Court in Pakistan Forces ‘Islam’ Designation on Christian’s ID Card

Employer fraudulently ‘converted’ worker, attorney says.

Sufyan Masih (L) with parents and attorney after a court hearing on May 18, 2024. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

Sufyan Masih (L) with parents and attorney after a court hearing on May 18, 2024. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Christian Daily InternationalMorning Star News) – A court in Pakistan denied a Christian victim of fake conversion to change the religious designation of Islam and the Muslim name that his Muslim employers fraudulently registered on his National Identity Card, sources said.

“Islam teaches that everyone is Muslim at birth but the parents and society cause one to deviate from the straight path,” Pattoki Civil Judge Mian Usman Tariq stated in his May 18 verdict on a petition filed by Christian brick kiln laborer Sufyan Masih, 24. “Therefore, when someone accepts Islam, he is considered to revert to his original condition. Nevertheless, Islam prohibits the use of force against anybody to get him converted.”

Attorney Sumera Shafique had filed Masih’s petition in September 2022 after officials at the National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) in Pattoki Tehsil of Kasur District, Punjab Province, refused to accept his pleas to correct his religious designation to Christianity on his national identity card and to change his name from Muhammad Sufyan to Sufyan Masih.

Shafique said that when Masih and his family worked at a brick kiln owned by Asif Ali, a Muslim, the Christian’s relatives approached her in 2020 seeking her help to recover Masih from Ali’s illegal custody.

“Ali had refused to give Masih back to his family, saying that the boy had converted to Islam and that he had adopted him as his son,” Shafique told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “I filed a petition for his recovery and succeeded to reunite him with his parents.”

When the Christian family applied for Masih’s national identity card, NADRA officials told them that his name was already registered in the national database as Muhammad Sufyan, she said.

“When we investigated, it came to the fore that the kiln owner had gotten Sufyan’s identity card made in 2018 showing him as a Muslim, ostensibly to preempt any move of his parents to recover him,” Shafique said. “Sufyan told us that a NADRA mobile van had visited the kiln during a campaign to make computerized identity cards of kiln workers where his employer had fraudulently gotten his thumbprints on the registration form as well as his photograph.”

She said that Masih and all his family members, including his parents and siblings, were illiterate and could not read or understand the form.

“When NADRA officials told Sufyan’s parents that his name and religion could not be changed, Sufyan categorically declared that he was a Christian, and the contents on the form were entered without his knowledge,” she said. “NADRA officials refused to accept his claim and sent them away.”

The attorney said that during the course of the proceedings, she submitted documentary evidence, including his baptism certificate, and also presented Masih’s Christian parents in court as evidence of his Christian upbringing.

“Most importantly, Masih himself told the court that he continued to practice his Christian faith and was not a Muslim,” she added.

The Muslim cleric who had allegedly issued Masih’s conversion certificate did not appear in court despite several notices, Shafique said.

“The bailiff told the court that the cleric could not be traced, and the seminary mentioned on the conversion certificate had also disappeared,” she said. “This was a clear enough proof of the mala fide behind the alleged religious conversion, yet the court ignored it.”

The attorney informed the court that NADRA had also violated its own policy by failing to seek a mandatory undertaking from the applicant at the time of registering his alleged new religion. Masih’s parents are Christian, and their official record clearly states this fact, she said.

“When Masih’s NIC [National Identity Card] was being made by his Muslim employers, the NADRA officials should have asked for the mandatory undertaking related to religion conversion instead of relying only on the fake certificate,” she said. “Masih was barely an adult at that time, moreover he had no idea what was being done to him, but the NADRA officials should have been more vigilant.”

According to NADRA’s CNIC (Computerised National Identify Card) registration policy, any mistake by applicants to state their religion correctly due to illiteracy “may be handled in office fault category.” In Masih’s case, however, NADRA claimed that his name and religion could not be changed because at the time of registration he had allegedly verified his religion as Islam on the official form. NADRA asserted that according to official policy, a Muslim cannot change his religious designation in the CNIC to any other religion, whereas people who convert to Islam from other faiths can get their CNICs amended.

Apostasy is considered a sin punishable by death under most schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Although there is no specific law in Pakistan to deny Muslims their right to change religion, apostasy may be punished under Section 295-A of the country’s blasphemy statutes, which imposes up to two years imprisonment for “outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens.”

‘Right to Practice Any Religion’

Shafique said that freedom of religion or belief is recognized by numerous human rights instruments to which Pakistan is a signatory.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights declares freedom of religion for everyone, including freedom to change it along with the right to practice it either publicly or privately, she said, adding that Pakistan had also ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights under which no individual could be stopped from adhering to the religion or faith of their choice.

Shafique emphasized that Article 20 of Pakistan’s constitution also allowed citizens the right to profess, practice and propagate their religion, but “Masih’s case shows how this fundamental right is being denied to non-Muslims.”

The attorney said that she would challenge the civil judge’s decision in the appellate court.

“Our case is very strong, and I was very hopeful of a positive decision,” she said. “But it seems the judge was not willing to face pressure from religious groups and threw the ball in the court of his superiors.”

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

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