September 11th, 2021 

By Rehan Piracha 


LAHORE

The Council of Islamic Ideology has stated in an interim report that a draft bill by Federal Ministry of Human Rights on forced conversions contains several clauses inconsistent with Sharia law while a minority legislator claimed a conspiracy was afoot to delay legislation to protect minorities in the country.

The Federal Ministry of Human Rights drafted (Protection of Minorities) bill 2021, based upon the report of the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversion. The parliamentary committee was constituted about two years ago to propose legislation against forced conversions in the country.

In the last meeting of the parliamentary committee on 30th July, the committee chairperson, Senator Liaqat khan Taraqai, directed that the Ministry of Religious Affairs should review the bill minutely and then it should be placed before the Committee for re-examination and deliberation. MNAs Lal Chand, Jaiprakash and Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, members of the parliamentary committee, had called for early tabling of the proposed bill in the Parliament for rapid legislation regarding forced conversion in Pakistan.

However, the bill drafted by the Human Rights Ministry on stemming forced conversions contains several clauses inconsistent with Sharia law, the Council of Islamic Ideology stated in an interim report to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, a council official told Voicepk.net.

Conspiracy afoot to stall legislation on forced conversions

Vankwani, Patron-in-chief of the Hindu Council Pakistan, claimed that there was no need to send the proposed bill to the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Council of Islamic Ideology as the parliamentary committee had already incorporated their viewpoints while finalising the HR ministry’s draft bill, adding that CII chief Dr Qibla Ayaz had appeared before the committee and given his submissions on the bill.

 “The bill is being stalled on the pretext of vetting by the CII and the religious affairs ministry,” Vankwani told Voicepk.net, expressing his fear that the HR ministry’s proposed bill might not be enacted as in the case of two earlier bills proposed in 2015 and 2016.

According to Vankwani, the parliamentary committee had completed its mandate after the HR ministry drafted a bill to prevent forced conversions in the country. ‘The HR ministry should have sent the bill to the standing committee on human rights in the National Assembly or Senate which could have initiated the legislation process,” he said.

Expressing frustration over delay in legislation to prevent forced conversion in Pakistan, Vankwani said that the religious affairs ministry was told to review the proposed bill within a month in the last meeting of the parliamentary committee on 30th July. “It’s been over a month but the religious affairs ministry or the CII has not yet completed their review,” Vankwani pointed out. “After vetting by the religious affairs ministry, the proposed bill is to be presented again to a parliamentary committee which will then send it to the human rights standing committee,” he said, adding that the HR standing committee would again vet the bill afresh.

“As per procedure the HR ministry should have sent the proposed bill to the federal cabinet which after approval could have directed the HR ministry to table it in parliament as a government bill,” he explained.

CII raises objections over age limit, conversion procedure

The Council of Islamic Ideology had previously received two bills on prevention of forced conversions but it had expressed reservations over both bills, a senior official of the council’s research wing told Voicepk.net. “The CII had declared clauses relating to definition of forced conversion, age limit and conditions listed for conversion, in both bills against Sharia,” the CII official said in a written response to Voicepk.net.

Explaining the CII reservations, the official said the proposed legislation sets the age of conversion at 18 years. “Accordingly, any person below the age of 18 years cannot convert to Islam which against Sharia as well as international law,” the CII official said.

The legislation lists a specific procedure for conversion for a person wishing to change his/her religion. According to legal conditions imposed for conversion, a person has to obtain a certificate from a court for converting to another religion. Prior to that, the person had to read religious books and sit with religious scholars. A person is to be issued a certificate of conversion after 90 days from the date of application. “Such legal conditions and procedure are inconsistent with Sharia,” the CII official said.

According to the CII official, if a person converts to Islam, Sharia law begins to apply on him immediately and any delay in this regard would be improper. “Similarly, the current bill of the Ministry of Human Rights also contains several Shariah flaws,” the CII official said.

Bill negates state narrative

The proposed bill on forced conversion also negates the state narrative of religious freedom in Pakistan. “The state narrative is that there is no forced conversion in Pakistan but the bill gives the impression that such forced conversion does happen here,” the CII official added.

The CII official said that even the report of Senator Anwar-ul-Haq, former chairperson of the parliamentary committee to prevent forced conversion, clarified that forced conversions in Pakistan were almost non-existent. In a written response about

“Similarly, a survey report by Dr Umair Mahmood Siddiqui, a professor at Karachi University and a member of the Islamic Ideological Council, had stated there were no forced conversions in Pakistan. “The survey was based on interviews with the members of minority communities who said they enjoyed complete religious freedom in Pakistan,” the CII official said.

“The Islamic Ideological Council has sent an interim reply to the Ministry of Religious Affairs containing the above points over the HR Ministry’s draft bill on prevention of forced conversions,” the CII official said, adding that the council officials held deliberations with the officials of the religious affairs ministry over the bill on Friday. “The meeting decided to hold further deliberations on the proposed bill,” he added. The CII official declined to give any timeframe about when the council would give its final review on the proposed bill.

According to the CII official, the federal cabinet had tasked Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Qadri to vet the proposed bill. “The religious affairs ministry constituted a committee, headed by Noorul Haq Qadri, to review the proposed bill. Dr Qibla Ayaz, chairperson  of the CII, is one of the members,” he said.

Chela Ram, chairperson of National Commission for Minorities, said the commission had already submitted its recommendations to the parliamentary committee over the proposed legislation on forced conversion, adding that the committee was the proper forum to propose legislation for protection of minorities.

He said the proposed bill on forced conversion was presently being reviewed by the Council of Islamic Ideology. “The National Commission for Minorities would be in a better position to comment on the proposed bill once the CII completes its review,” he said.

‘Minors made scapegoat in name of religious freedom’

There is no official data on forced or voluntary conversion in Pakistan. Human rights organisations and civil society organizations have repeatedly pointed out questionable conversions of Hindu and Christian girls in the country.

In a report last year, the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights and the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) compiled the data of 156 incidents of forced conversions which took place between 2013 and 2019. A vast majority of the girls are minors, with numerous cases of girls as young as 12 years old.

“It’s strange and illogical that the clerics in the country have sought to bind religious freedom to a very minor age,” Peter Jacob, Executive Director of CSJ, told Voicepk.net while highlighting the need for legislation regarding conversion of minors in Pakistan.

“If religious freedom boils down to this level that adolescent girls are married off in the name of religious freedom, this is not only against the Constitution but also defies any rationality and logic,” Jacob said.

Govt lacks political will

He said the federal government lacked courage and political will to enact legislation to protect minorities from forced conversions in the country.

Jacob took exception to the secrecy surrounding the Human Rights Ministry’s bill on forced conversions saying that civil society and human rights organisations had been kept in the dark over the legislation. “The Human Rights Ministry has uptil now not made public its draft bill on forced conversions,” he added.

Responding to assertions that there were no forced conversions happening, Jacob said the government-appointed clerics are in a state of denial regarding forced conversions and state of religious freedom in the country. Similarly, the parliamentary committee has not also made its findings public about forced conversions, he said.

“After two years of its constitution, the parliamentary committee has not bothered to investigate incidents of forced conversion in the country,” Jacob pointed out, adding that his suspicion was that the committee had not done its work properly.

Peter Jacob called upon the government to allow open debate on the issue of forced conversion by bringing together relevant stakeholders instead of government-sponsored leadership of minority communities.

 

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