09/18/2019 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – Among the many issues faced by Pakistan’s Christian community, the issue of forced conversions to Islam is one of the toughest. According to a study done by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan in 2014, as many as 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and women, some as young as 12, are kidnapped, raped, and forcefully converted to Islam every year.
“Young Christian girls are often soft targets for religious extremists in Pakistan for sexual assault or conversions to Islam without their consent,” Ayub Qaiser, a Christian community leader in Pakistan told International Christian Concern (ICC). “However, the court’s recent judgment is considered a wave of hope for this vulnerable community.”
On August 2, the Lahore High Court returned a Christian girl who had been forcefully converted to Islam to her parents. According to the Christian family, Muskan, age 14, was taken from them after being forcefully converted to Islam by her Muslim employer.
“The Muslim family hired Muskan to work as a domestic worker,” Nasira Bibi, Muskan’s mother, told ICC. “They forcibly converted her to Islam and did not allow us to meet her.”
According to the court, Muskan’s conversion was voided because of her age and status as a minor. In reaching this decision, the court said, “the conversion of religion of a juvenile had no value as per the law of the country.” Justice Tariq Saleem, a member of the Lahore High Court, went on to say to the media, “A juvenile should follow her parents’ religion until she reaches puberty.”
While this may seem like a small victory, Pakistani Christians are hailing the decision as a precedent that can help them protect their community.
“I witnessed a change of mind within the judiciary,” Qaiser told ICC in reaction to the decision to return Muskan to her family.
“The judgement can serve as precedence for deciding other cases of similar nature and will be a big sigh of relief for the Christian girls and their families,” Tanveer Jahan, a human rights defender in Lahore, explained to ICC.
While forced conversions to Islam will likely continue to be an issue for Pakistani Christians, the court’s decision in Muskan’s case has provided some hope. Perhaps it will at least bring down the annual number of Christian families whose lives are destroyed when one of their children are kidnapped and forcefully converted to Islam.
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