Anti-forced conversion bill draws concern from clerics

Clerics and religious scholars have expressed serious reservations over the draft of the anti-forced conversion bill.

At a meeting called by the Ministry of Religious Affairs they warned the ministry it cannot be implemented as it stands.

Only Muslim stakeholders were invited to the meeting held in camera.

Members of the National Commission for Minorities were not invited. But the lone Muslim member of the NCM, Mufti Gulzar Naeemi, was invited in the capacity of a local cleric.

Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri chaired the meeting.

While the meeting agenda has not been made public, one participant reportedly confirmed that the Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act, 2021 had been received from the Ministry of Human Rights.

In the meeting, the clerics and scholars expressed reservations over the bill and objected to several clauses, including the minimum age of conversion.

They noted that the minimum age of 18 years for conversion was incorrect and contrary to the draft domestic violence bill.

While reportedly the copy of the draft bill suggests that any non-Muslim, who is not a child and is able and willing to convert to another religion can apply for a conversion certificate from an additional sessions judge.

The draft law highlights that the application will have to include the name of a non-Muslim who is willing to change the religion, their age and gender, CNIC number, details of parents, siblings, children and spouse (if any), current religion and the reason for conversion.

The draft law states that the additional sessions judge will set a date for an interview within seven days of receipt of an application.

The proposed law also recommends a sentence five to 10 years and a fine from Rs100,000 to Rs200,000 to anyone who uses criminal force to convert a person to another religion.