Washington, D.C. October 15 (International Christian Concern) – Shumaila Bibi had just finished her all-night shift at the Millat Textile Mill in Nishatabad, a district of Faisalabad, before her sudden disappearance. A 26-year-old Muslim man, Muhammad Javaid Iqbal, had long taken an interest in Shumaila. The young woman, however, was a devote Christian and repeatedly denied Iqbal’s marriage proposals.
“Iqbal had helped Shumaila get the job at the factory and developed a friendship with her brothers,” Shareef Masih, Shumaila’s brother-in-law, told ICC. “Iqbal used to pay regular visits to Shumaila’s house because he wanted her parents’ permission to marry her. But she refused his proposal. She was faithful to her Christian beliefs and he was a Muslim man. Iqbal often teased and abused Shumaila because of her determination to follow Christianity.”
Iqbal had been waiting for Shumaila during her walk home at dawn after another long night at the mill on September 24. Holding a gun to her head, Iqbal dragged Shumaila into a vehicle.
The next day, Shumaila was taken to see Muhammad Aslam, a Muslim lawyer, where she was told to sign documents that legalized her marriage to Iqbal and declared her a Muslim. Shumaila refused.
“When she didn’t sign the papers, Shumaila was given some fluid in a cup of tea which made her unconscious,” said Masih. “After, the lawyer was able to get her thumb imprints on the marriage and conversion documents. There was a group of around 30 people in the lawyer’s office who supported Iqbal’s ‘noble’ cause to convert Shumaila.”
Shumaila was admitted to a madrassa by her Muslim ‘in-laws’ to study the Quran and learn Islamic prayers. “Everything was supervised by the family,” explained Masih. For days Shumaila was “sexually abused, harassed and forced to study the Koran and the precepts of Islam,” Asia News reported.
Shumaila eventually managed to escape the madrassa and return to her family on October 5. Iqbal reported Shumaila’s disappearance to the local police station immediately after her flight, claiming that her family had “kidnapped” her and that she had chosen to convert to Islam “of her own free will.”
Mansha Masih, Shumaila’s father, now risks imprisonment for his daughter’s abduction. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) has vowed to defend Shumaila and her father in court, but Pakistan’s judiciary often favors Muslims; there is grave concern that Shumaila will be returned to her kidnapper.
“We do our best to provide aid and assistance to victims like Shumaila,” Father Nisar Barkat, the diocesan director of NCJP in Faisalabad, told Asia News. “But, we [must] be careful of the manipulation of religion in the name of justice.”
Shumaila is only one among hundreds of Christian women and girls in Pakistan that have been abducted, forced to convert to Islam, and forced into marriage over the past several years. In another case, Rebecca Masih, a 22-year-old Christian nurse, was abducted on her way to work before being forcibly converted to Islam and married to a Muslim man on October 2, the Pakistan Christian Post reports. Kidnappings are often accompanied by acts of violence, including rape, beatings, and other forms of physical and mental abuse. Like Shumaila and Rebecca, Christian girls are given few legal rights if they are fortunate enough to escape. More often than not, however, their families never see them again.
“[I want to] live with my parents and practice the Christian faith,” Shumaila told Asia News. “I refused [to marry Iqbal] several times. And for that he ruined my life.”