What’s in a name?

Published: April 24, 2012

Rana Asif Mahmood. PHOTO: PAP.GOV.PK

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.

Reader Comments (4)

  • Talha Khan
    Apr 24, 2012 - 12:17AM

    What if someone is an ex-Muslim and is now an atheist or agnostic? Why can’t he/she have the records changed. Why has the government decided that no Muslim will be allowed to change his/her religion officially?
    Why must atheists be forcefully kept Muslims by the Government in the records?

    I thought there was supposed to be no compulsion in religion, than what is this severely oppressive policy of the state?

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  • gp65
    Apr 24, 2012 - 3:30AM

    Indonesia has the largest number of Muslims in the world. For the first 50 years after independence it was ruled by Sukarno, Suharto and Megawati. Please note that all these 3 names are in fact Sanskrit based names. IT does not make those people Hindu. In India it is a practice among syrian catholics to have oneAnglicized name and one Sanskrit based name. Again , no-one questions their Christianity. Agree with the author that it was ab initio wrong of NADRA to assign Islam as a religion simply based on his name. But an error can happen. It is einexplicable that NADRA feels the error cannot be corrected. SO here too I agree with the author. But I have a further question. What if a Muslim chooses to convert to Christianity or Hinduism or becomes an atheist. DO they not have te right to do so.I thouht there was no compulsion in religion as per Quran?

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  • Parvez Amin
    Apr 24, 2012 - 6:24AM

    Religion is a private matter and NADRA should not record it – unless it helps Pakistan become prosperous.

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  • May 1, 2012 - 6:05AM

    A most effective means of mass civil protest is to gum up the works. Just imagine what would happen if merely ten thousand ordinary everyday Pakistanis decided to file with NADRA to change their religion from “Christian” or “Muslim” to “Spy”. Just think of how daunting the task of investigation would be for the “agencies”!

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