A recent divorce case which led to a heated debate regarding Pakistan’s divorce laws, has split judges and religious leaders, says The Express Tribune.

The original Christian Divorce Act 1869 stated that either Christian husband or wife within the country could apply for a divorce on a number of grounds, although the wife would need to convert to Islam to do so, as would a husband who was petitioning to divorce his wife on grounds other than adultery.

In 1981 however, this law was changed so that divorce was only possible on the grounds of proven adultery on the part of the wife. Women were not permitted to file for divorce under any circumstances.

Amin Masih, a Christian Pakistani, argued that he and his wife wanted to legally divorce, due to mutual incompatibility. His wife had not committed adultery and he was determined that he would not besmirch her character. The pair already considered themselves divorced, although this was not recognised by the court for this reason.

The case was heard before Lahore High Court, who agreed that the man should be able to petition for divorce without requiring proof of adultery. And so began the argument between legal representatives and religious leaders regarding the nature of marriage and divorce.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah subsequently notified the government of his intention to review the divorce act, which prompted a number of Christian churchmen in the country to voice their opinion. Father Joseph Shahzad, Pastor of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore, felt that the proposed changes constituted blasphemy, whilst Nazir Bhatti of the Pakistan Christian Congress said that they represented “a threat to Christian life across the country”.

Such is the strength of feeling among church leaders, that a conference will shortly be held, to formalise and gather structured opposition to the proposals to relax divorce law in Pakistan.

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