The controversial construction of the first Hindu temple in Pakistan’s capital has been halted after it was challenged in the courts.
Plans for the Shri Krishna temple on a 1,860 sq metre (20,000 sq ft) site in Islamabad include a Hindu crematorium and a community hall for the city’s minority Hindu residents and visitors.
For years the thousands of Hindus in Islamabad had been pushing for a proper place to worship and to cremate their dead, rather than having to travel sometimes hundreds of miles to perform last rites.
The plans were granted approval by the central government, and last week Imran Khan ordered the release of £500,000 to help fund the project. After becoming prime minister in 2018, Khan pledged to protect the religious freedom of Pakistan’s 8 million Hindus.
However, the temple has proved a highly sensitive issue in the Islamic nation. The Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid, a political party in Khan’s ruling coalition, requested that the project be scrapped, claiming it was “against the spirit of Islam”. Last week a Lahore-based Islamic institution, the Jamia Ashrafia, issued a fatwa against the construction of the temple, declaring it a “non-permissible” act under Islam, and a group of influential Islamic clerics said there would be a “severe reaction” if the temple went ahead.
Just as construction began on the boundary walls this week, petitions were filed to the Islamabad high court by religious opponents over whether the temple had the required permission and whether state money should be used to fund the project.
The government has referred the issue to the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body that advises it on whether legislation is compliant with the laws of Islam. A spokesman for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony said they were also consulting religious leaders and clerics.
Speaking in court, Raja Khalid Mehmood, the deputy attorney general, expressed concern that halting the building of the temple reflected negatively on Pakistan. The judge said he would reserve judgment on the case until the recommendations from the Council of Islamic Ideology.
Amnesty International urged Pakistan to continue with the project. It said in a statement: “Halting the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad is an unconscionable act of bigotry that must be reversed immediately. Everyone has a right to freedom of religion or belief, a right that is guaranteed in Pakistan’s constitution and its international obligations.”
No Hindu temples have been built in Islamabad since Pakistan’s creation in 1947. Approval for the project and the allocation of the land was first given in 2017 under the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, but it has faced numerous delays.
Hindus are the largest minority in Pakistan, but often face discrimination. In Amnesty’s 2019 report on Pakistan, it said minorities continued to be persecuted under strict and arbitrarily enforced blasphemy laws and faced attacks from powerful religious hardliners.