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March 28, 2017 7:19 am

Pakistani Granted Right to Identify as Jewish Celebrates ‘Passover Seder Gift’ Ahead of Upcoming Holiday

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Fishel Benkhald. Photo: Twitter.

A Pakistani recently granted permission by his government to identify as Jewish celebrated his triumph Sunday on social media.

Fishel Benkhald — whose father is Muslim and mother is Jewish — thanked Pakistan on Twitter for allowing him to change the classification on his identification documents from Islam to Judaism, and called the victory a “Passover seder gift to Jews” ahead of the holiday, which begins this year on April 10. The 29-year-old Karachi resident also expressed his gratitude in an interview with the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune. 

“First milestone has been achieved,” Benkhlad, who has been advocating for the preservation of an ancient Jewish cemetery in his home city, also said. He added that though he studied Islam during his childhood, “I never practiced it as a religion.”

Benkhald was registered in his country’s database as Muslim — as, unlike Judaism, Islam has patrilineal descent — but several months ago he appealed to Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) seeking “conversion/correction” of his religion. Express Tribune cited a source that said although NADRA typically rejects such requests in the Muslim-majority country, it asked for the Ministry of Interior’s opinion on the matter. In response, the ministry said, “The applicant may be allowed to practice religion of [his] choosing and preference.”

Despite the fact that Benkhald has been dubbed by media as “The Last Jew in Pakistan,” a top NADRA official told Express Tribune that there are some 745 registered Jewish families in the country — though most hide their identity from the public. The NADRA official said details of their identity, such as their home addresses, are treated in government records as top secret.

India’s Hindustan Times noted that every year there are numerous reports of minority community members in Pakistan being forced to convert to Islam, and it is rare that a Muslim would renounce his faith for another religion.

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