Roundtable on Protection of Non-Muslims with MPs and CII, April 12, 2019

  • Publication Date: Fri, April 12, 2019

    On Friday 12 April, 2019 consultative meeting regarding Assessment of legislative Proposal on Protection of Minorities was held at PIPS. The meeting was graced with the presence of Honourable MNA, Shunila Ruth (mover of the proposed draft), Chairman Islamic Ideology Council Prof. Dr Qibla Ayaz with five Members of the Council and 35 participants included Honourable MNA, Mr. Jamshed Thomas, and scholars belonging to different school of thoughts of various religions from across the country which include Legal experts, Academia including Religious Educational institutions and Civil society. The scholars of different faiths and Legal experts discussed Communal Rights, Individual Rights, and Uniformity provided in religion, international conversions and in existing legal frame work of Pakistan including case laws.

    The session started with the recitation of the Holy Quran. After the Recitation and the National Anthem, Ms Saadia Bashir, Deputy Director (Legislation), invited worthy Executive Director PIPS Mr. Zafarullah Khan for Welcome Remarks. The worthy Executive Director PIPS formally inaugurated the consultative meeting and welcomed all the honourable guests. He discussed different aspects of protection of rights of non Muslims and how can Members of Parliament work with CII and other stakeholders to reform the legal framework to ensure protection, obligation and fulfilment of same as envisioned by the Constitution of Pakistan.

    The Research and Legislation wing arranged assessment of a draft legislative bill on the subject through two legal experts. Dr. Ijaz Ali Chishti, Ph.D Law, (who also assessed the draft Bill), said that In the light of international conventions ‘rights to conversion’ and ‘right to protection against forced conversions’ are two competing rights. He highlighted that neither International law nor human rights laws put any restriction on conversion but in some countries such anti-conversion laws are being enacted protecting particular religions from the loss of adherents and to gain consequential political, social, and economic power. He shared that the Pew Research Center has reported that in the year ending December 2015, 42 countries restricted conversion from one religion to another and these laws are being severely criticized on the ground of being against human rights laws recognized by the world community. He quoted Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which provides every citizen the right to profess, practice and propagate his or her religion. He said that this Article has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in the wordings: “The right of religious conscious conferred on every citizen is a right conferring three distinct rights, i-e, right to profess, right to practice and right to propagate. “ Dr. Chishti hoped that the proposed legislation will strike a balance between these two competing rights and this balance may advantageously be reflected in the preamble by inserting ‘rights to propagation’.

    The other expert Dr. Hafiz Muhammad Siddique, Ph.D Law, (who also assessed the draft Bill), said that Islam is a religion that grants respect to all the religions of earlier Prophets, further the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) explicitly prohibit saying anything bad about other religions and the followers.  He preached that Islam encompasses mercy to all human beings, Muslims or non-Muslims and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent by Allah Almighty as a mercy for all the creatures without any specification or discrimination of any nation or religion. He quoted Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who stated as:

    “There is no question now of race or nation, of a “Chosen People” or the “Seed of Abraham”, or the “Seed of David”, or of Hindu Arya-varta of Jew or Gentile, Arab or Ajam (Persian), Turk or Tajik, European or Asiatic, white or coloured, Aryan, Semitic, Mongolian, or African, or American, Australian, or Polynesian. To all men and creatures other than men who have any spiritual responsibility the principles universally apply.” (Al-Anbia: 107)

    Dr. Hafiz Siddique said that Pakistan is an Islamic country in which most of the population is Muslims, however, there is sufficient numbers of non-believers including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Calashes’, Zikaria’s, and Parsi citizens. He said that the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan is safeguarding the right of non-believers to profess, practice and propagate their religion but sometimes it becomes challengeable to maintain the communal harmony in the country.

    Dr. Hafiz Siddique further added that the issue of conversion to Islam is more sensitive than marriage and protection of wealth, so, the age for conversion is to be specified when he or she is mentally mature because entering in Islam is easy but no way for return. He shared his opinion that the legislature has authority to enact the law for the protection of rights of the citizens on the basis of Maslaha (public interest) and there is no obstacle or impediment for enacting such laws.

    Honourable MNA, Shunila Ruth thanked the Executive Director and Research and Legislation team of PIPS for the objective assessment of draft Bill and also for providing valuable input to improve quality of the draft through an engaging roundtable deliberation. She further discussed that the forced conversion is not only in the province of Sindh, but can be found on greater aspect in the province of Punjab as well. She argued that it is a social issue and Age must be defined to call it Major because it is very important to secure the Minor. She shared that those girls who are forcefully converted into Islam, are mostly those that are abducted and one the such examples is of the 9 year old Sana Shahid, who was abducted and forcefully converted followed by a marriage.

    Mr Qibla Ayaz, Chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology Council, CII, thanked PIPS for arranging such valuable dialogues and making the Council of Islamic Ideology a part of the consultative meeting. He shared some key features of the Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani Report, which was relating to the protection of minorities and freedom of religion. He recommended that steps should be taken to strengthen interfaith harmony and the Ministry of Religious Affairs shall play an active role in that. He added that forced conversion is not at all allowed in Islam. Some of the participants argued that there are already dozens of laws in the country to cover each issue, but there is issue with implementation of such laws and therefore instead of enacting more laws, steps should be taken to implement the existing laws.

    At end of the consultative meeting, it was concluded that:-

    1. the Ulema should play an important role in creating awareness regarding Forced Marriages and Forced Conversions;
    2. for conversion from one religion to another, there should be a testing system to check purpose of the conversion and there should be a proper system of issuance of Conversion Certificates through Courts;
    3. Age of Puberty must be defined;
    4. Ulema and State must act together on Age of Puberty;
    5. retraction element must  be considered in this draft Bill;
    6. there shall be a law for Interfaith court marriages.

    The roundtable ended with Vote of Thanks for MPs, Members of CII, civil society, experts, team PIPS and the participants.