After a Christian girl was abducted from her house and forcibly converted to Islam by a Pakistani police officer, the entire Christian community is living in fear of the repercussions of the case. Although the girl was miraculously returned to her family by the courts, the story isn’t over.
Officer Munir Ahmed was a frequent visitor to the family home of Sumbal Arif, 14 in Hafizabad, Punjab. Perhaps because Sumbal’s father was no longer alive, he realized Elizabeth Arif (Sumbal’s mother) and her children were vulnerable.
According to the initial reports about the case, one day in December 2016, while Ahmed’s sister-in-law Mariam Bibi was visiting at the Arif’s house, Sumbal had an argument with her sister.
Taking advantage of the situation, Mariam took Sumbal with her to Ahmed’s house. Ahmed, with the help of his wife, then forcibly converted Sumbal to Islam, She was then given the new identity of Fatima Noor.
Elizabeth did everything in her power to get her daughter back. However, whenever she went to the police station, not only Ahmed but the entire staff told her Sumbal had embraced Islam by choice and now could not be allowed to live with a Christian family.
She was told that Ahmed’s wife was now taking care of Sumbal.
One day, while Ahmed was away, Elizabeth went directly to his house and took her daughter back. When Ahmed returned home that evening he found out the girl had been taken by her mother. He was furious.
He went to Sumbal’s house, forcibly taking her and threatening the family with all the consequences of keeping a Muslim girl in their house.
After that, he sent Sumbal to his relatives who lived in a another city.
Elizabeth continued her struggle to get her daughter back, requesting legal help from attorney Tahir Bashir, who lived in the vicinity.
Bashir submitted a petition in Lahore High Court which ordered their bailiff to bring Sumbal to the court. There Sumbal testified she was threatened that if she refused to accept Islam, she as well as her family would be killed.
Therefore, she said she had no choice other than to act according to her captor’s demands.
When asked her if she wanted to continue life with her new faith, she told the court that she never accepted Islam in her heart and wanted to rejoin her mother and family.
At this, the court allowed Sumbal to go with her family despite arguments from the other side that the girl had accepted Islam of her free will and according to Islamic jurisprudence, she could not be handed over to her Christian family.
The judge also ordered a criminal case to be registered against Ahmed and his family for trapping a minor Christian girl against her wishes.
Although Sumbal was miraculously rescued from Officer Ahmed by the courts and returned to her mother, cases like these, common in Pakistan, don’t usually end well.
Sumbal’s family as well as the entire Christian community in the town now live in constant fear that Ahmed could involve the family or another community member in a false case of blasphemy, a routine occurrence used against minorities in Pakistan for settling personal scores.
It is likely Sumbal’s family as well as the entire Christian community will be forced to move, vacating their properties and livelihoods to save their lives.
Regarding conviction and imprisonment of Ahmed, the Arif family finds no hope as it appears that soon the charges against the police officer will be dropped.
In 2016, the Punjab Assembly addressed such cases of forcible conversion of minor. A “Protection of Minorities” proposal was introduced saying if any girl under the age of 18 and belonging to an ethnic minority changes her faith, the conversion will not be recognized as lawful.
The bill was bitterly opposed by Islamists and was drowned in red tape where it remains today.
Get a preview of Clarion Project’s upcoming film, Faithkeepers, about the violent persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. The film features exclusive footage and testimonials of Christians, Baha’i, Yazidis, Jews, and other minority refugees, and a historical context of the persecution in the region.
Kaleem Dean is human rights activist and journalist from Pakistan. He currently lives in the UK. He was the publisher of Christian Monitor in Pakistan, a leading Christian newspaper which covers minority issues. He presently writes for various Pakistani papers. Write to him at Kaleem.Dean@mail.com