It is a near-daily occurrence that Shankar Bhatti is ‘invited’ by his friends and colleagues.
Working at a government school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) southern district of Dera Ismail Khan, Shankar said he uses various excuses to get out of the invitations by people employed at the school as these ‘invites’ are not normal — they are bids to get him to convert to Islam.
“Why don’t you come to this side [become a Muslim]; we’ll all be one then,” said schoolteacher Shah Hussain to Shankar recently, to which he responded lightly, “There should be some sinners left as well,” and closed the debate. For now.
Pakistan’s minorities are familiar with such instances as it is very common, especially in places of work where a minority members daily interacts with people from the majority religion.
Ramesh Singh*, a Sikh hailing from KP’s Mardan district, has faced similar incidents of attempted conversion.
“We have been hearing things like ‘convert and save yourself from the fires of Hell’ since the time we were kids playing cricket in the street up till now,” he shared.
It is a commonly-held belief among some Muslims that their religion directs them to convert non-Muslims to their faith and failure to do so would not go unpunished at the Day of Judgment.
Thus, DI Khan’s Shaloom Masih told his friends, after they had once again asked him to convert to Islam, that they had done their ‘duty’ of inviting him and should now cease the practice since he did not plan to convert.
It is also interesting to note that while Pakistan’s Muslims — accounting for over 96% of the population — actively seek out non-Muslims to convert, even going to foreign countries for proselytising, would they let non-Muslims come here and do the same?
Maqsood Ahmad Salafi, a member of the government’s Pakistan Religious Harmony Committee from KP, explained that proselytising is a very sensitive matter and should be undertaken with utmost care, lest it spread anarchy in society. He added that the best form of invitation to a religion can be from one’s deeds and actions.
The religious scholar also noted how members of minorities, even in other countries, are not welcome to convert people from the majority and often face severe backlash in many cases.
Salafi called for a code of conduct which can be followed by people of all religions in Pakistan so that the majority do not feel the need to coerce the minorities, who can live in accordance with their beliefs alongside the majority.
*Name changed to protect identity
Ghulam Dastageer is a Peshawar-based freelance journalist with a professional experience spanning over 20 years. He has worked with the Herald magazine as its Peshawar correspondent, and also worked at The News International as a court reporter in Peshawar.