ISLAMABAD: Many people embrace Islam, but vice versa seldom known. Fishel Benkhald, 29, has finally won the right to confess the religion of his choice – Judaism.
The ministry of interior has recently given the green light in response to his application where he had sought ‘conversion/correction’ of his religion from Islam to Judaism in his national identity documents.
In the record of the country’s top database authority, Behkhald is registered as a Muslim. Faisal, as he is known in his current identity documents, was born to a Muslim father and a Jewish mother in Karachi in 1987. He was registered as a Muslim due to his father’s religion.
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However, recently he made an appeal to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to allow him to return to the religion of his choice, Judaism, by correcting his faith in a Smart Card he had applied for last year.
A reliable source in the ministry of interior has informed that NADRA, which was in a fix over the issue, had asked for the ministry’s opinion to correct the religion of a former Muslim. In its response, the ministry said in writing that “the applicant may be allowed to practice religion of [his] choosing and preference”.
NADRA usually turns down such requests, especially from Muslims to any other faith, due to the sensitive religious atmosphere in the country. Although the interior ministry has given the green signal, NADRA has yet to issue a Smart Card after correcting Benkhald’s religion.
A document available with The Express Tribune suggests that correspondence between the ministry of interior and NADRA over the issue had taken place in February-March 2017.
In a telephonic conversation with The Express Tribune Benkhald thanked the authorities, especially the interior ministry and NADRA, for granting him the right to profess religion of his choice.
“I studied Islam in childhood. But I never practiced it as a religion,” Benkhald said and added that he would consider that a positive development in his case as a treat from Pakistani authorities for upcoming Passover – a religious event of Jews to commemorate their liberation from Egyptian slavery celebrated in March-April.
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Pakistani Jews, a few in numbers, usually hide their identity from public and according to a top NADRA official their identity details, like house addresses, in the authority’s records are treated as top secret. According to him, there are some 745 registered Jew families in Pakistan.
Benkhald said that recently he has mentioned himself as a Jew in the religion column during the ongoing census in Pakistan. Both the mother and father of Benkhald died in 1996 and 1998, respectively.
“First milestone has been achieved,” said Benkhald, who has also been campaigning for preserving an old Jewish cemetery in Karachi.
His interesting story in past had caught attention of international media where he was dubbed ‘The Last Jew in Pakistan’.
JUI-F Senator and religious scholar Mufti Abdul Sattar, commenting over the issue, said a child was not bound to carry on the religion of his/her father or mother. “If the claimant is adult and never practiced Islam (as claimed by Benkhald that he never practiced Islam his whole life except Judaism) then he is free to adopt any religion of his choice,” Sattar said and added that the state was bound to mention religion of his choice in his identity documents.
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Sattar said as per teachings of Abu Hanifa, if a person practiced Islam in the past but later renounced it and adopted some other religion then he/she is bound to be punished.
Punishment, according to him, includes a three-day jail to rethink the decision, but if that person still insists he would be punished to death. However, he categorically stated that fatwa was implementable in countries/societies where Sharia laws were implemented in totality not partially like in Pakistan.