ASIA/PAKISTAN - Forced conversions to Islam: Summit of the National Commission for Minorities

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) - The National Commission for Minorities, Pakistan's governing body, will dedicate a specific meeting with regards to the old question of forced conversions to Islam. This is what the Minister of State for National Harmony, the Catholic Akram Gill confirms to Fides, explaining that "the parliamentarians belonging to religious minorities, in the National and provincial Assembly, have reported this delicate question several times, which touches the freedom of conscience and religion". Following these requests, the Commission for Minorities, presided by Minister Gill and formed by representatives of all religious communities, will meet in coming days to examine the phenomenon, to understand its size and scope and study strategies to stem it. The issue of forced conversions to Islam mainly affects women of Christian and Hindu communities, which in Pakistan are the two main religious minorities: out of 180 million inhabitants, about 95% Muslims, Christians represent about 3%, the Hindus less than 2%. The Minister explains to Fides that "forced conversions is a plague in the institutions, in society, but also at a religious level, and this cannot be tolerated. We know that Islam is a liberal religion and that no one can or should force another human being to change their faith. We want to ensure full respect for freedom of worship and religion." According to data collected by Fides sources, there are about 700 Christian women in Pakistan each year who are kidnapped and forced to forced conversion. Most cases are recorded in the Punjab, province of central Pakistan where Islamic extremism thrives in society and politics. Due to security reasons the name is not mentioned, a Catholic nun who in Punjab helps victims of forced conversions, told Fides that she receives, on average, a report every week. According to the religious, the phenomenon is growing for several reasons: "First of all, women are considered worthless goods and those of religious minorities are doubly enslaved." Furthermore, "economic crisis and poverty push many people to seek refuge in faith, and the conversion of a new faithful to Islam is considered a merit for heaven." Hindu women who are suffering the same treatment, according to estimates of NGOs in Sindh, are about 400 each year. For this reason the new Archbishop of Karachi, His Exc. Mgr. Joseph Coutts, has asked the Commission "Justice and Peace" of his diocese to carry out a research and create a specific report on the phenomenon, since the Hindu Pakistani community lives, in large majority, in the province of Sindh, of which Karachi is capital. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/4/2012)