Our law office received a request a few years ago to represent a young lady in Youngstown, Ohio, Nishan Verdinek. Ms. Verdinek had been summoned to court to answer criminal charges for violating Ohio’s bigamy statute. Born in Ohio, and thus a U.S. citizen, her parents were both
natives of Pakistan.
In keeping with Muslim custom, her father arranged for a “nikah” (Islamic marriage contract) pledging his daughter in marriage to a man in Pakistan whom she had never met. The nikah was to take place upon Nishan’s graduation from high school.
When she graduated from high school at age 17, her parents took her to Karachi, Pakistan, and pledged her in a betrothal ceremony to Javaid Hassan, the son of a prominent Muslim family. She and her family then returned to the states where her father promptly applied for an immigration visa for Mr. Hassan to come to the U.S. The arranged marriage was a deliberate effort to bypass U.S. immigration laws so Mr. Hassan could enter the country.
But Nishan had a secret. Without telling her family, shortly after returning to the U.S., the young girl accepted Christ as her personal savior. The problems for her began when she declined to participate with her family in the celebration of Ramadan. Her father had arranged for her to travel during this Islamic holiday to Boston and there reunite with her betrothed husband. When Nishan refused to go and disclosed to her father that she was a born again Christian and follower of Jesus Christ, he began to physically beat her. She fled for her safety to a Christian family in Youngstown who her took her in.
Later, Nishan became engaged to a youth minister in Ohio. When her father discovered this, he and the family of the betrothed man in Pakistan swore out a “fatwa”, an Islamic death warrant for her. Her father also instituted bigamy charges against her in the Court of Common Pleas in Ohio alleging that Nishan was already “married” to another man in Pakistan.
At trial, we presented testimony from Dr. Joseph Kickasola, a seminary professor from Liberty University and an expert on Islamic religion. Dr. Kickasola pointed out that under Islamic law, consummation of marriage through sexual intercourse was an integral part of marriage and the lack of consummation rendered the marriage incomplete. Nishan testified that she had never shared intimate relations with Javaid Hassan.
In addition, Dr. Kickasola produced a text from Shari’ah law which provided that if either party to a nikahmarriage contract “leaves Islam” the marriage is effectively annulled.
Not only had Nisha abandoned Islam, but by the time of trial, she had married the youth minister in Ohio, Daniel Verdinek.
At the conclusion of the trial, the charges against Nisha were dismissed. But the fatwa remained in effect. Concerned for her safety, the judge ordered a police escort for Nisha (and her legal team) as they left the courthouse to follow them to their vehicles.
I admire the courage of this young Christian and her steadfast faith. This case continues to serve as a reminder to me of the blessing of religious liberty we enjoy as U.S. citizens, and as an inspiration to heed Paul’s exhortation to “stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free.”
Larry L. Crain, Crain Law Group, PLLC, www.crainlaw.legal