Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, a former Senator and leader of JUI-S, is advocating the suspension of the provincial government of Sindh for passing progressive legislation that outlaws forced conversions in the province. The selective reading of what is considered Islamic or un-Islamic by important leaders must be seen for what it is. It is myopic, intolerant and cruel. One of the main tenants of his religion is tolerance, and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) never preached forced conversions.

This type of rhetoric from religious parties has now become a pattern. Any law or edict looking to grant fundamental human rights, such as the freedom to practice one’s own religion or grant some modicum of protection to women from abuse is always questioned by religious scholars, and they use their ‘scholar-status’ to use religion as a bone of contention. Annoyance at more inclusive policies has always been a problem for the religious right, and that annoyance has no value when compared with the need for the protection of thousands of Hindus and Christians, who live in fear of harassment and violence. The law makes forcibly converting a punishable offence, and adults will be given 21 days to consider their decision to convert. The law does not ban conversions, and it seems that that is how the former senator (mis)read it, because there is no way that the law can be interpreted as being un-Islamic. The law only criminalises forced conversions, often achieved via kidnappings and forced marriages of young girls.

The threats of individual freedoms in Pakistan are many, but it is often the religious parties that perpetuate an environment of fear and hate against women or minorities. A bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) has allowed emir of the banned Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat’s (ASWJ), Ahmed Ludhianvi, to contest in by-polls for a vacant provincial seat in Jhang. The court, completely ignoring that Ludhianvi is the leader of a proscribed organisation, granted him the right to run on the basis of not him being aware that there were any FIRs lodged against him.

It is time these men, who openly promote the exclusion of minorities from the discourse of rights, and are linked with or run proscribed outfits, are openly called out for their lack of humanity and respect for the Pakistani citizen, regardless of caste or creed. Do we really see Pakistan progressing to peace when the father of the Taliban and one of the most vocal and violent sectarian leaders is allowed to run for office and can propagate his views in front of the general public?

The decision to let Ludhianvi run should be overturned, and Maulana Sami-ul-Haq should be given a reminder that both this country and its religion are not that intolerant.