Surely a person should know what his or her religion is. It should not be left up to NADRA to determine this issue. Yet, this is precisely what has happened in the case of Rana Asif Mahmood, a PML-N member who won from a minority seat in 2008. He has now been faced with a court notice from the Lahore High Court, before which a petition has been placed claiming that NADRA records show he is a Muslim and he had posed as a Christian only to win a seat. Rana Asif fervently denies this, claiming the whole problem has been created because NADRA mistook him for a Muslim on the basis of his name and listed him as a Muslim. The error was only recently brought to his notice. The above-mentioned belongs to an established Christian family with his father also having fought elections as a Christian. He maintains that the matter has been brought up by Christian rivals seeking an assembly seat.
The entire situation is a ludicrous one. Human rights activists have pointed out that NADRA cannot determine the religion of a person; what the person says should be the final word on the matter. To add to the problem, NADRA now says the record listing Mahmood’s religion as ‘Islam’ cannot be changed. Any other religion can be altered but Islam. It seems impossible to believe that a clerical error cannot be rectified and that Mahmood is ‘stuck’ with a faith he says is not his.
A name is, of course, no basis to decide an individual’s religion. There are many names shared by Muslims, Christians and those of other faiths everywhere in the world. Granting Mahmood the status he seeks as a Christian should not be made into an issue. The evidence we have so far indicates a simple error was made, with no malice involved. Surely, it is possible to rectify this and as the activists have suggested, allow the MPA to declare for himself what his religion is. This is a basic right which no citizen should be denied by any other individual or authority.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2012.