ASIA/PAKISTAN - Protecting religious minorities, especially women: the commitment of Christian and Muslim leaders

Monday, 17 January 2022 women   religious minorities  

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) - "In the new year there are first positive results on the very sensitive issue of forced conversions and marriages", said Father James Channan OP, Dominican Father and Director of the Center for Peace in Lahore, to Fides. We hope that the complaints will be taken seriously and that a law will be enacted to prohibit forced conversions and forced marriages. We will continue our fight against this grave violation of human rights and children's rights. We appreciate the role of Islamic religious, especially Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Chairman of the Ulema Council of Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan's Special Envoy for the Middle East and Interreligious Harmony: they have made efforts to protect religious minorities, particularly women who have converted to Islam and have been forced into marriage with a Muslim man". The Catholic priest and religious recently met with Islamic religious Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi and discussed the issue of interreligious harmony. Commenting on this encounter, Father Channan comments: "I hope that things will improve in the future; a great hope is that at least government officials and Islamic clerics will be made aware of the problem of conversion and forced marriages. In my recent meeting with Hafiz Tahir I therefore urged Mehmood Ashrafi and other Islamic clergymen to play a more active and effective role and to do more to protect religious minorities and especially minority women". Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said that the special office set up in early 2021 had already received 130 complaints. He called on all non-governmental and human rights organizations to submit their complaints and promised to take care of the reported cases. On the issue of conversion and forced marriage, he said: "There is no concept of forced conversion and forced marriage in Islam; our position in this regard is very clear. To address the issue of conversions and forced marriages, we have formed a team of 20 ad hoc Islamic clerics". Hafiz Ashrafi recalled that the special office of the Ulema Council is tasked with solving problems that "our religious minorities face because of discrimination, religious intolerance, blasphemy or other problems". "We are here to support them", he concluded. "Islam is a religion of peace and teaches us to respect all religions, and it is not right to use religion for personal advantage or gain". (AG) (Agenzia Fides, 17/1/2022)