Every year, hundreds of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, according to a new study. They are not just victimized by the men but by “deep-seeded Muslim and male supremacism,” in the words of a 2012 study about similar atrocities in Egypt.
The Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan released a new study this month warning about the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan, especially Christian women. There are no firm numbers, as estimates of the number of incidents involving Christian girls has been said to be as low as 100 annually or as high as 700. It is estimated that about 300 Hindu girls are kidnapped and forced to convert every year.
The organization believes that these numbers are just a fraction of the reality. The study says the “intensity and scale of conversion are far greater than as reported by the media” and most cases go unreported or undocumented by the Pakistani government. The president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, Nazir Bhatti, says very few rapes of Christian women are reported.
The study gives details on 10 cases that show a pattern. The Christian females, including prepubescent girls, are kidnapped. They are then registered as part of a married Muslim couple. When the girl’s relatives file a complaint, the victim’s new “husband” says the conversion was voluntary and the family is harassing them. The girl remains with her kidnapper as legal proceedings begin, eliminating any chance of her testifying against him.
On April 27, the president of the Pakistan Christian Congress condemned the Chief Minister of Punjab for his silence about the raping of an 8-year old Christian girl in the district of Sialkot by three Muslims on Easter. After the incident was talked about in the media, the three rapists were arrested. One was released. The girl’s father was then kidnapped and told to not press charges against the other two. She is reported to be in intensive care.
Christian Freedom International tells the story of a 12-year old Christian girl who was kidnapped by the uncle of her friend.
The organization says she was beaten until she signed papers stating she had converted to Islam and married him. She was reported missing by her father, but the police never conducted an investigation because Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group backed by the Pakistani government, gave the police documentation showing she was married to one of its members.
She escaped after eight months, but the organization says the Pakistani authorities warned her family that they could be prosecuted because the girl was legally married to her kidnapper. The family is now in hiding.
Christians as a whole face persecution in Pakistan. Terrorists like the Taliban deliberately target them and their churches. Non-violent Islamists use the legal system, specifically the blasphemy laws that prohibit defamation of religion.
This makes it very difficult for Christians to compare and contrast their faith with Islam or to even practice it to begin with because Islamists consider Christians’ references to the “Son of God” as blasphemous.
The Islamists politicize scriptures in the Quran like Sura 5, verse 72 that says, “They do blaspheme who say: “(Allah) is Christ the son of Mary.” Christians are therefore persecuted when this is treated as a code for governance and “blasphemy” is made illegal. In addition, even a false accusation of blasphemy towards a non-Muslim can result in violence from radicals or discrimination in the legal process.
Earlier this month, a Pakistani Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, were sentenced to death after an imam accused them of blasphemy last July. They allegedly sent a text message to the imam that defamed Islam. Luckily, reporters doubt they’ll actually be killed because there is a “de facto moratorium” on executions.
Last month, a Christian named Sawah Masih in Lahore was sentenced to death. Last year, he was accused by a Muslim of committing blasphemy. He says the Muslim made the accusation due to an argument related to property. About 3,000 Muslims took the enforcement of sharia into their own hands and rioted, setting fire to approximately 100 homes belonging to Christians. Dozens of bibles were destroyed and two churches were damaged.
Christians also suffer from the non-violent effects of societal discrimination. After a terrorist bombing killed about 22 people near Islamabad, the government destroyed a slum where terrorists had taken harbor. The area was also used by poor Christians who are unable to get adequate employment. The fact that Christians had to settle in a haven for terrorists—the people that are most likely to kill them—is a testament to their desperation.
“As Pakistan becomes more and more religiously intolerant, opportunities for Christians and other religious minorities continue to dry up. This grinding cycle of discrimination and poverty has left many Pakistani Christians seeking to exit Pakistan altogether,” says International Christian Concern.
The Pakistan Christian Congress has also expressed frustrations at inconsistent “moderate” Muslims who appear progressive by defending Christians in some circumstances, only to support the blasphemy laws overall and the imprisonment of violators.
On April 16, the organization expressed its disappointment with a Muslim cleric that previously helped protect a mentally-disabled Christian girl that was falsely accused of blasphemy. However, his attitude was different when asked to support the release of all Christians who are in prison on blasphemy charges. He said, “We cannot release blasphemers.”
Thankfully, there are Muslims in Pakistan who are standing against violence towards Christians. For examples, dozens of members of “Pakistan for All” created human shields around churches during services to dissuade terrorists from attacking them. Their chant was, “One nation, one blood.”
This is inspiring, but even these brave actions are not getting at the root cause. The violent Islamists that bomb churches and the non-violent Islamists that use the justice system both believe they are acting in obedience to sharia.
Condemnations of attacks on Christians must be coupled with condemnations of the blasphemy laws. That requires an ideological confrontation with the Islamists who cite a long history of sharia doctrine and label critics as apostates.
Until such a reformation in Islamic doctrine happens, Christians in Muslim lands will suffer.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.