Despite the darkness, the parents recognized one of the men as Maqsood Ahmed, 40, a Muslim moneylender and the father of one of Naira's classmates. The parents and 15 other Christians from their neighborhood in Miriam-a-bad (Sheikhupura district, near Lahore) rushed to Ahmed's house in a neighboring village. It was locked and empty.
Clemence Masih returned to that village the next day. "[Ahmed] has your daughter, but she is converted to Islam," Ahmed's relatives told him. "Now we cannot help you."
They added, "Your girl is no longer a virgin."
Heartsick, the parents went to a police station, but authorities refused to take any action. Within three days, the parents received a certificate in the mail claiming that Naira, who had actively talked about Jesus and the Bible with fellow students at her Catholic school, had converted to Islam.
"We want to give this message, that in Pakistan these incidents are happening with Christians due to their faith," the parents said in an e-mail interview. "So if the Christians around the world will feel the same pain [that] the Pakistani Christians have, then the sorrows of Christians can be shared. We also wish [for] no other daughter or Christian sister [to] be targeted like our daughter."
A 1985 Pakistani law called the "Marriage Act," passed under the military dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq, says that if a non-Muslim woman converts to Islam, her previous marriage is null and void.
Radical Muslims, a minority in this 97 percent Muslim country of 143 million people, see this law as an invitation to kidnap, rape, and bully Christian women and girls into converting to Islam, then forcing them to marry their Muslim captors. Radicals then declare that parents and husbands lose all claims on the abducted women and girls. Through indifference, agreement, or fear, most local police simply go along.
"Police apathy is not unique," the Pakistan Embassy's press officer, Asad Hayuaddin, told Christianity Today. "It is a phenomenon that we have had to deal with."
When local law enforcement refused to help the parents, they brought their case to the police in Lahore, a city of 6 million. The Lahore hierarchy ordered the local officers to register the case, which they did on February 15. Clemence Masih immediately hired a lawyer and filed a petition against the assailants. An American organization, International Christian Concern (icc), is offering to help the parents recover Naira from her captors.
The parents have recently received a marriage certificate in the mail from the captors. Naira's thumbprint is on it. Her parents believe this means that Naira, who is literate, is refusing to cooperate with her captors.
After three hearings, local officials agreed that the alleged conversion and marriage certificates are fakes. They have ordered the police to recover the girl and to arrest Ahmed.
Steve Snyder, ICC's president, urges Christians to "protest the continued rape of Christian women and the flawed justice system that allows the culprits to go free."
"I can't stress this enough," Snyder said. "American Christians need to act on Naira's behalf by writing respectful letters to their congressmen and to the Pakistan Embassy."
The parents have received death threats for filing charges and continuing their search for Naira.
The Ahmed family has filed a lawsuit against the parents, saying they are disturbing Maqsood Ahmed.
This incident is not the first time that extremists in Pakistan have tried to intimidate Christians attempting to exercise their rights.
Last year Muslim extremists promised physical harm to a pastor who supported eight Christian girls raped last May by four Muslim coworkers.
After the girls and their families pressed charges, the assailants' families threatened the girls, who went into hiding. That case, meanwhile, drags on from hearing to hearing.
"We are very upset and in great shock," the parents told Christianity Today. "We love our daughter a lot and we want her back by all means. But we are spiritually satisfied that our daughter is accused for Christ, our Savior. Only this encourages us in our grief."
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
See today's related story, "Christian Principal Accused of Blasphemy," and our sample letter of concern to Pakistan's embassy in Washington, D.C.
Previous Christianity Today articles about Pakistan include:
Christians Cleared of Blasphemy | But more than 50 Pakistani Christians have been victimized on trumped-up charges since 1987. (Mar. 26, 2001)
U.S. Religious Freedom Commission Criticized | Indian churches reject U.S. inquiry, but Pakistani Christians welcome it. (Oct. 3, 2000)
Pakistan's Christians Demand End to 'Religious Apartheid' at Polls | Election system allows religious minorities to vote only for candidates of their own faith. (Sept. 19, 2000)
Rapes of Christians Put Pakistani Justice on Trial | "Religious apartheid is coming," says human rights leader. (Sept. 12, 2000)
Military Leader Backpeddles on Human Rights Decision (June 12, 2000)
Two Pakistani Christians Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison | Musharraf retracts new blasphemy law policy in wake of protests. (May 23, 2000)
Blasphemy Case Registered Against Young Pakistani Husband | First test of military government's new judicial curb (May 11, 2000)
Churches Welcome Pakistan Promise to Ease Restrictions on Minority Faiths | October coup turns out to be beneficial to Christians as blasphemy laws are overhauled. (May 4, 2000)
Pakistan's Christians 'Not Shocked' by Life Sentence for Former PM | Life has improved, persecution has eased under new leader, say church leaders. (Jan. 15, 2000)
Pakistan's Despised Christians | Despite a Catholic bishop's protest suicide in 1998, Christians hold little hope for repeal of blasphemy law. (April 26, 1999)
Islamic Law Proposal Raises Tensions (Dec. 7, 1998)
Pakistani Bishop's Death Sparks Riots (June 15, 1998)
Muslims Destroy Christian Village | Rumors of a damaged copy of the Qur'an incite riot. (April 7, 1997)
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