Anti-Forced Conversion Bill: Clerics Unhappy With Minimum Age, Conversion Procedure

Anti-Forced Conversion Bill: Clerics Unhappy With Minimum Age, Conversion Procedure
Reservations on the anti-forced conversion bill have been conveyed to the Ministry of Religious Affairs in an in-camera meeting called to discuss the draft of the law. Clerics and religious scholars who attended the meeting have told the ministry that the law cannot be implemented in its current shape.

Details of the agenda and the discussion have not been made public, but according to reports that appeared in print media, copies of the draft of Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act, 2021, were shared among the participants and its content came under discussion.

It is being reported that the clerics and religious scholars expressed serious reservations and objected to several clauses, including the minimum age of conversion. Participants reportedly objected to the minimum age of 18 years for conversion, saying this age bracket contradicted the age mentioned in the draft of the domestic violence bill that was currently with the law ministry. Some participants also objected to the procedure outlined in the law, according to reports.
Only Muslim stakeholders were invited to the meeting on Monday; representatives of other faiths were not in attendance.

The meeting was chaired by Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri. Representatives of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), including its chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz, also attended the meeting.

According to the draft bill against forced conversions, any non-Muslim adult who is able and willing to convert to another religion must apply for a conversion certificate from an additional sessions judge.

The additional sessions judge would be required to set a date of an interview within seven days of receipt of an application for conversion. On the date of the interview, the judge is required to ensure that the conversion is not taking place under duress, and that there is no deceit or misrepresentation. The judge may ask the applicant to study comparative religions and is required to complete the process within 90 days of receipt of application.

The proposed law also awards punishment between five to 10 years and a fine from Rs100,000 to Rs200,000 to any person who uses criminal force to convert a person to another religion.