Christian teenager, Romina*, was groomed, kidnapped and held against her will by an Islamic leader intent on converting her to Islam. Now Romina and her family face the shame and stigma their society attaches to her kidnapping.
When Romina was young she went to church with her family. But when she reached high school her family decided she should stop going. “When there was a church service, there would always be groups of Muslim boys in the neighbourhood waiting for us girls,” Romina said. “They made dirty remarks and were trying to hook up. My family didn’t like that and decided I should no longer be exposed to these boys.”
What her family didn’t realise was that living in a Muslim-dominated society had already impacted their family. “Because I was a girl, my brother felt entitled to humiliate me in front of his friends,” Romina said. When she complained about his behaviour Romina felt her mother always took her brother’s side, leaving her hurt and vulnerable.
One night, her brother beat her. Crying, Romina called Ahmed*, her Muslim friend – the only person who was willing to listen. “Wait there,” he said. “I’m picking you up. You shouldn’t go back inside that house.”
TRICKED AND KIDNAPPED
Looking back, Romina sees how Ahmed had been grooming her carefully. But she had fallen in love with him. When he suggested she run away with him, she said yes wholeheartedly.
Rather than running away together, Ahmed took Romina to his family house where they were immediately separated. Romina was sent to Ahmed’s uncle, a fundamentalist Islamic Sheik (both a religious and a tribal leader) who was a specialist in converting Christian girls to Islam.
The uncle confiscated Romina’s phone, gave her a headscarf to wear and locked her in the house. Romina was held captive for six weeks under constant pressure to convert to Islam. “I now see that they tried to brainwash me. When I talked back to them, they would make my life horrible; when I showed interest, they were nice and friendly,” Romina said.
Police officers eventually rescued Romina. Her relatives, Khalil* and his wife – both committed Christians – took her home. By doing this, Romina’s father and brother didn’t have to bear the public shame of taking in their daughter who’d run away with a Muslim man.
Staying with Khalil and his family was a turning point for Romina. “He didn’t lock me up, I was free to go. But I didn’t want to, because I experienced real love with them,” she said. “They talked a lot with me, sometimes until deep into the night, about myself, about God, about Islam, about Jesus. They told me time and time again – about the freedom there is in Christ, about not having to feel ashamed.”
Romina was still thinking about converting to Islam, but gradually the loving atmosphere in the house changed her mind. “When it was God’s time, I decided to live for the Lord.” Romina said. “I still can’t find words to describe how grateful I am for what He did for me.”
Romina’s family still haven’t accepted her; most of the time they completely ignore her. But Farid, her new husband, isn’t ashamed, “I have known this girl my entire life. I know she has done nothing wrong. I love her,” he said. In this masculine society, this is an exceptionally open and vulnerable declaration of love.
ONE OF MANY
Romina is just one of many vulnerable Christian girls in the Arab world who are deliberately targeted by Muslim men in an attempt to convert them to Islam.
Often, just as in Romina’s case, a ‘friendly’ Muslim boy plays a key role in what eventually ends up a forced conversion and marriage with a much older Muslim man, usually as his second or third wife.
Romina says that if she had been aware of her identity in Christ at a younger age, she might have been less susceptible to Ahmed’s efforts to lure her away from her family. That’s why Open Doors supports Christians in in the Middle East with Bible studies, fellowship programs and prayer and worship resources which build young Christians’ identity in God.
*Name changed for security reasons.