Published: 09:19 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 18 June 2010
Afghan Christians Plead for Help as they are Exposed and Threatened with Execution
Afghan Christians in exile are urging their fellow-Christians around the world to help stop the Afghan government from arresting and executing Afghan Christians. While international media and politicians are silent, within Afghanistan a dramatic anti-Christian furore has erupted, in which Afghan media and politicians alike are calling for the death of converts from Islam, in line with Islamic sharia law.
" We do not know how the whole world and especially the Global Church is silent and closing their eyes while thousands of their brothers and sisters (Body of Christ) are in pain, facing life danger and death penalty and are tortured, persecuted and called criminals,"wrote a group of Afghan Christians in New Delhi, India on 9 June.
TV programme triggers anti-Christian frenzy
Towards the end of last month, TV footage was broadcast on various channels in Afghanistan showing alleged Afghan Muslim converts to Christianity, including scenes of baptisms. Although at least two years old, the footage triggered a frenzied anti-Christian response, including a protest by a group of Kabul University students who shouted death threats and demanded the expulsion of foreigners accused of proselytising. There have been numerous demonstrations since then in different cities throughout the country - Herat, Baghlan, Mazar-e Sharif and again in Kabul.
Two of the Afghan Christians who appeared in the broadcast were arrested and shown again on national TV on 30 May, just three days after the first airing of the original broadcast. One was pressured on the TV show to return to Islam and the other was shown repeating the Islamic creed and asking forgiveness for having left Islam. The TV moderators urged viewers to find more Afghans who had left Islam and report them to the police.
Afghan Parliament threatens NGOs and converts
On 31 May the Deputy Secretary of the Afghan Lower House of Parliament (the Wolesi Jirga), Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called in parliament for the public execution of the Afghan Christians shown in the TV programme. Some members in the House strongly condemned the activities of foreign bodies involved in preaching Christianity in Afghanistan and called for proselytising groups to be expelled from the country.
The Speaker of the House said that “we need to investigate the situation. It may be that some Afghans want to make a case to resettle in the West. If there are genuine conversions, then we need to take it seriously.”
On the same day, 31 May, two NGOs with the word “church” in their name were suspended, accused of promoting Christianity. Both the organisations (Norwegian Church Aid and the US-based World Church Service) denied that they had been proselytising. Other NGOs were put on a list for further investigation.
On 1 June, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said that the president was taking a personal interest in the situation and had ordered immediate and serious action to prevent any more conversions. In the following days, many homes in Kabul were searched. Dozens of Afghan Christians fled their towns and some even left the country.
On 5 June there was another debate in parliament. Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said that they had been investigating the issue of conversions for the last two years. He announced that the government had a list of 23 people, Afghans and foreigners, whom they were seeking to arrest.
The first station to broadcast the TV footage that triggered all these events was Noorin TV, a private TV station funded by the Northern Alliance, the political opponents of President Karzai. Could it be that these allegations were made in order to discredit and destabilise the already precarious government at this crucial time? What is clear is that vulnerable Afghan Christians are being made a scapegoat in pursuit of other objectives.
Historical pattern repeated
Throughout the Islamic history of Afghanistan there has always been persecution of non-Muslims. Converts from Islam are especially despised because, according to sharia (Islamic law), such apostates should be executed. At the end of last year Islamic religious leaders in Afghanistan issued a fatwa demanding the death penalty for all apostates.
Equality and freedom – where and for whom?
Western governments are spending billions in the effort not only to protect their own national security but also to establish a free, peaceful and democratic Afghanistan. Their soldiers are fighting and shedding their blood to protect Afghanistan’s government and citizens from terrorist attacks by the Taliban. These efforts are headed by the US military whose commander-in-chief, President Obama, is himself, according to sharia, an apostate from Islam. Yet the official version of Islam, as promoted by the religious authorities and by the state itself through its various arms, denies the right of religious freedom (which includes the right to change one’s religion) to Afghan citizens, and on the basis of sharia threatens converts with the death penalty.
Muslim apologists in the West repeatedly assert that true Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, yet very few raise their voices to protest such violence and intolerance and to support the right of fellow Muslims to practise the religion of their choice free from threats and persecution. In most of the Muslim media around the world, Christian mission is still being described as an aggressive attack on Islam that must be banned. At the same time, Muslim states like Saudi Arabia are freely propagating Islam in the West, and presenting it as a moderate, tolerant and peaceful religion.
A call for change
It is time for real change by abolishing the Islamic law of apostasy and guaranteeing equality and freedom of religion to citizens of all faiths in Muslim countries, including converts from Islam to Christianity.
- We call on Christians around the world to protest against the travesty of justice, peace and tolerance taking place in Afghanistan.
- We call on Western governments to intervene on behalf of the persecuted Christians of Afghanistan and not sacrifice them to the vagaries of realpolitik as has often happened in various contexts. (The decimation of Iraqi Christianity following the 2003 Western intervention is but the latest example.)
- We call on Muslim governments to protect their Christian minorities, including converts from Islam, from all elements within society seeking to harm them, and ensure that an effective legal framework guarantees the rights of all to freedom of religion.
- We call on Muslim communities in the West, who are enjoying religious freedom and able to pursue Islamic mission and gain converts to Islam, to protest at what is happening in Afghanistan and demand that the persecution of Christians in the name of Islam be stopped and the law of apostasy be abolished.
- We call on Christians engaged in mission to Muslims to accept the reality of Islamic outrage about Muslims converting from Islam and protect converts to Christianity by being extremely wise and discreet in all they publish and broadcast.
- We call on President Obama, a Christian with family links to Islam who is very concerned for Muslim rights in the West to help Afghan Christians threatened by the intolerant aspects of Islam.
For more information on Islam’s apostasy law, see Freedom to Believe: Challenging Islam’s Apostasy Law by Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund. (Isaac Publishing, 2009) ISBN 978-0-9787141-9-2. Copies can be ordered here from www.barnabasfund.org.
You can also follow this link to read the full text of the foreword by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali.