A school principal in Pakistan is accused of abducting a Christian student and taking her to an Islamic madrasa to forcibly convert her to Islam.
The Press Trust of India reports that the girl's father, Mukhtar Masih, filed a complaint at a local police station in the Punjab province after his daughter, 15-year-old Faiza, did not come home from school last Wednesday.
Masih said the family contacted the school to ask where their daughter was. It was then that the class teacher told them that the school's Principal, Saleema Bibi, had taken Faiza to a nearby Islamic madrasa to be converted to Islam.
The father says he went to three Islamic seminaries before finding his daughter. However, the staff at the madrasa did not allow Faiza to return with her family.
After Masih filed a complaint, the police raided the madrasa and rescued Faiza. The girl was then taken to a shelter in Sheikhupura. The news agency reports that the family is now appealing for authorities to allow Faiza to return home.
“We took action and recovered the girl on Mukhtar Masih’s complaint but a [first information report] has not been registered against anyone yet,” police official Muhammad Nawaz told PTI.
“However, we are investigating the matter.”
Faiza was said to have informed her parents that she was told by a teacher that she’d “automatically become a Muslim” because she read Arabic in school.
“The principal had also offered us to convert to Islam and in return, she would compensate us by paying for our needs but we refused,” Masih was quoted as saying.
According to journalist Nail Inayat, Faiza is the third reported case of forced religious conversion in Pakistan in just one week.
“Renuka Kumari, Jagjit Kaur and Faiza Mukhtar. Hindu, Sikh and Christian girls are not 'pure' enough for the land of the pure?” Inayat asked in a Twitter thread.
“The teacher who taught Arabic to the girl in the gov't school told her you can't go back home now as you're a Muslim.”
Faiza’s alleged forced conversion follows reports that a young Hindu woman in the Sindh province was abducted from the Institute of Business Administration in Sukkur and forcibly converted to Islam.
In late August, a Shikh family alleged that their daughter had been abducted and forced to convert to Islam. However, the girl has claimed publicly that she converted to Islam and married her captor on her own free will.
Unlawful marriages are punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to the Pakistani penal code. Yet the frequent abductions of Christian and Hindu girls by Muslim men continues to be a problem.
A 2014 estimate from the nongovernmental organization Movement of Solidarity and Peace suggests that as many as 1,000 Hindu, Christian and other religious minority girls are abducted, raped or forced into Islamic marriages each year.
According to the United Kingdom-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, authorities in Pakistan often side with perpetrators of abductions while courts do not give clear judgments because of pressure from radical religious leaders.
CLAAS voiced an alarm this summer about the abduction of 14-year-old Christian Benish Imran, who was also forced into an Islamic marriage.
Pakistan ranks as the fifth-worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List. The U.S. State Department has also listed Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for its religious freedom violations.