LAHORE: Pakistan has allowed a 29-year-old Jewish activist Fishel Benkhald to change his religion from Islam to Judaism, an unusual
move by authorities in the Muslim-majority country. In normal circumstances, it would have been a normal practice to let Benkhald choose a religion of his choice to fill in the forms to get a national identity card and passport. But it was a task for Benkhald as he was registered as a Muslim, and it could be interpreted as apostasy, which is punished with death according to Pakistan’s Islamic law. The Ministry of Interior has recently given the green light in response to Benkhald’s application, where he had sought ‘conversion/correction’ of his religion from Islam to Judaism, in his national identity documents, The Express Tribune reported. Benkhald’s Mother Secretely Practised Her Judaic Faith Benkhald’s struggle to retain his Judaic identity began as early as 2014, according to a report in The Times of Israel. In the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), Benkhald 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. According to an open letter that Benkhald wrote for The Huffington Post, his mother hailed from a Persian Jewish family. Even though she was registered as a Muslim, she continued to secretly practice her Judaic faith throughout her life. The international media has often dubbed him as the ‘The Last Jew in Pakistan’ in the past. He also claims that he has faced the ire of some Muslim groups in Pakistan for speaking out for the non-Muslims in the country.
The Appeal Made to the Government
In 2016, he made an appeal to the NADRA to allow him to return to the religion of his choice, Judaism, by correcting it in a smart ID card he had applied for last year. NADRA, which was in a fix over the issue, had asked for the interior ministry’s opinion to correct the religion of a former Muslim, a ministry source was quoted as saying by the daily. In its response, the ministry said in writing, saying “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.