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Compass – For Ishaya Kpotun Shaba of Niger state in north-central Nigeria , the past four years have been a jumble of tears and pain. He has not set his eyes on his daughter, Saratu, since she was abducted in December 2001 at age 19 by extremists bent on converting and marrying her to a Muslim.

When Shaba reported the kidnapping to the Maikunkele town police, officials showed no interest in rescuing his daughter. Instead, to Shaba ’s shock and disbelief, he was summoned to appear before an Islamic court in Minna on January 9, 2002. The Upper Area Court judge informed him in the summons that his daughter had requested that he allow her to “embrace the religion of her choice.”

Shaba showed up at court but never saw his daughter. Instead, the judge called him into his chambers and told him that his daughter was now a Muslim, and that therefore he was summoned to an Islamic court.

“I protested this and told him that I was a Christian and should not have been summoned to appear before the Islamic court,” Shaba told Compass. He demanded that the court release his daughter – “wherever she may be” – but the judge refused.

Later, he heard that his daughter was forced to marry a Muslim man in Minna, the state capital.

“Isa Gwamna, a friend of mine who works with the Niger state government, told me that the marriage was conducted on the orders of the Islamic court,” Shaba said. “He witnessed the marriage, which was held in one of the government’s offices.”

Gwamna told Shaba that his daughter cried throughout the marriage ceremony, refusing to recite the Quranic passages she was asked to read; she also refused to declare a dowry amount.

“This clearly shows that not only was our daughter forcefully abducted, kept in seclusion, and forced into marrying a man she does not love, but also she was forced to marry a man who is not of her religion,” Shaba said. “My friend said that when my daughter refused to say how much should be paid as her dowry, she was forced to receive 5,000 naira [$381].”

Four years later, neither the court nor the police have advised Shaba of her whereabouts; they no longer know where she is, he said.

So far this year, nine cases of forceful conversions of Christian girls below the age of 14 were reported to the office of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), according to the Rev. Samuel Ayuba Shaba , CAN state secretary. Many other cases go unreported.

For many years, Rev. Shaba said, the palace of the Muslim leader of Bida town, the Etsu Nupe, has been used as a base for hiding abducted Christian girls. Once there, they are forcefully converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men.

In Niger state, where Christians slightly outnumber Muslims, such a tactic is just one means extremists use in a quest for a dominant Islamic population, according to experts on religious movements. Increasingly, the extremists also target Christian widows as part of this effort.

Sharia (Islamic law) was implemented in Niger state in 2001. A first-time visitor to Minna does not need to be told that Islam now dominates the city. In every street, signposts bearing Quranic inscriptions have been planted in intervals of 100 meters. “Allahu-Akbar” (God is great) reads one of the signposts; “La’illa a-illala Muhammad rasu lillah” (There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger) reads another.

For the Christians who make up just over 50 percent of the 2.4 million population, life is full of seemingly unending cruelties. Besides forced marriages, Rev. Shaba and attorney Bob James say Islamic officials in the state deny Christians basic rights by imposing sharia, forcing conversions, seizing property, and discriminating against Christians in the public sector.

Rev. Shaba, 49, pastor of Harvesters for Christ Ministries in Minna, said sharia has made persecution a lifestyle. It is no longer news to hear of arbitrary arraignment of Christians in Niger state.

“Initially we were told that sharia was meant to serve only Muslims,” Rev. Shabas said, “but we are now living witnesses to the fact that it was meant to harass Christians and to combat Christianity.”

Muslim leaders in the state are deliberately trying to eliminate Christianity, he said. “It is a systematic and deliberate approach to oppress, deny, and frustrate Christianity.”…[Go To Full Story]