09/10/2013, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Faisalabad: Pakistan's (anti-Christian) Romeo and Juliet story

by Shafique Khokhar
A young Christian man converts to Islam to marry a 21-year-old widow, but their families are opposed to the marriage. After months of accusations and mutual complaints, her family seized the groom's 13-year-old sister. For a human rights activist, "The marriage is valid and legal. There are no grounds to cause a row and abduct the child."

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - A romantic getaway, conversion to Islam, marriage and the opposition of the families are the ingredients of a new Romeo and Juliet story. He is Christian, she is Muslim and the two are at the centre of a family feud in Pakistan. However, there is one victim: the groom's 13-year-old sister who was abducted by the bride's parents to get back at the groom's family. Almost three months since the teenager was seized, her father and several human rights activists slam the Muslim family, guilty of an "intolerable and unjustifiable" act.

The story began at the end of last year, when Farooq Masih, a 19-year-old Christian man from Daud Nagar (Faisalabad) fell in love with Anam Naz, a 21-year-old Muslim widow living in Awais Nagar (Faisalabad).

The two ran away together and got married before a justice of the peace on 12 December 2012. In order to marry a Muslim, the young man converted to Islam.

After their nuptials, the newly wed hid out in a village near the city, but three days after their union, they were discovered by the groom's family, who took the bride back to her parents.

A week later, the two lovers fled again and managed to find a safe haven for six months.

Following the escape, Muhammad Sadiq and his wife Musarrat Bibi (Anam Naz's parents) filed a suit against the members of Farooq Masih's family for kidnapping a Muslim woman.

The police stormed the Christian family's house and arrested Yousaf Masih, the groom's brother. All other members went into hiding. Meanwhile, the young man was held in prison for five months for a crime he did not commit.

The first week of June, Anam Naz's family, with the help of the police, seized the couple in the village of Mutthianwala. However, once they arrived at the police station, the police chief realised that the marriage certificate was valid, and let the couple go. "They are legally married," he told the bride's parents, "and I cannot take any legal action against them."

According to several human rights activists, the problem is largely cultural. "In order to marry the Muslim widow, the young Christian converted," Christian activist Suneel Malik told AsiaNews.

"In doing so, he gave back to her society's respect since widows tend to be seen as bearers of misfortune and bad luck," he explained. "There should not have been any opposition [to their marriage] and the Muslim family's reaction, with the girl's abduction, is intolerable."

The role of the police, he added, "is grotesque. It seems that the law was created only for the rich, whilst minorities and marginalised communities are denied justice."

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