Forced Conversions – The Increasing Dilemma in Pakistan

(Sagar Maheshwari, Islamabad)

Religion is a sensitive issue across the globe but more in the Asian countries, including Pakistan and India. Pakistan is an Islamic Republic with a majority population of Muslims. The country is home to different minorities, including people from minority sects of Islam and a significant population of other religions. As a minority living in Pakistan, I am intrigued to explore the issue of forced conversion to Islam.

According to a report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace, more than 1000 women are forcefully converted to Islam every year. While Islam teaches mankind about peace, harmony, and respect, Muslim countries still struggle with forced conversions. To help control the issue, we need to understand the underlying reasons that lead people to such a horrendous act.

Pakistan was established in the name of Islam; however, the country’s founder vocally acclaimed the country to be a free and safe space for people from all religions. The country has significant bills, such as the Sindh Criminal Law that confirms the protection of minorities. Unfortunately, the weak law and order in Pakistan is a hurdle in implementing such bills.

Most cases of forced conversions are about love and marriage. Islam permits Muslims to marry fellow Muslims only. Inter-religion marriages are frowned upon, which means that Muslims falling in love with people from other religions is a problem as they cannot marry them. This leads to the undying desire of converting your partner to Islam, so one can proceed with the marriage. What people fail to realize is that religion is about one’s belief, which cannot be forced upon. Yes, you can make someone repeat some words but cannot instill in them religious beliefs.

As a minority studying and living with Muslims, I have witnessed immense respect and love for myself. The public, in general, does not believe in violation. Instead, Pakistan is among some of the most charitable countries in the world. Yet, we need strict rules and regulations, so people can co-exist irrespective of their religious beliefs and orientation. We need to teach our people to respect others’ opinions and bring significant reforms in the judicial system so minorities get their due rights.

It is also important to consider financial and legal aid to minorities so that they can fight the cases on legal fronts. The lack of resources is one of the many reasons minorities fail to take the issue of forced conversions to courts and fight it on a mass level. With equal access to education, employment, and decision-making roles made possible via anti-discrimination laws, Pakistan will be able to minimize the issue.

However, to bring a considerable change in the country and foster religious tolerance, we must educate our people. The education should start from a young age in homes and educational institutes, so children who make the future of a country learn to treat everyone equally. We must establish the rhetoric that no religion is superior to the other, and respect for all religions is fundamental.

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