Losing your religion?: ‘NADRA should not be deciding people’s faith’

Published: April 12, 2012

" If a person says he is from a certain faith, NADRA should take his word for it," Executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace Peter Jacob.

LAHORE: 

Human rights activists have criticised the National Database and Registration Authority’s (NADRA) apparent policy to refuse to change ‘Islam’ as a person’s religion in their records.

MPA Rana Asif Mahmood was recently summoned by the courts to answer a petition seeking his disqualification from his Punjab Assembly seat reserved for minorities on the grounds that NADRA identified him as a Muslim in its records.

Mahmood told The Express Tribune that he was a Christian and NADRA had mistakenly identified him as a Muslim because of his name. He said NADRA had refused to rectify the error.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a NADRA official said that while a person could get their religion changed in the records from a religion other than Islam to another faith, the same could not be done if the person wanted to change their religion from Islam to another faith.

“If a person says he is from a certain faith, NADRA should take his word for it,” said Peter Jacob, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace.

He said that he had come across other examples of NADRA misidentifying a person’s religion because of their name. He said that NADRA should rectify such mistakes if an applicant showed proof of their religion. “It’s as simple as showing a certificate from the church, which carries a record of people of the Christian faith,” he said.

NADRA Public Relations Officer Farrukh Mushtaq said though he was not completely sure, it was “very likely” that a request by a person identified as a Muslim to change their religion would not be accommodated.

“My understanding of the matter is that if stated by the person himself that he/she is a Muslim, the religion cannot be changed,” he said. However, he added that it the ID card recipient provided evidence of their religion and established that there had been a clerical error, the request would be entertained.

Mushtaq said that a clerical error was highly unlikely. “Data is cross checked several times in cases of identity card entries,” he said.

He said that once a person applied for an ID card and his particulars were recorded, they were sent a form for attestation. At this stage, the applicant could attest that the information was correct, or report that it was not.

Mahmood, however, said that he had noticed the error in the entry for religion in his attestation form and reported it to NADRA. He said that he received his ID card and it did not mention religion, so he assumed that NADRA had changed its records. However, when his son applied for an ID card last September, he was told that he could not put down Christianity as his religion because the records showed his father to be a Muslim.

Upon approaching NADRA officials for corrections, Mahmood said he was told that there was no provision for changing the religion entry. “I have since realised that many people whose names do not reflect their religion have suffered this problem,” he said.

Human rights activist Khalid Shah said that NADRA should review its policy. “With a stroke of a pen, a man is being forced to call himself a Muslim despite not being one,” he said.

He said that the courts should direct NADRA to rectify errors such as apparently occurred in Mahmood’s case. “Typographical errors costing a person his religion and then not being rectified – that’s very disturbing,” said Shah.

IA Rehman, the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that there should be an investigation into why Mahmood had been put down as a Muslim in the first place, and why NADRA had refused to change it when Mahmood pointed it out to them. “If he can present evidence that he belongs to the Christian faith, he should not be troubled,” he said.

About NADRA’s policy to not change the religion entry if it were down as Islam, Rehman said it was “unfortunate and a violation of human rights”. He said that the policy appeared to be a reflection of customs prohibiting a Muslim from changing their religion, but it was still a violation of a person’s basic human rights.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (55)

  • MarkH
    Apr 12, 2012 - 9:02AM

    What do they gain by this? It’s a document/database created long after the religion. There can’t possibly be an Islamic rule against it.

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  • م ع ا
    Apr 12, 2012 - 9:19AM

    this policy of NADRA is against fundamantal humna rights provided in Constitution of Pakistan. every human being who live in pakistan has right to change his religion no one even state or NADRA can compel him to stick any religion even Islam. Constitution of Pakistan give Muslim citizens of Pakistan right to change their religion.

    This policy reflects Talbination factors in our state machinery. OUR CHIEF JUSTICE of Pakistan is in habit of taking sou moto action on every pity issue, he should look into this matter on urgent basis

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  • Apr 12, 2012 - 9:19AM

    Mahmood told The Express Tribune that he was a Christian and NADRA had mistakenly identified him as a Muslim because of his name.

    Clerical errors aside, a non-Muslim should not be allowed to have an Islamic/Muslim name (such as Mahmood, which is one of the names of the Prophet S.A.W.)

