Pakistani Christians have criticised the minister for Religious affairs and interfaith harmony, Mufti Abdul Shakoor, for not inviting Christian leadership to express their views in the seminar on ‘Religion Change, Problems, Debates, and Reality”.
The seminar was held in Islamabad on 31 January by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony.
Minister Shakoor said there is a difference between voluntary and forced conversion as the “time has come to clear misconceptions about this particular word – forced conversion”.
The minister said that in the past, there had been a lot of negative propaganda regarding forced conversion against Pakistan around the world, adding that a number of people belonging to all religions gathered under one roof to understand each other viewpoints and positions. He said there was a dire need to respect all religions to save society from division, adding that through religious cohesion, extremist attitudes could also be addressed in a proper manner.
He proposed the participants avoid extremist behaviour towards each other as there was no discrimination from all aspects of society. “Allah Almighty in Quran has always addressed the entire humanity, therefore all human beings are equal but we have to prove ourselves superior to others through our character,” Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Abdul Shakoor said.
Special Representative of the Prime Minister on Interfaith Harmony and the Middle East, Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Council of Islamic Ideology Chairman Dr. Qibla Ayaz, and representatives of different religions expressed their views.
In this seminar, Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said Islam and the Constitution had protected the rights of believers of all religions across the board.
Addressing a seminar on ‘Forced Conversion to Religion’, Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said there was no room for forced conversion in Islam and this unholy practice was strictly forbidden in the religion.
Ashrafi, who is also the Chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council said that in the last two and a half years, not even ten complaints of forced conversion or forced marriage had been reported in the country.
Ashrafi said that the evidence of girls who were forcibly converted to Islam should be presented.
He also said that it is not easy to talk about such a topic in Pakistan, there is no coercion in Islam, so why is it alleged that Muslims were forced to convert?
Tahir Ashrafi said this is a matter of marriage or relationship and Islam is being blamed, but if any girl was forcibly converted to Islam and married, he stands with the girls.
He said the protection of a non-Muslim's daughter was dearer to him than his own daughter, the constitution, law, and religion of Pakistan gives everyone the right to live equally.
He said the law of blasphemy was not being misused in the country, adding that when he was the chairman of Muttahida Ulema Board Punjab, he received 114 complaints, out of which 106 complaints were addressed promptly after reaching an understanding or giving warning to the accused.
He said the Holy Quran did not support any move of insult or degradation to any faith or to raise a finger at the followers of other religions. He also added that the divine command directed Muslims to have an inter-faith dialogue to develop a peaceful society based on religious pluralism.
On the other hand, The Federal Ministry for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony drew criticism for allegedly ignoring the Christian religious leadership at an event it hosted in Islamabad to discuss the issue of forced religious conversions in the country.
Advocate Waheed Javed said he was surprised to see that no prominent Christian religious leader was present at the event.
“It is appalling that representatives of the Hindu and Sikh communities were present on the stage to give their point of view on the issue, but no Christian religious leader was there to speak on behalf of the Christian community.
The ministry officials claimed they had invited a Christian member of the National Commission for Minorities, Albert David, but he didn’t show up due to a family emergency.
Christians also criticised the ministry for inviting Muslim cleric and politician Abdul Haq, also known as Mian Mithu, who is known for converting minor Hindu girls and solemnising their marriages with Muslim men in Sindh province.
The ministry had invited a newly converted Muslim from Christianity to give his testimony to show the world that all Islamic conversions in Pakistan are without coercion.
This issue is not of adult conversion, but of underage girls.
Human rights activist Dawood told Pak Christian News that the atmosphere at the Seminar became worse when a newly converted Muslim man, Abdul Waheed Gull, 43, from Lahore used inappropriate words for Christianity.
He said “I have accepted Islam of my own free will. People in my own Christian community were teaching me the wrong Bible teachings, they used to tell me that Hazrat Essa is the son of God, which is totally wrong, and that is why I accepted Islam.”
After his speech, all the Christians present in the hall protested against the speaker of the Seminar and boycotted the event. They also continued their protest outside the Seminar Hall.
Mr. Dawood further said that organisers of the seminar were planning to show a book printed in China which explains there are about 3000 mistakes in the Bible, indicating that the present Bible is different from the original version of the Holy Bible and the present Bible has been changed.
Mr. Dawood also said they were planning a protest outside the Press Club Islamabad against the Seminar.