the Sindh government’s dismissal over the ‘blasphemous’ decision which, he fears, would lay the foundation of ‘kafiristan’.

The bill against forced conversions had been tabled last year by PML-F’s Nand Kumar, citing a growing number of such cases in Sindh. According to the Aurat Foundation, around 1,000 girls, primarily Hindus and Christians, are forcibly converted to Islam each year. Many of these are under the age of 18 and are married off to Muslims, or forced into bonded labour.

The Islamist pressure on law enforcement agencies – even in cases where religious organisations or parties might not be directly involved – has resulted in victims and their families being intimidated into silence. This is why until September this year, 67 years since the country’s birth, Hindu marriages did not have any legal recognition in Pakistan.

In its annual report for 2016, the United States Commission on Religious Freedom has urged the American government to list Pakistan as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC). In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998, a CPC is a “nation guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.

While the US government has been condemning religious persecution in Pakistan, most notably the blasphemy law, Washington might initiate the arm-twisting over Islamist extremism and jihadist militancy under the Trump regime.

Earlier this month, the US State Department condemned the raid against the Ahmadiyya community headquarters in Rabwah. “These actions flow out of Pakistan’s constitution and penal code, both of which impede religious freedom as they prevent Ahmadis from exercising their faith and even calling themselves Muslim,” said the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

A week later the Ahmadiyya ‘place of worship’ was torched in Chakwal.

Once the forced conversion of Ahmadis – from Muslims to non-Muslims – was embedded in the Constitution in 1974, the Islamist captivity of religious freedom became inevitable. The Constitutional ‘takfir’ in itself was a corollary of the Objectives Resolution subordinating civil law to the Quran and Sunnah in 1949.

It is the sovereignty granted to the Islamic scriptures by the preamble of the Pakistani Constitution that legitimises Islamist parties’ call for implementation of Sharia in the country. Supremacy of religious law inevitably leads to the hegemony of supremacist interpretations of that religion, which in turn exacerbates bigotry against marginalised segments.

This is why the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a constitutionally sanctioned advisory body, has on record upheld ‘nine years’ as the eligible marriage age, supported marital rape and abuse against women, and now recently passed a resolution against Sindh government banning forced conversions.

Needless to mention, Islamic scriptures were used to support all these verdicts.

In the civilised world, a group exhibiting such a wide array of violent bigotry would’ve been proscribed for inciting hate crimes. In Pakistan they issue verdicts over state legislations. But then again, where actually proscribed individuals are being elected to the Parliament, it perhaps doesn’t make much difference.

Last year, the CII mulled whether the Ahmadis were merely non-Muslims or apostates. The latter would mean that the entire community was ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ (liable to be murdered).

Right next to the Parliament, and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, a group of government appointed officials discussed the genocide of an entire religious community.

This underscores the perilous superfluity of an advisory body designated to interpret laws through religious scriptures, and indeed the Constitution’s self-deprecating provisions passing the legislative writ to abstract theology. For, it paradoxically necessitates a tautologous query; would the state legalise ethnic cleansing of Ahmadis, child marriages or forced conversions should a sufficient number of Islamic clerics reach a consensus over it?

It is this ‘unanimous consensus’ of the clergy that Pakistan generally uses to justify the excommunication of Ahmadis. The declaration of a sect outside the fold of Islam eventually paved way for Section 295-B and 295-C of the Penal Code, forming the blasphemy law that not only forbids Ahmadis from ‘posing as Muslims’ but has also resulted in Pakistan becoming one of the 13 states – all Muslim majority – where apostasy (leaving Islam) is punishable by death.

Parliamentarians, advisory officials, illustrious clerics and indeed, banned terrorist organisations are currently fighting for their legal right to forcibly convert non-Muslim children in a country where the punishment for leaving Islam is death.

Pakistan’s forced conversion to a quasi-theocracy is sanctioned by the Constitution upholding a state religion and recognising a deity, and his laws, as the supreme civil authority. The state should either strip off the democratic façade or establish unadulterated egalitarianism, which is not possible without universal acceptance of freedom of belief and conscience, and purging the Constitution of Islamist supremacy.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter