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Islamic intolerance upsets many.

Washington -- Christian leaders in the U.S. have expressed alarm at the case of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan (see Afghanistan). "That there should even be such a trial is an outrage. How can we congratulate ourselves for liberating Afghanistan from the rule of jihadists, only to be ruled by radical Islamists who kill Christians?" asked Tony Perkins, president of the U.S. Family Research Council. "Having death sentences passed on people who convert to Christianity is not acceptable in the 21st century, particularly not by a country which has been liberated by soldiers of the United States and NATO countries, most of whom are Christian," remarked Representative Tom Lantos of California (, March 26).

The Christian Science Monitor (March 27) reports that conversion remains a "thorny" issue in the Muslim world: "While state executions for apostasy are rarely carried out, laws allowing them remain on the books not only in Afghanistan, but in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan. More generally, while countries like Egypt and Pakistan guarantee religious freedoms in their constitutions, they limit religious speech." The Monitor adds that in Pakistani villages Muslims who convert to Christianity are occasionally killed by their own families. In major cities, Islamic militant groups have launched attacks against Christian churches. In Afghanistan, an estimated 10,000 Christians have to practise their faith in secret.

The Associated Press, quoted at (March 27), reports that although prosecutions for apostasy are rare, mainly because few dare try it openly, Saudi Arabia considers Sharia the law of the land and neither permits conversion from Islam nor allows other religions in its kingdom. In Jordan, a Muslim man who converted to Christianity was convicted of "apostasy," had his right to work revoked, and had his marriage annulled. In Kuwait, a Shiite Muslim man was convicted by a court after publicly proclaiming his conversion to Christianity. In Sudan, a convert to Christianity was reportedly tortured while in custody. Christian Freedom International estimates there are "literally thousands" awaiting death sentences in Islamic countries over their conversions to Christianity.

Reporter Susan Taylor Martin, in the St. Petersburg Times newspaper in Florida (March 28), notes that there is a gulf between Islam as it originated and Islam as interpreted by its extremist followers. "Only after Mohammed's death did the idea of punishment (for conversion) emerge, and then as much for political reasons as religious ones," she writes.

President George W Bush himself felt embarrassed by the Rahman incident. Taylor says it has dramatized how far Afghanistan remains from the tolerant, democratic nation Bush envisioned when he committed thousands of troops and billions of dollars to ousting the Taliban in 2001. His secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, urged Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, to intervene in the Rahman case. But, perhaps for the first time, many Americans suddenly realized that a "culture" such as the Islamic one cannot be changed either by military means or by imposing democracy. The problem lies within the Muslim religion itself.

As U.S. Catholic Bishop Thomas Wenski explained to a congressional panel, what is necessary is to understand and engage Muslim leaders, but at the same time also to promote religious freedom for Christians in Muslim countries. "Constructive and respectful dialogue with Islam is imperative in today's world," he stated. He also offered recommendations for U.S. policies to improve religious freedom in countries with Muslim majorities (Zenit, March 17, 2006).
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Title Annotation:United States
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:May 1, 2006
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