Brother of Pakistan's only registered Jew claims he is Muslim


Fischel Benkhald has claimed to be Pakistan’s only “self-declared” Jew. In 2015 he hit the headlines around the world with a declaration of what he said was his true identity, and a complaint that the Pakistani authorities did not recognise him. He said that his mother was Jewish and that his father was Muslim.

This week, he was in the news again because it emerged that Pakistan had allowed him to register as Jewish – the first time a Pakistani national had been recorded as such in decades.

But now, Fischel — born Faisal — has a problem. His brother has emerged from Saudi Arabia where he works, and told the Daily Pakistan newspaper that Faisal’s claims are utterly invented.

Mohammed Iqbal said: “I’m his elder brother working in Saudi Arabia, would like to let you know that he is 100 per cent lying.

“‘Alhamdulillah’ [praise the Lord] our parents both were Muslims and together performed Haj [the pilgrimage to Mecca] before their death. Our father Mohammad Khalid Pervez and our mother Naseem Akhter lived in KSA [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] for almost more than 10 years,” Mr Iqbal said.

“My mother’s father was a Rajput Punjabi and her mother was a Syed Muslim, she never migrated from Iran like Faisal says. Can he explain how the Saudi government allows a Jewish woman to perform Haj or go into Mecca or Medina mosques?”

Mr Iqbal’s assertion directly contradicts Mr Benkhald’s recollection. In his original application to the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which eventually relented and allowed him to register as Jewish, he said that he had been born in Karachi to a Jewish mother and Muslim father, the fourth of five children

Mr Benkhald, who is 29, claimed he grew up reciting blessings over Shabbat candles, watching his mother make challah every Friday and prepare other kosher dishes. Unlike his siblings, he felt a strong pull to his Jewish ancestry.

These are not Mr Iqbal’s memories, who told the Daily Pakistan that he believes his brother to be suffering from mental issues.

Mr Benkhald began his bid to be registered as a Jew by saying he wanted to rebuild a demolished synagogue in Karachi and to restore the Jewish cemetery there.

But before applying for permission to embark on the project, he felt it necessary to register his Jewish faith and race with the authorities.

He said a seemingly relentless tide of antisemitic propaganda in the country had spurred him to assert his true identity publicly.

He acknowledged that it was "dangerous" to come out as a Jew in Pakistan, but added: "My political side outgrew my fear. I felt less hesitant about claiming my religion more publicly than I would have before.

“My dream is to gain empathy. Later I will try and get help and start the process for a small synagogue”.

In 1947, the year of Pakistan's partition from India, there were an estimated 3,000 Jews living in the country. Most Jews left for Israel in 1948 and by 1967 there were only 350 Jews left.

In 1988, the Magen Shalom synagogue in Karachi was demolished and a shopping centre was built on the site.

Mohammed Iqbal sent the Daily Pakistan his mother’s death certificate, which the paper says “confirms that she actually was a Muslim and not a Jew as claimed by Fischel”. Mr Iqbal also told the paper that Mr Benkhald had declaimed the Muslim funeral prayer at his mother’s death. “How can he claim she was a Jew? This is extremely disturbing for me and my whole family.”

So far there has been no response from Fischel — or Faisal.


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