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  • SaQiB
    Apr 12, 2012 - 9:42AM

    ET and other liberal fascists would lose no opportunity for making a hue n cry over anything that somehow depicts Islam or Muslims or their procedures as oppressors……i really doubt this politician’s claims…..NADRA does employ several cross checking procedures of data………and such a mistake is a bit unlikely………. but even if it was a clerical mistake, why is it being highlighted in a manner that gives a lot of misunderstandings about Islam or muslims??? get a life u liberals, thats all i wanna say……….

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  • Mumbai Dude
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:09AM

    Everyone should be free to practise any religion and convert/de-convert at will.

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  • true_blue_pakistani
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:35AM

    NADRA official said that while a person could get their religion changed in the records from a religion other than Islam to another faith, the same could not be done if the person wanted to change their religion from Islam to another faith.
    Is this not immoral practice in the name of ISLAM?

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  • Faraz
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:36AM

    @SaQiB:
    Your comment almost suggests the (the widely thought of) lack of tolerance among Muslims. Why are fuming up and bringing liberalism into it? Nobody is blaming Islam and Muslims here, only state which should allow its people whatever religion they opt for, and not impose one particular religion on them (it clearly states NADRA doesn’t accept any religion change-from Islam). Islam teaches tolerance, right? So why don’t give get a life my friend, calm down, no one is blaming the religion here and lets all promote a positive image of Islam and not just get angry over anything that has the religion tag attached to it :).

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  • Agnostic
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:38AM

    @SaQiB Please stop deluding yourself. If this had happened to a Muslim abroad, you guys would be burning flags on the streets. How dare the government or any other person decide a man’s religion. And the fact that you can’t call yourself a Christian if your father is Muslim is ludicrous. My family is Muslim but I’m a thorough Agnostic, and just like you people die for your religion, I would fight till my dying breath to NOT be labeled a Muslim.

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  • Umer
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:39AM

    Like the say, Islam in Pakistan is a one way street. Converts beware!

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  • Umer
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:41AM

    @Antebellum – Same logic, then a lot of Muslims named Moosa, Issa and Ibrahim are in for trouble as well.

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  • Apr 12, 2012 - 10:51AM

    Nadra logo has 13 blocks. Same as the evil pyramid on 1 dollar bill. Illuminati

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  • ahmad
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:51AM

    For how long we will be indulged in these kinds of complxities. For god sake come out of this. You are in 2012!

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  • Khalid Rahim
    Apr 12, 2012 - 11:02AM

    It seems everyone in Pakistan believes he/she is the Security Guard Of the Omnipotent Creator! That on Day of Judgement we will called as witness against all others provided we have the Nadra ID cards with us!!!

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  • Raj - USA
    Apr 12, 2012 - 11:03AM

    When an Ahmedi calls himself a Muslim, he faces death sentence under blasphemy law. When a Christian calls himself a non-muslim, he may be declared as one who has deserted islam and face same charges.

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  • SaQiB
    Apr 12, 2012 - 11:22AM

    @Faraz:

    Dear, am not being intolerant….!! my comments are quite justified given the daily quota of anti-islamic campaigns i witness on ET…. be it in the shape of editorials, letters, blogs, comments, the so called “COMIC WISDOM” and the list goes on!! If u haven’t, then plz watch the “comic wisdom” section…. you’d know what am saying!

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  • Kevin
    Apr 12, 2012 - 11:34AM

    @ Antebellum

    Well u guys mean to say that Minorities those who have similar name’s should change their names now. And suppose its an error which is highly possible cause of the name what right NADRA has not to change the religion if its mistakenly printed

    @SaQiB
    Well buddy its high time muslims of Pakistan lean TOLERANCE of each other , let asside all the minorities . First you all learn to live in peace with each other rest all of the nation will follow you . Be a example bro , so please be cool and chill it isn’t a very big issue.

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  • citiman
    Apr 12, 2012 - 11:49AM

    very well written about the real face. hope they learn about humanity and then Human Rights as well instead of always using force.

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  • khan of quetta
    Apr 12, 2012 - 12:07PM

    @Mumbai Dude:
    outside pakistan

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  • khan of quetta
    Apr 12, 2012 - 12:08PM

    @Raj – USA:
    mind your own bussines troll and get out of pakistani newspaper

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  • Hunzai
    Apr 12, 2012 - 12:35PM

    @Mumbai Dude:
    Wrong, no one should be allowed to practice any religion at all. Religion is the root cause of almost all evil in the world. They are all stone age fantasies.

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  • Ahsan Ikram-ullah Butt
    Apr 12, 2012 - 12:50PM

    NADRA is not only forcing people to chage their religion but also making people so called aliens in order to black mail them to bribe core to the corrupt and discarded army officers in NADRA. Many fundamentalists are working in NADRA. Many people are traped and no one is going to take notice of that an other grave violation of human rights. Cheif Justice should take notice of that as well.

