Cultural conflict

Pakistani girl at center of bitter fight after she converted to Islam

In this photograph taken on October 31, 2015, Kalash students attend a class at a school in the Brun village of Bumboret valley. Marriage, for the Kalash, is not forever: lovers need only to dance together then run away to be "married." (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

Tensions have erupted in Pakistan following the conversion of a 15-year-old Kalash girl to Islam at a local seminary in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The Kalash, a small community known for colorful gowns and for practicing their own religion, had lived peacefully alongside their Muslim neighbors for centuries. But matters have been complicated by a 15-year-old Kalash girl named Rina who traveled one day to the local Islamic seminary professing a desire to convert. The local cleric swiftly obliged her, and, when Rina’s family arrived the following morning, the Muslim inhabitants of the area refused to hand the girl over to her parents. Rina, they argued, would now and forever be a Muslim. Fighting broke out, swiftly escalating into a melee that involved hundreds of villagers and required armed police to break up.

In an interview last week, Kamal Uddin, a Kalash tribesman, said that Rina “is now willing to go back to her family … but the Muslim community doesn’t allow her.” As fighting continued, local authorities brought Rina before a judge who ruled that the girl was an official convert to Islam. In order to return to the Kalash, Rina would have to renounce Islam — a problematic issue in rural Pakistan. “The Muslims living in the area said nobody is allowed to go back to his or her old religion after embracing Islam,” explained Asif Iqbal, the local police chief. “According to the Muslim faith, if someone tries to apostate, he or she could be killed.” According to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Pakistanis believe leaving Islam should be punishable by death.

Shamsher Khan, a Kalash tribesman, says that the tribe has no desire for trouble and will accept the decision so long as it was truly Rina’s own. As for Rina, reporters from the Washington Post have suggested that she is likely to be married off to a local Muslim boy or man.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

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