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Kalash girl says she converted to Islam of her own volition

Kalash girl says she converted to Islam of her own volition

PESHAWAR: The dispute over conversion to Islam of a Kalash girl was resolved on Friday when 14-year-old Reena recorded her statement before a judicial magistrate, saying she had converted out of her free will, according to a government official.

On Thursday, the girl’s decision to embrace Islam sparked a clash between the Kalash tribe and members of the Muslim community in Chitral’s Bamburate Valley, forcing police to use teargas to disperse the mobs. The clash erupted after the girl was reported to have gone back on her conversion and the Muslim community accused the Kalash tribe of forcing her to do so.

Deputy Commissioner Usama Waraich visited the valley on Friday and convened a jirga of elders from both sides, according to a report.

Mr Waraich told DawnNews that both sides had agreed that the girl’s statement would be treated as final and they would accept her decision. The administration brought the girl to Chitral town from her village on Friday and presented her before a judicial magistrate.

The girl recorded her statement before a magistrate, saying that she had not been forced to convert to Islam, said the deputy commissioner.

He said the girl’s family and the Kalash community had accepted her statement. “It is now up to the girl to decide whether she lives with her Kalash family or the Muslim community.”

A villager earlier told Dawn by phone from Chitral that the girl had embraced Islam on Wednesday “under the guidance” of a local Muslim, left her home and decided to stay with the man’s family in the same village.

But Luke Rehmat, a Kalash activist, said the girl, a student of class IX, had a change of heart on Thursday, saying that she had made a mistake in converting to Islam and returned to her home. Following this, he told Dawn, a group of villagers started marching on the Kalash quarter of Bamburate village. They alleged that the girl’s relatives had forcibly taken her away from the Muslim home and compelled her to go back on her conversion.

The activist also claimed that the villagers attacked a Kalash house with stones and sticks.

The Kalash community elders and the girl’s family were of the view that the teenager was lured and forced to change her religion.

About 3,000 Kalash live in Bamburate, Birir and Rambur Valleys — all in southern Chitral. Their youth have been converting to Islam in large numbers of late, prompting activists to launch a campaign for preserving traditions of the ancient, diminishing tribe.

Chitral, a northern district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has long attracted tourists for its pristine beauty.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2016

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