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  • Waqas
    Apr 12, 2012 - 12:50PM

    @Saqib

    Problems with people like u, u guys cant face the truth! And instead accepting the truth, u guys turned blind eyes and labelled is as anti-islam. And read Agnostic’s comment,if it happened with muslims abroad, people like u will turn violent! GET A LIFE! people like u already messed up our country with ur intolerance attitude! If u dont like something negative is being said about muslims, then try and improve ur image!

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  • Imran
    Apr 12, 2012 - 1:07PM

    ET and liberal fascists . Get over it bro. Give a proper explanation instead.

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  • Parvez
    Apr 12, 2012 - 1:08PM

    Religious tolerance – Pakistan style………….and we have gall to point fingers at others.

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  • Umer
    Apr 12, 2012 - 1:09PM

    @khan of quetta, that’s exactly what every sane individual argues and wants. Nobody should poke their nose in others business. Relegion too is someones personal choice. The state, society, aalims and common people should stay out of it.
    @Raj-USA – You summed it it up beautifully!

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  • SaQiB
    Apr 12, 2012 - 1:13PM

    @Agnostic:

    Stop making a mountain out of a molehill…………. its simply a mistake and if the said politician proves he’s a christian, the rectification will be made!! ur comments simply second my thoughts i provided through my first post…………..

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  • antony
    Apr 12, 2012 - 1:32PM

    @khan, Why should we get out of this news paper ? . When you go to streets burn US flag /Danish flag for perceived human right violation of fellow muslims in West ,India , we have the same right to atleast comment on this injustice meted out to christians/humans in Pakistan.

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  • Jpy
    Apr 12, 2012 - 1:38PM

    @khan of quetta:
    In that case take ET also out of the electronic media then no outsiders will comment on your newspapers. As long as we have accesses to your news we will express our opinion

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  • shaz
    Apr 12, 2012 - 2:30PM

    @Antebellum: with this of your comment you reflect the mindset of the taliban. is there any copyright of names? get a life and be easy.

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  • Mumbai Dude
    Apr 12, 2012 - 3:06PM

    Can all the anti-liberals explain why if Islam is written as religion ,it cannot be changed? If a person born a Muslim decides to convert to Christianity, Hinduism or Sikhism why shouldn’t he/she be allowed?

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  • true_blue_pakistani
    Apr 12, 2012 - 3:14PM

    Islam is clear about protection of non-Muslims. This case haraam

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  • Big Rizvi
    Apr 12, 2012 - 5:30PM

    Hallilujah! Finally a good step taken by somebody, I like what I’m seein’!

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  • rafi
    Apr 12, 2012 - 5:36PM

    Oh the irony of it all.

    What can you say about a country where

    “With a stroke of a pen, a man is being forced to call himself a Muslim despite not being one,” ………….and an Ahmadi can’t call himself a Muslim despite being one.

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  • RH
    Apr 12, 2012 - 6:07PM

    @Antebellum: can you please explain to me what an ‘Islamic’ name is?Recommend

  • Falcon
    Apr 12, 2012 - 6:25PM

    I agree that there is no need to mention religion on id card or passport for that matter. However, I do wonder what will be the implications for this on transactions where religion is used as informational variable. For example, alcohol. It is my understanding that you can get alcohol if your id card says non-Muslim on it. So, state needs to devise another way to facilitate such transactions (unless society has reached a point where they are comfortable with open sale of alcohol to every one. In that case, this is a moot point anyways).

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  • ALi
    Apr 12, 2012 - 6:26PM

    This is messed up. First its Nadra’s fault and now they are not even interested in rectifying it. Why don’t they use some common sense. This is not even a case of being a mortid.

    Why don’t they read up on Islam first and ask any scholar how much rights are given to non Muslims in a Islamic society.

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  • MJ
    Apr 12, 2012 - 6:35PM

    @Antebellum:
    so by the same token Muslims cannot be called Issa??? Last I check he is the leader of the Christian faith. It is this mentality that is giving Muslims and Islam a bad name in the world. Please point out the specific part of the Quran where it says a non-muslim cannot have a Muslim name

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  • Zalmai
    Apr 12, 2012 - 7:01PM

    I guess most Pakistanis don’t know that Arabic names that are associated with Islam predates Islam.

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  • Cautious
    Apr 12, 2012 - 9:17PM

    Simple solution — stop keeping records of peoples’ religious affiliation and treat all Pakistani’s as equals. Saves money and might improve your image.

