Study finds 'no evidence of forced conversion' in Sindh

By: News Desk      Published: 12:31 AM, 18 Oct, 2021
Study finds 'no evidence of forced conversion' in Sindh

There is no evidence suggesting that non-Muslims, including underage girls, have been forcibly converted to Islam in Sindh, shows a groundbreaking study by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) researcher Sufi Ghulam Hussain 

It is based on 10 years of episodical fieldwork, interviews with a cross-section of Sindhi society and statistical analysis of data acquired from seminaries and courts across the province. The study  – which was also consulted and by the parliamentary committee formed on the controversial ‘anti-forced conversion bill’ rejected last week – is based on exclusive IPS datasets.

The extensive and exhaustive fieldwork consisted of 200 in-depth interviews with a cross-section of Muslim and non-Muslim population, content analysis of over 400 audio recordings, along the review of 19 NGO reports. The quantitative sample comprised 6,055 cases of converts documented and collected from 2008 to 2020. Some 32 families, 24 couples (of whom females were mostly neo-converts), 16 males, 24 leaders of the Hindu community, 22 religious clerics, 21 civil society activists, eight lawyers, two police officers and two magistrates were interviewed by the lead researcher Ghulam Hussain.

The key hypothesis was to investigate whether non-Muslim girls below the age of 18 are forcibly converted to Islam. Analysis of data shows that of the total recorded cases of conversion involving freewill marriages in this study, only a fraction was minor. "Given the prevalence of marriages below 18 years in rural Sindh, this is not unexpected", said Ghulam Hussain.

None of the cases verified by this research proved to be forcible conversion whereby ‘force’ means coercion, blackmail, deception or the threat to kill a person or his/her parents. Contradictory to the commonly propagated perception, it was found that coercion is often used by parents and the community of the converting individual to revert such a person. This is in the form of political pressure, influencing the local administration and state institutions, social media campaigning, NGO activism, invoking caste or community honour, appealing to patriarchal ego, mobilizing separatist elements, and even torture.

The study shows that religious conversions occur at Sindh’s main seminaries and religious sites that take care of legal requirements and relevant documentation, including through courts. During the course of the research, credentials of converts registered with prominent religious seminaries/centres were obtained. These sites include Amrot Sharif (Shikarpur), Barchoondi Sharif (Ghotki), Gulzar-i-Khaleel (Umerkot), Bait-us-Salam (Badin), Madina Masjid (Mirpurkhas), and Jamia Binnoria (Karachi).

The related official documents that were collected and analyzed included affidavits of freewill, petitions (seeking protection from parents), court verdicts/orders, FIRs filed by parents/police record, CNICs of the neo-converts, nikahnama or marriage certificates (issued by NADRA), primary school leaving certificate/certificate of matriculation showing age, medical certificate determining the age, certificates of conversion, registers of conversion, and pamphlets of conversion ceremonies.

The study found that several socio-economic, religious, and cultural push-and-pull factors come into play in the process of conversion from one religion to another. In most cases, the normative ritual to convert and socio-economic incentive (push factors), desire to marry and inspiration from Islam and its religious mentors (pull factors) are the key factors that constitute the conversion process. Push factors are largely driven by the context, the structural condition and the religious or the cultural milieu, whereas pull factors are mainly driven by the agency of the individuals and groups.

Among the total sample, the 4,490 individuals who converted as families were either sufficiently Islamized already over decades or were pulled by better social and economic support system among Muslims.

The presence of 229 individual male converts in the sample negates the popular perception of only women being converted to Islam. The 970 individuals who are couples included several widows who could not remarry while being Hindu and individuals who wished to marry their cousins against the dictates of Hindu society. Several marriages take place between the persons of two distinct castes, which again is disallowed in Hindu ethos, and conversion offers an option for them. This is a major push factor as out of the total cases of conversion (723) involving marriage, 617 belong to Scheduled Caste Hindus.

During the course of the research, this data has already been presented at various national as well as international forums including the Parliament, Council of Islamic Ideology, Islamabad Bar Council, and Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, USA.