After a devastating ordeal of being kidnapped on her way to work on June 3, 2020, Mahwish, a 22-year-old Pakistani Christian girl of Youhanabad No 2 finally reunited with her family.
In an interview with Pak Christian News (PCN), Mahwish painfully recalled the morning that scarred her life. On her way to the factory where she worked, a group of Muslim men forced her to come with them at gunpoint. She clawed her way out of the steel grasps of her abductors, but their vicious words rendered her helpless. ‘If you know what’s best for you and your family, you’d stop fighting.’
The words weren’t hollow threats to Mahwish. Just weeks past, what should have been a wonderful celebration of her engagement turned into a nightmare. Her brother was implicated in a crime he didn’t commit, only to be bailed out by the same people who wanted him jailed. At that moment, the seemingly soulless creatures showed how deep their fangs could dig into her skin yet get away with it. As the past horror started to rekindle her fear, her strength consequently lost its grip as she let the strangers drag her.
She tried to hold on to her faith, her prayers merely whispers, but it appeared that no one heard them.
Shahbaz, a name she soon learned, brought her to an unfamiliar place where a familiar face waited – Shahzad Khurram. Mahwish started to piece the puzzle together. Khurram was the man behind her captors’ action. In his twisted mind, he wanted her to become his after she refused to marry him despite his numerous attempts to win her heart.
With the fear for her and her family’s well-being making her numb, she allowed her captors to bring her to court. Torrents of tears clouded her vision as she looked at the legal document presented before her.
‘Keep your mouth shut or you won’t see your family alive again’ screamed at her mind, an impending doom that Khurram kept repeating over and over on their way to the court. She couldn’t control the trembling of her fingers as she was coerced to imprint her thumb on what appeared to be her death sentence. She found a hint of courage to ask what she was agreeing to even if she already knew the answer in her core. It sliced her into million pieces when Khurram verbalized her nightmare – she was signing her life to this despicable man. The document was a consent for marriage and conversion to Islam of her free will.
Every iota of her being refused to cooperate but Khurram already found a way to topple her defenses. He reminded her, in a hiss that would shy a conniving snake, what could happen if she didn’t sign the document. The picture he painted of what could happen to her family depicted a scenario that no one would even dare imagine experiencing. She was shoved into a corner of a dimmed room with no door or window. Holding on to the last remnant of her faith, she signed the document as her heart cried, ‘My Lord, let Your will be done.’
The court witnessed her robotic agreement to convert into Islam, and that she agreed to the marriage with the man she never wanted to spend the rest of her life with. As the nightmare unfolded before her eyes, she recalled the stories of other Christian girls. She once never understood what drove them to agree to such marriages and conversion – until the same fate befell her. She realized that perhaps, like her, they went through the motion to save their families as well.
After the ceremony, Khurram brought her to his hometown Khanewal Chak 42. She was forced to train for Islamic ways the next day, but she pleaded against reading the Quran and performing the Islamic rituals. When she stressed that she already signed the document which got him what he wanted and the least he could do was allow her to say her Christian prayers, her request infuriated him. What came next were relentless physical and mental abuse accompanied by constant threats when she continued to defy him. Amidst her battle, prayers became her armor whenever she found the time to be alone, never losing sight of how to escape her hell – until her solemn prayer was finally heard.
Her family was waiting for her at the Lahore bus stop when she arrived, having called them the first opportunity that she got. Fear never left her as she anticipated what Khurram would do once he realized she had escaped. She dreaded the extremes he would go through to snare her back into his lair of despair and lost hope, and her fear wasn’t unwarranted. Her brother and sister soon lost their jobs at the town’s factory, and with Khurram’s devastatingly powerful influence, she knew that their ordeal just started. However, she decided not to hide behind her fear and pain anymore.
Mahwish reached out to Christian True Spirit (CTS), retelling her sad plight despite the fresh wounds. When asked what learning she wished to impart to other Christian girls, she encouraged them to be strong and wise. Should they experience being coerced into converting to Islam or marriage in their workplace, they should stand by their faith and belief in a manner that doesn’t defy values. If the harassment ensues, they should escalate the situation to their work superiors and family members. What Mahwish experienced affected not just her but her family. Keeping them in the dark may be tantamount to exposing them to a battle blindfolded.
In her statement to PCN, Mahwish stressed that her conversion to Islam and marriage to Khurram never was her free will. Everything happened in the blink of an eye to protect her family against her abductor’s powerful yet destructive influence. She professed that she was, and always will be, a Christian with the Lord as her only savior.
She said that she would eternally be grateful to CTS for their support and having her back throughout her healing process. CTS provided her with free legal aid as she filed for divorce and petitioned for the reversal of her conversion to Islam. While the stigma of her abduction might haunt her for a long time, Mahwish hoped that everything would eventually be just painful memories. She would always regret that she didn’t find the courage to share her fears with her family when her engagement turned into a nightmare which led to things getting worse. However, she wished that her misfortune would save other Christian girls from experiencing the same.