Rana Asif Mahmood
A battle has raged for the last couple of months over the case of Rana Asif Mahmood. His political opponents tried to disqualify him for a minority reserved seat in the Punjab regional assembly. They pointed out that only non-Muslims can hold these seats and the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) records showed him to be Muslim. Mahmood was set to become, and indeed now has become the Finance Minister of Punjab. No doubt in addition to purely political factors, the prospect of a non-Muslim gaining such an influential position was a factor in the attack on his status.
Mahmood has never been a Muslim. From birth he has been a Christian. However, because of his Muslim sounding name, the NADRA noted his religion as Muslim. A simple bureaucratic mistake, you might think, easy to fix. Right? Wrong. It would have been fine if the change was the other way, but Pakistani law forbids any changes on ID cards from Muslim to other religions. It is easy for non-Muslims to change their religion on the ID cards, especially if they are converting to Islam. Although there is supposed to be a way of correcting clerical errors, which Mahmood followed, it was not accepted. He only won his case when he vehemently protested that he was Christian from birth in the Punjab assembly, and pleaded with his opponents not to make it a controversy, which would lead to Muslim extremists killing him as an alleged apostate. In the time of the dispute, he was denied the chance to be involved, as he should have been, in proposing the 2012-13 budget.
The issue of the NADRA ID cards is something the BPCA has been campaigning about for quite some time, because the fact that religion is always included on the ID cards means that
a) Christians and minorities can always be immediately singled out for discrimination in many situations - employment, education, medical care, and the like, and
b) because of the one-sided law about changing religion, it means that converts from Islam, already extremely vulnerable to death threats (and remember, 78% of Pakistani's favour the killing of apostates, including 69% of so called 'moderates' or 'modernists' - more on this later), are especially liable to identification. If they don't appear at mosque at key festivals, and are known to go to church, yet have Muslim on their ID cards, it means they are instantly identifiable as 'apostates' wherever they go, leading many to lead secretive lives of fear of false accusations of blasphemy, the usual method of inciting lynchings. It also means that relocation to another locality within Pakistan is not the option it is for other people seeking to move for safety reasons.
In one fairly recent case, which we have reported on, Muhammad Kumran, who was beaten and crippled for turning to Christ, and because his ID names him as Muslim, it has been impossible for him to get the medicinal attention he needs because medical staff and politicians are afraid of being killed by Islamic extremists if they do help this 'apostate'.