PAKISTAN: Grand Mufti’s Fatwa of hope

With archive image of Maira Shahbaz © Aid to the Church in Need
With archive image of Maira Shahbaz © Aid to the Church in Need

A Christian family in Pakistan fighting for the return of a 14-year-old girl reportedly abducted from her home have had their hopes raised after the Grand Mufti of a local mosque issued a fatwa.

Muhammad Asad Ali Rizvi Efi issued the Islamic ruling on behalf of the Sunni Rizvi Jammah Mosque, Jhung Bazar, Faisalabad, condemning as false (batil) a marriage certificate produced in court by Mohamad Nakash, who claims he is legally wedded to the abducted girl, Maira Shahbaz.

Faisalabad Magistrates’ Court had decided in Mr Nakash’s favour back in May but Maira’s family hope the Grand Mufti’s intervention will be crucial in an appeal hearing to be held at Lahore High Court.

Speaking from her home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad, Maira’s mother, Nighat Shahbaz, told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for persecuted Christians, that she was longing for her daughter’s return.

Mrs Shahbaz, who was rushed to hospital following a heart attack at May’s Faisalabad court hearing, said: “Every night at two in the morning, I wake and pray to the Lord that he will answer my prayers for Maira to be returned to us.

“Nobody has the right to take a child from her family without the mother’s permission. She has had her childhood, her youth and everything she knows taken away from her.”

Lala Robin Daniel, family friend and Faisalabad-based human rights activist, who is campaigning for Maira’s return, said: “In terms of how the marriage is viewed within the Muslim community, the Grand Mufti’s intervention is significant.”

Mr Daniel said: “The marriage certificate that Mr Nakash produced is undoubtedly fake.

“The signature from the imam solemnising the marriage is false, no mention is made of Mr Nakash’s pre-existing marriage, there is no consent from the woman he is already married to – everything about it reveals it to be a fraud.”

Mr Daniel said that, although police had made progress in tracing Mr Nakash, his precise whereabouts remained unknown and it is thought that he is in hiding.

Two Christian men stated they saw Mr Nakash and two accomplices, wielding firearms, kidnap Maira on the afternoon of 28th April 2020 – during coronavirus lockdown.

When the case was heard at Faisalabad Magistrates’ Court, Mr Nakash claimed he had married Maira last October when the family state she was still only 13.

Mr Nakash claims Maira is 19 but the family have produced a birth certificate and official Church and school documents to prove she was born in 2005.

Family lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu has lodged a petition for the case to be heard on appeal at Lahore High Court but, with most justices on recess until September, a date has yet to be set.