‘Maria was on her way to work at the factory when three armed men blocked her path. They pointed their guns at Maria and forced her into a car.
Three days later, Maria’s parents saw their daughter in court. And Maria shared four words that would change all of their lives.
She looked at the judge and said: “I have converted to Islam.”
Then, Maria left with the same three men that kidnapped her. One of the men had chosen Maria to be his second wife.
Maria comes from a Christian family, and there was nothing her parents could do. These Muslim men abducted their daughter and forced her to convert to Islam—and into marriage.
In certain regions, Muslim extremists have create an environment where rapists and kidnappers target women and girls. Often, like Maria, they’re then forced into marriages. The pandemic has made Christian women in these countries even more vulnerable to this unimaginable form of persecution.
A dangerous trend
Hana*, an Open Doors partner who works in a majority Muslim country in Asia, offered help to the family. “At the moment, there’s not much we can do,” Hana says. “We can raise prayer. There are no legal options because Maria has declared under oath that she has converted to Islam and is happy to be married to this Muslim man. The parents could appeal the judge’s decision, but they won’t.”
A pause. “They have been silenced.”
Hana explains that the Christian family received such harsh threats that they had to move to another region. Cases like these aren’t new to Hana and other Open Doors partners.
“Nowadays, there are at least two cases of disappearing Christian women and girls each day,” Hana shares.
Maria’s story is not only a common one for Christian women in her country—it is typical of a pattern of religious persecution across many of the 50 World Watch List countries. Both “forced marriage” and “sexual violence” tie as the top global trend in how Christian women are targeted for their faith, according to Open Doors’ 2020 Gender-specific Religious Persecution Report.
But can anything be done to stop this dangerous trend? According to Hana, the problem is so big that most girls don’t want to grapple with it.
“They deny that it can happen to them,” Hana says. “They tell themselves stories. ‘She was kidnapped because she made a mistake.’ Or, ‘She married that Muslim because she let him seduce her. That won’t happen to me.’ When we try to educate them, they don’t want to believe that the people they trust can turn on them.”
Protecting young women
Still, Hana and her team invest time and energy in warning Christian girls and telling them what to do if they are ever threatened or taken.
“If you are in a Christian area, scream for help,” Hana shares. “Get to a safe place as soon as possible. We even teach them some light forms of self-defense, for example, how to free your arm. Or we suggest using a time-tactic. Tell the aggressor you value and honor them and would like to meet them again tomorrow at the same time. There are other things you can do or say to delay. But you have to use the time to get to safety. But even before that, we tell the ladies not to become too close to these men. We explain how they can maintain relationships and even evangelize while keeping some distance. Never compromise your security, is what we teach them.”
The coronavirus pandemic makes the women even more vulnerable. “There are fewer people on the street, which means less protection. The number of disappearing girls and women remains very high,” Hana says.
Answer to prayer
Just before the publication of this story, we received news that Maria managed to escape. Someone helped her. Now she and her entire family are in hiding. Maria said she never actually converted to Islam on her own will but was forced to because of her kidnappers’ threats.
“Maria and her family are being cared for by other Christian families who are protecting their identity and location,” Hana shares. “We must be cautious about her safety and that of her family. We must pray for them. Your prayers give Maria, and others like her, the courage to stand up to an impossible system.”
Hana asks everyone who reads her words to pray wholeheartedly for Christian women. “Most kidnapped girls never truly convert to Islam. They say the words and outwardly perform all the Muslim duties, but Jesus still lives in their heart. They don’t have access to God’s Word. But they can pray.”
Please pray with Maria—and all the young girls who’ve been forced into Muslim marriages—and ask God to help them heal and to feel His comfort and peace.
*Names and photos are changed to ensure security
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