Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 15:00 GMT

Pakistan: Societal attitudes toward a foreign Christian woman who is married to a Muslim man

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 29 September 2009
Citation / Document Symbol PAK103266.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Pakistan: Societal attitudes toward a foreign Christian woman who is married to a Muslim man, 29 September 2009, PAK103266.E, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Information on societal attitudes toward a foreign Christian woman who is married to a Muslim man was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. The United States (US) Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report 2008 notes that a Muslim man is permitted to marry a Christian or Jewish woman (Sept. 2008, Sec. 2). However, according to Freedom House, most interfaith marriages in Pakistan are regarded as "illegal" (2009).

Additional information to that found in PAK42422.E of 8 March 2004, which is provided below, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

According to a news report by Nawa-i-Waqt, an Urdu newspaper published out of Rawalpindi, "[t]he Christian community of Pakistan has very good relations with the Muslim majority" (7 Sept. 2000). However, The Seattle Times reported that according to Christian leaders, the Christian community "has been tolerated as long as its members stayed within their community, married among themselves and accepted the most menial jobs such as sweeping streets" (29 Oct. 2001). For additional information on the situation of Christians in Pakistan please refer the to International Religious Freedom Report 2003 by the United States (US) Department of State.

The following information on societal attitudes toward a foreign Christian woman who is married to a Muslim man, in Pakistan, was provided to the Research Directorate, in correspondence from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP):

In most cases, a foreign Christian woman [who is] married to a Pakistani man would not face severe social discrimination. In most cases, such matches are generally acceptable. However, the woman could have difficulties adjusting within Pakistani society, in terms of language, cultural norms etc. – as much as would be the case for most people attempting to adapt to a totally different culture. It is also possible that if she is married to a man from a family who holds orthodox beliefs, she could face discrimination from her in-laws etc. (5 Mar. 2004).

A Lahore-based human rights lawyer, who has been elected Chairperson of the HRCP twice, who was "instrumental in the formation of Punjab Women Lawyers Association" and the Women Action Forum, and who "was one of the leading figures in the campaign waged by the women activists against the promulgation of the controversial Hadood Ordinance and Family Laws," provided the following information in correspondence to the Research Directorate:

In my experience there is no obvious bias against a foreign Christian wife in Pakistan. However, if there are differences in the marriage these prejudices surface. In a number of custody cases, non-Muslim foreign women are subjected to humiliating treatment in court. Wild allegations are made against them and they are painted as promiscuous women simply because they are not Muslims. Courts do not discourage such humiliation (5 Mar. 2004).

In an opinion piece published by Dawn, the author explains that by virtue of verse 5:5, the Quran "confirms" that Muslim males are permitted to marry a Jewish or Christian woman "without converting her to Islam" (12 Apr. 2002). This information was corroborated by the HRCP in correspondence to the Research Directorate (5 Mar. 2004). However, in its annual report that was published in May 2003, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a "human rights charity working on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs, [and] promot[ing] religious liberty for all" (CSW n.d.), identified "[f]orced conversion of non-Muslims to Islam [as] ... a concern" in Pakistan (CSW May 2003, 24).

According to correspondence from the HRCP,

Although ... conversion to Islam is not strictly necessary for a Christian woman wedding a Muslim man, as such marriages are permissible in Islam, the norm practiced is for the woman to 'convert'. This usually means little more than the adoption of a 'Muslim' name, which is used on her marriage registration documents (Nikahnama). As such, someone called 'Mary' is often known as 'Maryam' on her nikahnama etc.

The matter of whether this name is used in everyday life depends entirely on the woman herself, the husband and possibly the family. There may also be some pressure from clerics conducting [the] marriage to use a Muslim name and make a 'conversion', but this is usually no more than cosmetic.

However, if a family, or the woman's husband, is particularly orthodox in terms of beliefs and practices, they could insist that if she has converted, she also follow Islamic practices. This however would depend entirely on individual families.

The existing law does not force conversions on Christian women wedding Muslim men, though by custom and in practice a name change and kind of 'cosmetic' conversion is very often made (5 Mar. 2004).

On the issue of forced conversion to Islam of Christian women who are married to Muslim men, the Lahore-based human rights lawyer said that "[t]here are a number of reports of forced conversion of Hindu and Christian women who marry or are abducted by Muslim men. It is common to pressure a non-Muslim wife to convert to being a Muslim" (5 Mar. 2004). Similarly, the Research Directorate found several news reports of forced conversion of non-Muslim women, including of Christian women, after having been raped, and forced to marry their rapists or sold into prostitution (CSW 2 May 2003, 21; The Washington Times 7 Oct. 2000; HRWF 22 May 2003; US 18 Dec. 2003).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). N.d. "A Voice for the Voiceless." [Accessed 2 Mar. 2004]
_____. May 2003. Pakistan Annual Report 2002. [Accessed 1 Mar. 2004]

Dawn [Karachi]. 12 April 2002. Haider Zaman. "Tolerance in Islam." [Accessed 1 Mar. 2004]

Freedom House. 2009. "Pakistan." Freedom in the World 2009. [Accessed 15 Sept. 2009]

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). 5 March 2004. Correspondence from the Joint Director.

Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF). 22 May 2003. Edited by Willy Fautre. "Pakistan: Nine-Year-Old Christian Girl Sexually Assaulted as Punishment for War in Iraq." [Accessed 22 May 2003]

Lawyer, Lahore. 5 March 2004. Correspondence.

Nawa-i-Waqt [Rawalpindi, in Urdu]. 7 September 2000. "Analyst Views Pak Religious Schools, Minorities in India." (FBIS-NES-2000-0911 18 Sept. 2000/Dialog)

The Seattle Times. 29 October 2001. Samson Mulugeta. "Pakistani Christians 'Feel Like Third-Class Citizens'." (NEXIS)

United States (US). September 2008. Department of State. "Pakistan." International Religious Freedom Report 2008. [Accessed 15 Sept. 2009]
_____. 18 December 2003. Department of State. "Pakistan." International Religious Freedom Report 2003. [Accessed 4 Mar. 2004]

The Washington Times. 7 October 2000. Ben Barber. "Christians in Pakistan Live in Fear." (NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact the Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations in Australia, HOPE International Development Agency in British Columbia, the Pakistan Women Lawyers' Association (PAWLA) in Karachi, the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) in Lahore, the Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Centre in Lahore and the Roman Catholic Archdioceses of Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad and Islamabad-Rawalpindi were unsuccessful.

In the process of updating PAK42422.E of 8 March 2004, attempts to contact a Boston University professor of anthropology with expertise in Pakistan, a professor of law at the International Islamic University Malaysia, a gender specialist at the University of Denver and representatives from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) and Karma Nirvana were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), Asia Society, Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Daily Times [Lahore], Dialog/WNC, European Country of Origin Information Network (, La fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), International Christian Concern (ICC), International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia Pacific, The Nation [Lahore], National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), Pakistan Christian Post [Karachi], PakTribune, Refworld, South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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