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Christian girls are the wrong kind of victims


IN April last year, a 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl, Maira Shahbaz, was kidnapped at gunpoint by Nakash Tariq and accomplices as she made her way home in Faisalabad. She was forced to deny her faith and convert to Islam in order to be married to her already-married Muslim kidnapper.

In a recent statement, Maira described her kidnapping: ‘Nakash and two other men took me to an unknown place at gunpoint, where Nakash repeatedly raped me. He also videotaped me naked and threatened that he would kill me and my family and also upload the video on social media if I told anyone what he had done to me.’ 

The under-age marriage took place in October last year. When her family challenged it in court, her abductor Tariq presented a fake marriage certificate and insisted that Maira had consented to the marriage. He also claimed the girl was 19 years old. On July 28, the Faisalabad District and Session Court rejected his claims and ordered that Maira be released from his home and placed in a women’s shelter. 

Tariq filed a petition seeking custody of Maira, and days later the district court ruling was overturned by the Lahore High Court, which found that Maira had willingly converted to Islam and consented to her marriage. The court disregarded her birth certificate and baptismal certificate which indicated her true age, and ordered that she be returned to Tariq to ‘be a good wife’.

The High Court bench, presided over by Justice Shahid Mahmood Abbasi, stated: ‘The statement of Maria [sic] Shahbaz as well as her general appearance unambiguously show that she is a grown-up young lady who seems to have attained the age of puberty and who acknowledges Nakash Tariq as her lawfully wedded husband.’

The bench dismissed evidence that the marriage certificate was fake and that the cleric named on it denied having conducted the marriage. 

‘As far as proof of marriage is concerned, the other formalities can be ignored and simple acknowledgement of husband and wife regarding their Nikah [marriage] is sufficient to prove the same,’ the verdict stated. ‘In such circumstances, the mandatory requirement of presence of two witnesses can be ignored.’

Maira claimed she had been forced to sign blank papers and denied that she had willingly become a Muslim. ‘I was coerced into making those statements in the courtrooms,’ she said. ‘They threatened to kill us all.’

According to the most recent reports, she has managed to escape her captor and is now in hiding with her mother and siblings. Tariq  has filed a kidnapping case against Maira’s mother and other relatives alleging that they had forcibly taken his ‘lawfully wedded wife’ from his home.

This case is not an isolated one. According to Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, ‘around 700 Christian women in Pakistan are abducted, raped and forced into Islamic marriage every year – that figure is almost two a day and the world does nothing.’ 

In July 15-year-old Saneha Kinza Iqbal was kidnapped on her way to church by Saeed Amanat, a 30-year-old married man with four children. Saeed, a security guard at a hospital in Faisalabad, became familiar with Saneha when she visited her mother who was receiving treatment.

When Saneha did not return home after church a neighbour confirmed seeing her in a vehicle with Saeed. Saneha’s family reported the incident to police, who refused to take action. When Saneha’s brother went to Saeed’s home the abductor’s father promised that Saneha would be returned. A few days later he changed his mind and the kidnapper phoned the girl’s family, threatening them if they took any further action. While Saneha’s fate is not known at this point, her family is concerned that she will be forcibly converted to Islam and married.

In February the forced conversion to Islam and marriage of another Christian girl was approved by a Pakistan court. Huma Younas, 14, a Catholic, was taken from her home in Karachi while her parents were away in October last year and was forced to deny her faith and marry the Muslim man who abducted her.

The High Court in Sindh Province dismissed a petition brought by Huma’s parents to have the marriage and forced conversion overturned. The court took five minutes to rule that both were valid since under Sharia law a girl may marry after her first menstrual cycle. 

Selective indignation is a hallmark of the West’s concerned progressives. The silence of feminists over the kidnapping, forced conversion to Islam and rape of young Christian girls is illuminating. No marches, no wristbands, no political denunciations, no concerned celebrities. Christians are the wrong kind of victims.

Governments are no better. Pakistan is ranked fifth on the Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. At the same time Pakistan heads the list of recipients of the UK’s government aid allocations with a planned aid budget for Pakistan in 2019/20 of £302million. Evidently the UK’s much-vaunted ‘soft diplomacy’ is of little effect. 

Most shameful of all is the lack of concern amongst the mainstream churches of the West, which are reluctant to express concern for the plight of Christians in Muslim countries. Maira, Saneha, Huma and hundreds like them are of little importance compared with friendly relations with Islam. They are collateral damage in a greater cause.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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