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May 24, 2016



Increasing conversions to Islam –seeking spiritual peace or more than that?

Increasing conversions to Islam –seeking spiritual peace or more than that?


Amid cases of forced conversion to Islam being reported in different parts of Pakistan - especially in rural Sindh and Punjab - Islamic organisations claim that there is a significant rise in consensual religious conversions in the country.

Although there are no official or unofficial statistics available, the Jamia Binoria Al-Alamia, one of the largest seminaries of the Deobandi school of thought, declared on Monday that 175 non-Muslims, belonging to different faiths, had embraced Islam in ongoing year at the institute.

 “In the last four years, 560 people, 52 of them foreigners, have switched their faiths and converted to Islam,” said the seminary’s spokesperson.

“Most of the new converts belonged to Hindu scheduled castes or were atheists,” he added.

He maintained that 249 among them were women. They also included nationals of the UK, the US, China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, South Africa and Sri Lanka. “Overall, 975 people have embraced Islam at our seminary,” he added. 

Mufti Muhammad Naeem, a prominent Islamic cleric who is the principal of the seminary, had set up a separate department four years ago to financially help the new converts.

“The main purpose behind setting up the department was to resolve the financial and legal difficulties faced by the converts, help them in learning basics of Islam by organising trainings and workshops, and send them for Tabligh [preaching missions],” Naeem told The News.

“The newly converted Muslims are shunned by their non-Muslim families, causing financial problems for them,” he added.

Besides Jamia Binoria Al-Alami, there are dozens of seminaries, mosques and individuals, where many non-Muslims convert to Islam.

Some of them regularly issue press statements about the conversions that are published in Urdu newspapers.

Muslim clerics claim that non-Muslims are embracing Islam for spiritual peace.

“We have not been forcing anyone to convert. In fact, people come to us because they are fed up with their lives or unsatisfied with their religion,” said Naeem.

“This negates all negative propaganda against Islam.”

Escaping discrimination 

Clerics, new converts, non-Muslim community leaders and rights activists say that mostly people belonging to the poor class and scheduled castes, especially Dalit Hindus, were converting to Islam.

Aslam Ali, 36, a resident of Tharparkar who has converted to Islam from Hinduism, said the Dalit community was facing discrimination both at the hands of Muslim and upper-caste Hindus, who stayed away from its members.

 “We don’t feel like being a part of Hinduism at all – whether it’s in Pakistan or India. The upper-caste Hindus have always treated us as if we are not human beings,” Ali, whose previous name was Amar, told The News.

Ali said he went to a local mosque in Mithi and underwent the conversion process including reciting the kalma and offering prayers.

He said the local Muslim community helped him in setting up a small shop in the neighbourhood.

Activists campaigning for Dalit rights said many Islamic organisations were exploiting the sufferings of the impoverished minorities in Sindh.

“The Dalits, generally considered ‘untouchables’ have been subjected to discrimination in all spheres of life,” said a Dalit activist.

“Impoverishment and discrimination have been forcing many community members to convert to Islam, after which they feel they are not being discriminated against on the basis of their caste.”

Christian leaders said insecurity and lack of equal employment opportunities too had been forcing non-Muslims to convert.

Most Pakistani Christians are perceived as having the lowest social status and affiliated with the lowest paid and stigmatised jobs.

According to the studies, the representation of Christians in the occupations of cleaning and sweeping is extremely high.

Michael Javed, a former parliamentarian and a prominent non-Muslim rights activist, said Christians were changing their faith to “survive in the society”.

Besides societal stereotypes and a sense of insecurity, discriminatory government policies including stopping non-Muslims from exercising their right to elect their own representatives and not fulfilling the five percent job quota in all state-run institutions for them are also key reason for the conversion cases, Javed told The News.

The other side

Rights activists said a small number of Muslims too have converted to other religions but kept it a secret as Islam considers those who leave the faith to be apostates. In Islamic law, the penalty for changing one's religion is execution.

A Christian family, which converted from Islam five years ago in a town of Punjab, has been on the run since then.

A 33 year-old Muslim woman married a 35-year-old Christian man but her family was against the union.

The two eloped from Punjab and arrived in Karachi to marry at a church. “Sadly, no pastor was ready to perform their wedding fearing that the relatives will retaliate and might gather a mob against them,” said a Christian activist and close friend of the couple.

For the woman’s family, marrying a Christian and converting to his faith was against their honour and an un-Islamic act and asked a group of Muslim activists to chase them down