Pakistan’s ‘last Jew’ finally recognised by the government
After months of paperwork and numerous appeals, Benkhald was given the green light by the interior ministry to his application seeking “conversion/correction” of his religion.world Updated: Mar 27, 2017 21:13 IST
Often referred to as Pakistan’s last surviving Jew, Fishel Benkhald has finally been recognised as such by the government.
The 29-year-old outspoken activist, originally registered as a Muslim, was recently allowed by the interior ministry to change his religion from Islam to Judaism, an unusual move by authorities in the Muslim-majority country.
Benkhald, born in Karachi in 1987 to a Muslim father and a Jewish mother, was registered as Faisal in his national identity documents. His parents died in the 1990s and Benkhald identified himself as a Jew during the ongoing census.
After several months of bureaucratic paperwork and numerous rounds of appeals, the interior ministry gave the green light in response to his application seeking “conversion/correction” of his religion.
Benkhald, a resident of Karachi, claims he is the only person of his faith in Pakistan. In his appeal to the interior minister, he insisted that his religion be changed on his national identity card.
The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) usually does not entertain requests for changing religion on the grounds that an applicant’s faith is different from the father’s. NADRA also does not allow members of the Ahmadi religious sect to proclaim themselves as Muslims.
Muslims are expected to sign an affidavit with NADRA that they are not Ahmadis or "Qadiyanis", as they are known in some circles.
"It is a very sensitive issue where people have been killed either way," said Peter Jacob, who heads a faith-based organisation in Lahore.
In a telephone conversation with The Express Tribune newspaper, Benkhald thanked the authorities, especially the interior ministry and NADRA, for granting him the right to profess the religion of his choice.
“I studied Islam in childhood. But I never practiced it as a religion,” Benkhald said, adding he would consider the positive development in his case as a treat from Pakistani authorities for the upcoming Passover, a spring festival that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
Despite Benkhald’s claim that he is the last Jew in Pakistan, The Express Tribune quoted an unnamed NADRA official as saying that there are 745 registered Jewish families in the country. The official said details about Jews in the NADRA’s records are treated as “top secret”.
There are numerous reports in Pakistan every year of members of minority communities such as the Hindus being forcibly converted to Islam but instances of Muslims renouncing their faith for another religion are extremely rare.