By John Hayward
A court in Pakistan ruled in August that 14-year-old Christian girl Maira Shahbaz voluntarily converted to Islam and is legally married to an older Muslim man named Mohamad Nakash, even though Maira and her family say Nakash kidnapped her at gunpoint with two accomplices during the coronavirus lockdown in April 2020.
If the ruling stands, Maira will be forced to return from the shelter where she is staying to the home where she was held hostage.
Witnesses say Maira was walking home on April 28 in the town of Madina when Nakash and two accomplices forced her into a car, fired several gunshots into the air, and sped away.
When her family reported the kidnapping, Nakash produced a “marriage certificate” that listed the girl’s age as 19, even though her family has a birth certificate proving she is only 14. The certificate listed the date of the marriage as last October, six months before Nakash abducted Maira. The Muslim cleric who ostensibly signed the birth certificate denied any involvement in the “marriage” when questioned.
In July, the Shahbaz family prevailed upon the top cleric of a local mosque to issue a fatwa (religious edict) that Nakash’s marriage certificate was invalid. Human rights activists supported the family by pointing out that not only was the imam’s signature on the document fraudulent, but Nakash was already married to another woman not mentioned on the document.
Polygamy is legal but regulated in Pakistan, and one of the regulations is that existing wives must give written approval for additional marriages.
Marriage to girls under the age of 16 is technically illegal, but activists complain the Child Marriage Restraint Act is not vigorously enforced and often set aside in favor of Islamic sharia, which allows girls to be married off once they experience their first menstrual cycle. The United Nations rates Pakistan as one of the worst countries in the world for child brides, with some 3 percent of girls wedded before the age of 15.
Pakistan has a law against forced religious conversion that stipulates a minimum age of 18 for changing religions without parental consent. This law also encounters resistance from Islamists who cite sharia and Muslim historical precedents for young children converting to Islam….
The Shahbaz family has reportedly had little contact with Maira since she was kidnapped. According to Sandhu, Maira’s mother Nighat Shahbaz collapsed and was treated to [sic] a heart attack when seeing her for the first time since her abduction at a May court hearing. Nighat Shahbaz refused to speak with reporters after the Lahore High Court ruling.
“Around 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are abducted each year in Pakistan and typically forced to convert to Islam,” the UK Telegraph repored, quoting the Movement for Solidarity and Peace. Christians make up about two percent of Pakistan’s population.
Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu, who represented Maira in court, told ACN: “It is unbelievable. What we have seen today is an Islamic judgment. The arguments we put forward were very strong and cogent.” In the courtroom, Mr Tahir Sandhu detailed 11 arguments in support of his client, chief of which involves an official birth certificate showing Maira was only 13 last October, the month of her alleged marriage to Mr Nakash.