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  • ZYX
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:05PM

    So much Islamophobia being generated by ET. They will pay a price for this, rest assured, it won’t be long.

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  • ali
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:12PM

    The Quran says there is no compulsion in religion so anyone is free to leave islam or accept islam whenever they want. It is IGNORTANT people who try and force their religion on others. People in Pakistan should be free to worship any god or no god however they want.

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  • Umair Hassan
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:28PM

    How can people even defend such action. Reading comments on ET articles is so disturbing !

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  • Umer
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:32PM

    @Antebellum:

    Clerical errors aside, a non-Muslim
    should not be allowed to have an
    Islamic/Muslim name (such as Mahmood,
    which is one of the names of the
    Prophet S.A.W.)

    Words like Mehmood are Arabic words with actual meanings; and is use well before Islam. In that case if someone is to claim copyright over these words it wont be Muslims.Recommend

  • Umer
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:35PM

    @Raj – USA:

    When an Ahmedi calls himself a Muslim,
    he faces death sentence under
    blasphemy law. When a Christian calls
    himself a non-muslim, he may be
    declared as one who has deserted islam
    and face same charges.

    Good point. NADRA insists Muslims are non-Muslims and non-Muslims are Muslims. Kisi ku khush nahin rehnay dena.

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  • bashir ahmed
    Apr 12, 2012 - 10:41PM

    why did the election commission not double check since it was a seat for the minority. All data are entered as provided in the form. Its not a typographical error. something fishy

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  • Umer
    Apr 12, 2012 - 11:02PM

    @ZYX:

    So much Islamophobia being generated
    by ET. They will pay a price for this,
    rest assured, it won’t be long.

    Sounds like a threat. That is why there is so much fear of it; there is a threat on every corner.

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  • Umer
    Apr 12, 2012 - 11:05PM

    NADRA is full of retired army officers from top to bottom. Army as we are often told is also defender of the boundaries of our faith (nazreeyati sarhadoon kay muhafiz). They are just doing their job.

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  • Apr 12, 2012 - 11:10PM

    I think this man is making all this drama (conversion to Christianity) just for MPA seat.

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  • Apr 12, 2012 - 11:17PM

    @bashir ahmed:
    you are right. I also think all this is being done for an MPA seat.

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  • Umer
    Apr 12, 2012 - 11:31PM

    @SaQiB:

    its simply a mistake and if the said
    politician proves he’s a christian,

    First, state wants Muslims to prove their Muslimness, now it wants Christians to prove their Christianity? How does one prove he is a Christian except that he is saying he is? Does he need to show his uncircumcised you know what for example?

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  • Ash
    Apr 13, 2012 - 3:03AM

    @Antebellum- people should have the right to name their kids whatever they want so long as they don’t get bullied or shunned in society because of their name. Many Christians in Pakistan have opted for more ‘Muslim’ sounding names as they are a minority and do not want to stand out.

    NADRA as a system needs to update itself, categorizing people only leads to even more division.

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  • Raj - USA
    Apr 13, 2012 - 3:36AM

    @RH:
    Muslim Names:

    Veena and Meera are the two names I can think of immediately as Muslim Names.

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  • Syed Munir Ahmed
    Apr 14, 2012 - 8:27AM

    What strange logic that now we are being suggested that what names some particular faith-follower should adopt. Will someone tell me that the names we assign are Arabic, Iranian, Turkish or for that matter Indian or are the ISLAMIC. At the time of the Holy Prophet, it was very rare to change the name of a convert, only when it did not have a sensible meaning. What do you say about the name of the father of the Holly Prophet s.a.w. Abullah, was he Muslim? Name does not matter, the deeds matter.

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  • Areej ateeq
    Apr 16, 2012 - 7:54AM

    There are atheist/agnostic pakistanis who had wanted to change their religion on the ID card, unfortunately NADRA stood unequipped to deal with such a scenario. If someone chooses to leave Islam, it’s their business and God’s. No MAN has the right to judge. There is no need for anyone to know what religion someone belongs to. It’s a personal intimate question which the government has no right to butt in. The above article talks about a mistake, but there are other cases where the person actually left Islam but NADRA wouldn’t change the religion on the ID card.

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  • Ahsan Ikram-ullah Butt
    Apr 17, 2012 - 12:44PM

    @ Umer, i totally agree with you, Nadra is full of discarded low ranked semi educated, fundamentalist and corrupt to the core retired army officers.

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