Forced Conversion: Pakistan’s Unrecognized Discrimination of Christians
ICC’S Pakistan Representative
02/08/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Harassment and attempts to forcefully convert religious minorities, including Christians, to Islam have become a common abuse in Pakistan. Perpetrators, often Islamic radicals, use social pressure, financial duress, threats, and even physical violence to forcefully convert their victims to Islam.
In the second week of January, Ehtram David, a 45-year-old Christian, became the latest victim of this abuse in Narowal, a town about 50 miles north of Lahore. Well-educated and a teacher by profession, David runs the Daud Elementary Primary School in Narowal. He is also a part-time evangelist.
“On the day of [the] incident, my wife came home from the hospital where she was admitted after diagnosing a severe infection on her foot,” David told International Christian Concern (ICC). “I went out in the street to purchase a match box for the kitchen along with my 10-year-old son, Ashbeel, who wanted some stationery stuff for his schooling.”
While David was in the shop, a Muslim man approached him and asked about his name, job, faith, and background. When David answered that he was a Christian, the Muslim man responded very harshly, saying, “We know you are a Christian and we hate you.”
The Muslim man, who turned out to be a radical, then took hold of David’s ears and began to pull them in opposite directions. David was unable to free himself as the radical’s strength was exceptional.
As David struggled, he cried out to the shopkeeper for help, but the shopkeeper pretended as if he did not hear him. As the pain increased, the radical forced David’s head down onto a table and put his elbow behind him. “If I hit an iron sheet with this elbow, it would turn it into pieces,” the radical told David. “So just imagine what would happen if I hit your head with it!”
At this point, the radical began to urge David to embrace Islam. He recited some Arabic words and repeated his demands for David to convert to Islam, saying, “We want you to go to paradise and therefore it’s better for you to convert to Islam. Salvation is in Islam.”
As the assault continued, people in the street laughed and chanted, “He is choora,” a derogatory slur that denotes Christians as unclean. After getting his fill of torment, the radical released David and walked away. Dazed and confused, David felt like his left side was nearly paralyzed. As he gathered himself, David found that his son was standing beside him weeping.
Forced conversion attempts and harassment by radicals are not new to David, as assaults like this have become a regular occurrence for him and his family. Several years earlier, David told ICC that his sister was kidnapped, forcefully converted Islam, and married to a Muslim.
“They have been demanding me to convert to Islam for a long time,” David told ICC. “Some years back, another man in the village threatened me, saying, ‘I will cut your children into pieces in front of you.’”
Although forced conversions are not recognized as a crime in and of themselves, it continues to be one of the more difficult issues faced by Christians in Pakistan. According to Arifa Shakeel at the National Commission for Justice in Peace, “[Forced conversions] are an unrecognized discrimination.”
“[Between] 2000 and 2017, there have been 1,904 cases of forced conversions out of which 647 cases are Christians,” Shakeel explained. “Such an immoral practice should be criminalized and strong policies should be developed to protect religious minorities.”
Ayub Qaiser, a social activist in Pakistan, echoed Shakeel’s observations. “It is sad to witness our society declining rapidly,” Qaiser told ICC. “Such incidents have become a part of our daily life. Incidents of demanding conversion to Islam for jobs and to get out of debt are now a common practice. The government should take concrete steps to counter these inhumane trends.”
Until then, victims like Ehtram David will continue to live in fear of future assault and attempts at forced conversion.
For interviews with William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: email@example.com.