Pakistan has allowed one of its 180 million citizens to publicly register as a Jew for the first time since the 1980s.
Fischel Benkhald, 29, was notified on Tuesday that the religious status in his National Database and Registration Authority profile can be changed from Muslim to Jew, Fox News reported Wednesday.
Benkhald, who was born Faisal Benkhald, was brought up by a Jewish mother and Muslim father in Karachi. He had been pushing to change his national identity card status for three years. He chose the Yiddish name Fischel.
Wilson Chowdry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, took up Benkhald’s cause with the Pakistani High Commission in London.
In 2014, Benkhald told The Times of Israel he intended to register as a Jew, but feared being rejected and a backlash from neighbors if they found out he was Jewish.
“It is dangerous but I will go at least once to record my request to change the status of my religion from Islam to Judaism so that their response can be documented,” he said.
In Pakistan, the national identity card is used for voting, purchasing public transportation tickets, applying to college, buying phones and more, according to Fox News. It contains one’s name, date of birth, photo, a thumbprint and religion.
Before rampant anti-Israel sentiment forced Jews to leave the Asian country in the years following 1948, Karachi was once home to over 1,000 Jews. Chowdry estimates that hundreds of Jews are now living secretly in Pakistan.
Approximately 95 percent of the population there is Muslim. According to Fox News, a 2010 Pew survey found that 76 percent of Pakistanis advocate the death penalty for leaving Islam.
Benkhald argues that he never left Islam because he was born to a Jewish mother and therefore has always been Jewish.
“Of course we are concerned about the safety of Fischel,” Chowdry told Fox News. “Hopefully his brave decision to alter his faith will convince other Jews to come out of hiding.”
Benkhald has been campaigning to preserve Karachi’s old Jewish cemetery, which he said in 2014 was a first step toward setting up a synagogue in Karachi.
The cemetery, whose 300 remaining graves date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is at risk of encroachment from the surrounding Muslim graveyard.
“After getting that little piece of paper in my hand stating that legally we are allowed to have a synagogue, my dream will come true,” he said in 2014.