Imagine the daily pressure Fishel Benkhald is under. Islamic Jew-hatred: it’s in the Quran, and few countries are as passionate about obeying the Quran in every detail as Pakistan. Pakistan, remember, is the country that just freed Muslim leader Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai jihad attacks, from house arrest (he wasn’t even in prison). In Mumbai, the jihad murderers sought out the tiny Chabad House and made it the focus of their attacks, murdering a rabbi and his wife with unspeakable brutality, and mutilating their bodies. The man who engineered this not only is free, but is celebrated as a hero by many in Pakistan.
That is the environment in which Fishel Benkhald is living, and he chooses to live openly as a Jew. He is a courageous man.
Fishel Benkhald tells DW he has faced immense social discrimination in Pakistan following his registration of Jewish faith, but he will continue to raise voice for the rights of religious minorities in the country.
Dubbed “Pakistan’s last Jew,” Fishel Benkhald, a resident of the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, was originally registered as a Muslim and was named Faisal Khalid. After several months of bureaucratic struggle and paperwork, he was finally recognized by the Islamic country’s authorities as a Jew in March this year.
Benkhald: ‘It is my religious right to visit the holy sites in Israel.’
Benkhald claims he was born to a Muslim father and a Jewish mother. The South Asian country’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) usually does not entertain requests for changing religion on the basis of mother’s faith. But the unprecedented decision by authorities to change his religion on the national identity card made the 29-year-old ecstatic. But since then he has been facing hostility in Pakistan, Benkhald told DW.
“When my landlord learnt about my Jewish identity, he asked me to vacate the apartment where I had been living for months,” Benkhald said. “Obviously, he did not tell me why he took that decision, but I could sense it was because of my new religious status,” he added.
Benkhald lives in Karachi’s middle-class neighborhood, Korangi, and works in the mineral ore supply business.
“I rented another apartment in the same area because my children’s school was in the vicinity. But I had to vacate that place as well, as the new landlord also learnt about my Jewish identity,” Benkhald said.
Benkhald noted that his mother and father had met in Karachi and had a love marriage. He claims his maternal grandparents were Jews. “My father was a secular Muslim and he had no objection to my mother’s faith. My mother never practiced Islam; however she was registered as a Muslim. In her heart, she was always a Jew. She taught me many things about Judaism.”
Disowned by society and relatives
According to Pakistani media reports, there are about 745 registered Jewish families living in Pakistan. At the time of Pakistan’s independence from British rule in 1947, the number of Jews, as well as those of Christians and Hindus, was much higher. But the Islamization of the country, especially since the 1980s, forced the members of religious minorities to either convert to Islam or flee the country.
Islamic extremism has increased manifold in Pakistan in the past few years, and religious hardliners often fan anti-Semitic sentiment that is mostly aimed at Israel. Benkhald said he experiences anti-Semitism on a regular basis.
“The society’s attitude toward me changed completely after I got myself registered as a Jew,” Benkhald told DW.
“Even my four brothers disowned me and declared me an apostate,” he said….
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