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Stopping forced conversions

Albert Arooj Bhatti

“Let there be no compulsion in religion, for the truth stands out clearly from falsehood.” – Surah Al-Baqarah (2: 256). The verse from the Holy Quran states that there is no compulsion in Islam, yet forced conversion is a very serious issue in Pakistan. There are reports of introducing a bill to curb illegal and forcible conversion of minorities in the country but as usual, it has become the victim of controversy.

Senior journalist Ansar Abbasi claimed that legislation is being drafted to make conversion to Islam a crime. I was flabbergasted by the announcement so I contacted government sources and the reports turned out to be true. A bill has been drafted against forced conversion of religious minorities, which is currently under consideration by the Council of Islamic Ideological and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. If passed, it could make the propagation of Islam and conversion a criminal offence.

Along with the numerous problems in our country, one of the major problems is that Islam is always considered in danger. Pakistan is called the fortress of Islam and takes pride in being the only Muslim country created in the name of the religion. I cannot fathom how is it possible to threaten Muslims or pose a danger to Islam in a Muslim-majority country?

With regards to Ansar Abbasi, the state doesn’t even issue an identity card or driving license to anyone below 18 years of age. Then how could it allow a child to convert his religion?  If a person is converting to Islam, then why shouldn’t they testify in front of a judge? The acceptance of Islam is an important step for Muslims and is not kept secret. Then why is there controversy in making a statement in court. If there is no forced compulsion, then you should be pleased for abiding by the rules and regulations of the religion as a devout Muslim.

During my 37 years of life, thousands of my Muslim friends have invited me to embrace Islam. But I have always replied that I could not become a complete Christian, so how can I become a good Muslim? What is the harm in saying that someone is really influenced by Islamic teachings? It is likely that other non-Muslims may be drawn from the message.

There is no denying that 99% of conversions in Pakistan are forced. Young girls are abducted, sexually assaulted and then threatened to give a false confession. Then the police and courts also support these criminals. And if a girl is sent to a shelter home, then it is impossible for her to be reunited with her family. The innocent girl is subjected to inhumane treatment only for sexual gratification.

During my several years in journalism, I have only seen fabricated news on the conversion of young girls between the ages of 10 and 15. I have never understood why only teenage girls are influenced by Islamic teachings?  Why do they end up marrying men much older than their fathers? These men do not make them their daughters and neither support them. Also, why doesn’t a Hindu or a Christian boy never convert to Islam for the sake of a Muslim girl? Let me know if you have seen any examples.

It is unfortunate that Muslims can make remarks against Christians, Hindus, or any religious minority and get away with it.

If they are questioned then serious allegations are made against them. To date, not a single case of blasphemy has been proved in Pakistan.  False accusations are often leveled against non-Muslims when they raise a voice against violating the dignity of their daughters. Then men like Maulvi Aziz-ur-Rehman commit heinous deeds in a seminary, swear on the Quran and still confess to the crime.

The Holy Quran says that there is no compulsion in religion. So if someone forcibly converts another person, then he is working against the injunctions of his religion. Why are Muslims concerned if the government of an Islamic country formulates a law in accordance with the teachings of Islam? A person should follow Islam only if he is influenced by its teachings and guidance. Until then, the stain of forced conversion will not wash away easily.

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