KARACHI - Religious parties have opposed Sindh Assembly's legislation against forced conversions and termed a bill in this regard a conspiracy of the enemies of Pakistan to destabilise the country.

Various religious leaders have warned that the bill might create unrest, leading to a conflict between Muslims and minorities in Pakistan. They demanded that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led government in Sindh withdraw the Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill immediately or get ready to face the music.

It is pertinent to mention here that a private bill, Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, was tabled in the House by Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) lawmaker Nand Kumar a year ago. The bill sought to get forced conversions declared as a violent crime. It was unanimously passed by the Sindh Assembly on November 24, 2016. According to the bill, no person shall be deemed to have changed his religion until he attains the age of maturity of 18 years. Similarly, the decision of a minor to convert to another religion will not be recognised until he reaches the age of maturity.

Islamic scholars and many of the religious parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan-Sami (JUP-S), have shown anger at the passage of the legislation and threatened to launch a protest drive against the Sindh government.

Expediting efforts against the legislation, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) held an All Parties Conference (APC) at Idara Noor-e-Haq on Friday where the participants demanded that the Sindh government repeal the “anti-Islam bill, which it passed in the name of protection of minorities’ rights.”

On the occasion, a resolution demanding the government to repeal the bill with immediate effect was passed unanimously. The resolution mentioned that several companions of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), including Hazrat Ali (RA), had accepted Islam when they were in their teen age.

JI deputy chief Asadullah Bhutto raised several questions about the content and the way the bill was passed. He raised the question that why the bill was passed in such a hurry.

Sindh is a land of Sufis. People have been accepting Islam in the province for 14 centuries. Even, the British government did not dare to impose a ban on conversion to Islam, the JI leader said. The bill is against the Constitution of Pakistan, basic principles of Islam and human rights, he said. He said the bill was a matter of life and death for the people of Sindh.

Bhutto said that PPP leaders insulted the mandate given to them by the people of Sindh. He said that before the general elections the leadership of the PPP was running from one shrine to another.

At that time they were talking about Islam and Sufism and after assuming power they are passing “anti-Islam laws.” He cited the examples of a woman doctor and others who converted to Islam. He challenged the government to prove a single case of forced conversion in Sindh.

JI Karachi chief Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman strongly criticised the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and other mainstream parliamentary parties for exploiting Islam. He said that all these parties would raise slogans of Islam where the religion would help them and then ignore the religion altogether when their purpose is served.  Hafiz Naeem accused the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf of keeping silence on this issue. He demanded that the PTI make its stance on the bill clear. He added that no one would be allowed to play on both sides of the pitch. He said the PTI should declare whether it was secular or religious. He appealed to religious scholars and other learned people to take the issue seriously. He thanked all party leaders for their participation in the conference.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Sarwar Rajput said the matter should be taken up with full force. He said there was a need to find out those who were behind such type of laws. He alleged that those sitting in the Sindh Assembly were dancing to the tunes of their foreign masters. He hailed the role of the JI in this regard and said, "We are standing shoulder to shoulder with the JI against this bill."

Qari Usman of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam criticised Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. He said that instead of resolving people’s issues the newly-appointed chief minister was taking illogical decisions, resulting in anarchy and unrest in the province.

He said it was matter of shame for the provincial government that such bills were being passed in the provincial assembly.

Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadees leader Ashraf Qureshi said that a malicious campaign was being run to give an impression that people from other religions, particularly Hinduism, were being converted forcibly to Islam in Sindh. He urged political parties as well as masses to stand firm against this bill.

A Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) leader demanded that the government first reveal the names of those who forced anyone to change his or her religion. He said the Sindh government had given a wrong impression through this bill. He assured the JI and other parties of complete cooperation of his party.

Jaffer Subhani of the Shia Ulema Council said the provincial government would have to repeal this bill. The bill will create problems even for the minorities if it is not revoked, he said.

Tanzeem-e-Assataza (Teachers Association) leader Ajmal Waheed Khan termed the bill as “black law.” He went on to say that some “thugs” had assembled in the provincial assembly of Sindh. He demanded that PPP leaders think over what they did.

A Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader also spoke on the occasion. He praised the JI for taking up the issue and assured the religious party of his full support against the bill.

Aqeel Anjum of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, a Jamiat Gurba Ahl-e-Hadees leader and others also addressed the conference. Moreover, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) (the defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan) observed Friday as a black day against passage of the bill by the Sindh Assembly.

ASWJ leaders Allama Aurangzaib Farooqi, Allama Taj Muhammad Hanfi, Syed Mohiuddin Shah and Maulana Khalid Mehmood Arshad said in their Friday sermons that they would launch a protest movement against the Sindh government if the bill is not repealed. They said that Islam did not allow forced conversions, but there should be no restrictions on the people converting to Islam at their free will. They said the PPP-led provincial government was making an issue out of a non-issue.