10/21/2014, 00.00
PAKISTAN - ISLAM
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Pakistan: Forced to marry and convert to Islam by force, a young Christian girl’s struggle for justice

by Shafique Khokhar
In August, the 19-year old Maria Bibi was abducted and forced to marry Mohammad Zohaib, a neighbor and classmate. Now the matter is in the hands of a court. Meanwhile, the Church of Pakistan celebrates a day of fasting and prayer for Asia Bibi. Muslim leader: no innocent person should be made a victim "in the name of religion."

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - " I am not married with Mohammad Zohaib, he is telling a lie in court, he tried to convert me forcefully to Islam and got married with me in mosque against my will, and this marriage I do not accept", Maria Bibi tells AsiaNews, repeating the contents of her statement and filed petition against the man for false marriage on October 14 before additional session Judge Furrukh Hameed.  It is yet another episode  of abuse and harassment of a young Christian woman in Pakistan while the local Church holds a day of prayer and fasting for Asia Bibi, sentenced to death (even on appeal) for blasphemy.

The 20-year old Mohammad Zohaib, a Muslim native of Nazimbad, a town near Faisalabad (Punjab), is a classmate and neighbor of 19 year old Christian Maria Bibi; the two knew each other well, so on August 5 last no suspicions were raised when the young man asked to study together with her.

Mohammad brought Maria to the Jamiya Rizviya mosque, Jhang Bazar, where he recited the Islamic marriage formula (Nikkah) in the presence of a Muslim religious leader, forcibly converting her to Islam. After a few days, Maria succeeded in escaping, sparking the ire of the young man who has tried several times to kidnap her and threatened the girl's parents to hand her over. However, they have always staunchly refused and defended their daughter from her tormentor.

On 3 October Mohammad Zohaib filed a complaint against the girl's parents, the next day they appeared before the judges to testify. At the young woman's rejection, the young Muslim withdrew the complaint, only to file it again on October 13. At this point, Maria filed a counter-complaint, in which she claims to have been forced to marry Mohammad and that she will not convert to Islam.

The girl's family is frightened and desperate for justice. "Our daughter is innocent," say the parents, "but since we belong to a religious minority we are living in terror" . Interviewed by AsiaNews the family's lawyer Hashmat Barkat, says he hopes for laws "against forced marriages and forced conversions" in Pakistan, to protect women from the minorities. He assured that he will do everything in his power to ensure Maria Bibi justice during the trial.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Church is holding a day of fasting and prayer for Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for blasphemy, and pending the appeal to the Supreme Court, the last step to prevent the killing of an innocent. The bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi Anthony Rufin said that "we pray for Asia Bibi, her family, Zafar Bhatti and other people imprisoned because of the blasphemy laws." Maulana Muhammad Ali Khan Mehfooz, from the Council for Islamic ideology, recalls that the purpose of the law is to "protect the sanctity of religion and the Prophet Muhammad." However, he adds, "there should be no innocent victims in the name of religion" and abuses "should be condemned".

(Jibran Khan collaborated)

 

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