Friday, March 24, 2006

Afghanistan may execute man for converting to Christianity :: Asia Times Online

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan

Rahman, a former medical aid worker, faces the death penalty under Afghanistan's Islamic laws for becoming a Christian. His trial began last week, and now the Afghan government is desperately searching for a way to drop the case, with the latest move being to call for Rahman to undergo psychological examinations to see whether he is fit to stand trial.

Senior clerics in Afghanistan, however, have already given their verdict: he should die. "We will not allow God to be humiliated," Abdul Raoulf, a member of the Ulama Council, Afghanistan's main clerical organization, told Associated Press. "We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there's nothing left."

Asia Times Online contacts in Afghanistan say that ministers in the cabinet are reluctant to take a stand on the issue because of fierce public reaction.

There are clear indications that the minute the court gives any decision other than death penalty, Islamic parties will make it an issue with which to tackle the US-backed Karzai government and allied forces for intervening in the Islamic laws of Afghanistan.

The Afghan constitution has contradictory provisions. Article 7 commits Afghanistan to observing the United Nations charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion. But Article 3 says that no law can contradict Islam.

It is significant that the issue has come at a time that efforts are being made by Islamic parties in the north and south to forge an alliance inside and outside parliament. Unpublicized negotiations have taken place in southern Afghanistan between various tribal leaders so that they can present a united front against the foreign presence in the country.

In a separate development, the Taliban's spring offensive has begun, with the insurgency significantly increasing its activities.

Rahman's case is the latest of several controversial issues that have served to strengthen the hands of clerics calling for a nationwide, broad-based opposition to foreign elements in the country.

Last year, anger swept the country over reports that US interrogators had desecrated the Koran at the Guantanamo prison facility in Cuba, while cartoons published in Europe this year ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed further inflamed passions.

Religious aspects
Apart from the serious political implications, Rahman's case raises some thorny religious issues, with non-Muslims questioning how it can be acceptable for people of other faiths to convert to Islam, but not the other way round.

"It is more of an ontological debate than anything," said renowned Muslim intellectual Shahnawaz Farooqui. "If somebody tries to practice his religion or faith, Muslim society will not stop him or pressurize him to change his faith. Nobody is allowed to even motivate a non-Muslim to change his religion. However, discourse is allowed. After such discourse, if somebody feels they want to embrace Islam, it is allowed," Shahnawaz said.

However, for a Muslim to change his religion, "he will have to be executed because it is related to an ontological debate".

"If somebody at one point affirms the truth [belief in God] and then rejects it or denies it, it would jeopardize the whole paradigm of truth. This is such a big offense that the penalty can only be death."

Execution for apostasy has been accepted in Muslim society from the times of the Prophet Mohammed, and there is no difference among the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, be they Hanafi, Malaki, Shaafai, Hanbli or Jafari (Shi'ite).

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