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Forced conversions a religious duty in Pakistan

Rights activists are accused of getting foreign funding and defaming Pakistan

Forced conversions a religious duty in Pakistan

Pir Abdul Haq, alias Mian Mithu, with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. (Photo courtesy of Maria Rashid)

Pir Abdul Haq, alias Mian Mithu, specializes in marrying off Hindu women to Muslim men in Pakistan and converting them to Islam simultaneously. His certificates preceded court verdicts before the partition of British India.

“Even at that time, my father was jailed for four months when the local Hindus protested. The British gave us a logbook to keep a record of newly converted Muslim girls or any person and share its receipt,” he said at a Sept. 15 press briefing.

“I don’t return Hindu girls even if their community offers money. My faith is bigger than millions. I even refused Asif Ali Zardari [former president of Pakistan] on this issue. Do whatever you want, I told his minister. Allah will help me. I am performing his duty. I live and die for Islam.

“Girls, most of them housemaids, often come to us. Urgent marriages are organized so that they can live with a mehram [male guardian]. We keep the couple until the husband gets a job. I guarantee them protection at the seminary. Many courts forcefully return girls to Hindus. Those who protest these conversions have an agenda to defame Pakistan.” 

Another speaker accused the Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of getting foreign funding and raising an outcry. Their annual monitor is based on media reports of alleged victims of forced conversions, he said.

Mithu, 85, is the custodian of Dargah Bharchundi Sharif seminary, one of two major hubs in Sindh province for converting religious minorities to Islam. The former member of the National Assembly was a candidate of Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party at the 2008 general election. In 2017, his photos with Prime Minister Imran Khan went viral on social media. He also leads mobs over blasphemy allegations.

The culture of intolerance is promoted when religious figures like Mian Mithu celebrate forceful conversions and marriages as a victory for the Muslim faith

“Women of this country, especially non-Muslim women, and especially underage girls, don’t stand a chance,” author Maria Rashid said in a recent tweet sharing photos of Mithu with Khan and Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Last week the Council of Islamic Ideology invited him to discuss forced conversions during a session. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony later rejected a bill that proposed regulations on conversions to Islam.

On Sept. 24, Lahore High Court ruled that Muslim jurists regard the mental capacity of a child as of crucial importance for conversion to Islam. The age of discernment is generally reckoned as the age when one attains puberty, said Justice Tariq Nadeem while dismissing a petition filed by Gulzar Masih, a rickshaw driver from Faisalabad seeking recovery of his daughter Chashman Kanwal.

In the first information report Masih alleged that his 14-year-old daughter was abducted by Muhammad Usman and his accomplices on July 27 when he dropped her off at school. Two days later police gave the documents of her conversion to her family with the letter head of Pakistan Sunni Tehreek, a hardline Islamist group, and her new Muslim name is Ayesha Bibi. She was aged 19 on the marriage certificate.

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New research by the NCJP has accused religious institutions of failing to investigate the increasing cases of abduction, forced marriages and forced conversions of minority females.

The study, titled "Ordained transgressions: misery of minority girls and women," recorded 15 such cases from January 2020 to this April. The victims included nine Hindus and six Christians.  

“The culture of intolerance is promoted when religious figures like Mian Mithu celebrate forceful conversions and marriages as a victory for the Muslim faith of the local community. It sends an awful message to the most vulnerable minority communities that their girls and women are not safe,” the study says.  

"Local mosques and seminaries failed to question the age of the bride and simply accept the word of the abductor and so a conversion certificate is produced very conveniently. These certificates are used to gain undue advantage from police and courts to excuse violations and to get bail.

"Some religious organizations encourage this practice by offering rewards. They hold it equivalent to Haj-e-Akbar or the greatest religious duty to Muslims. The police often either refuse to a record first information report or falsify the information. The judiciary is often subject to fear of reprisal from extremist groups. The judicial officers’ personal beliefs influence them into accepting their claims."

Some Christian girls, with weak faith and loose family ties, marry Muslims for escapism. But there is zero tolerance within the Christian community for interfaith marriages

Speaking at the launch of the report in Lahore on Sept. 24, the researchers branded these as failed marriages. According to the Center for Social Justice, 20 girls have been reunited with their families after seeking protection from the courts.

Naeem Yousaf Gill, executive director of the NCJP, recently helped with the rehabilitation of two victims of forced conversions. “There are no specific institutes for this purpose. We had to request some families. There is no mutual understanding in such interfaith marriages,” he said.   

Ayra Indrias, an educationist, activist and a member of the National Lobbying Delegation for Minorities, labels them one-way conversions. “The girls from poor Christian families fail to win acceptance in Muslim families. The shadow of their previous religious identity lurks strongly. Questions arise about their funeral rites. The pain continues,” she said. 

Father Bernard Emmanuel, diocesan director of the NCJP, agrees. “Some Christian girls, with weak faith and loose family ties, marry Muslims for escapism. But there is zero tolerance within the Christian community for interfaith marriages. Especially our males become aggressive in youth seminars on the issue of conversions. They consider it a death sentence,” he told UCA News.

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