Ernest Dempsey — The same ignorance whose fruit of intolerance causes innocent blood to spill was at work again in Lahore (Punjab), Pakistan, when a quarrel in the family was inflated to include threats from the neighbors. Two women in this family had converted from Islam to Christianity and married two brothers, Christian by faith, with whom they lived peacefully in a Muslim neighborhood. Perhaps for fear of persecution or vengeance, the women kept their conversion secret. However, during the quarrel last month, one of them gave it out. Before long, the once good Muslim neighbors turned hostile and gossip started spreading about the Christian couples.
To make things worse, as happens in many of Pakistan’s areas—particularly in Punjab, Sindh, and tribal areas— an influential leader got involved. He not only assumed the role of God by dictating that the formerly Muslim women couldn’t become Christians and live with their Christian husbands, but also ordered the Christian brothers to leave the locality while leaving the women behind. Thus both couples had to flee the area, taking just a handful of their belongings for fear of life.
While Human Liberation Commission has raised a voice for the affected couple, the matter has brought to public notice the ever-needed necessity of tolerance in order for justice to prevail. In many Muslim-dominated societies, people are always welcome to convert from other religions to Islam. But when they leave Islam and embrace another faith, they are labeled as apostates and hunted or persecuted. The case of the two sisters here is yet another example. Since lack of tolerance in some religions, like Islam, bars followers from inter-faith marriages, people have to give up their religion and embrace that of their future spouse in order to get married and start a family.
How one can just stop believing in a religion and embrace the beliefs of others just to get married or for some other benefit is a doubt that can be raised for any/all such conversions. Belief is a spontaneous mix of thought and feeling about a concept or system. It can’t just be replaced or customized for getting a particular benefit or more in one’s social life. Humanist ethics however would allow ceasing to follow a set of beliefs anytime and start following another one, similar or entirely opposite, whatever. This freedom to believe is a natural right, even if Islam or any authoritarian system doesn’t recognize it.
It is regrettable indeed that that in the 21st century, humans are on a run from followers of belief systems that teach them who a certain character was and how to think of it. Muslims or Christians or whatever religion, nothing is above humanity. The poor women who embraced Christianity had all the right to choose what to believe and who to marry. In their suffering, they have shown the oppressive society that important changes in life can start at the grass root level; that one need not hide one’s conversion from others and that one can ask for respect on the basis of inter-personal interaction, not because of one’s religious belief.