Leaving Islam




  Afghanistan: A Christian convert is saved from the gallows but at what price?

A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Undoubtedly, it is a happy ending for a Christian convert in Afghanistan but it may also open a can of worms for President Hameed Karzai’s shaky government.

Unless you’ve been unusually busy with your worldly affairs, you must have heard the troublesome predicament of one Mr. Abdur Rahman in Afghanistan . His trouble with Islamic Sha’ria laws dates back to 1990 when he embraced Christianity while he was working for a Western NGO inside the country. Since then, he went to Germany to make a living. He then returned to Afghanistan to claim the custody of his two teenage daughters. And that is where his trouble began. His in-laws took the custody of his two daughters when he changed his religion; recently, they went to police when Abdur Rahman claimed the custody of his children. Soon after this, the Islamic court in Afghanistan gave their verdict that by changing religion – from Islam to Christianity, Mr. Rahman became an apostate for which the punishment is death. Mind you, Afghanistan after the demise of Taliban regime is still under the yoke of Sha’ria laws. 

I first heard about the curious case of Rahman’s apostasy in television news where of all people Mr. George Bush, the sitting U.S. president, made some harsh remark about the plight of Mr. Abdur Rahman. Mr. Bush’s commented that the U.S. had gone through a lot to oust Taliban regime in December 2001 and now the court system of Afghanistan is acting like a Taliban regime. He promised he will urge President Hameed Karzai to spare the life of Mr. Abdur Rahman for converting to Christianity. I knew right away that the prosecution of Mr. Rahman won’t go through as long as Karzai is at the helm in Kabul America ’s voice counts in Afghanistan and Hameed Karzai owe it to George Bush for becoming the president of this troubled land. With America ’s money for reconstruction and GIs for moping up Talibans in remote provinces, how could Mr. Karzai say no to Mr. Bush?

The mullahs and many pious Muslims in Afghanistan are incensed hearing the news that the court won’t prosecute Abdur Rahman for committing apostasy. Mr. Rahman was released form jail on March 28, 2006. Irate Afghans chanted slogans during a demonstration in the northern city of Mazar-i-Shariff in Afghanistan on March 27, 2006. The protestors demanded that Rahman be tried under Islamic law. Most Afghans are religious who take Sha’ria law very seriously. Thus, we may hear the report of more street protests. There is this outside chance that the beleaguered Talibans may incite trouble in remote provinces telling the Afghans that Karzai is meek and weak who listens to Bush diligently.

Lest we forget, Afghanistan may have changed their government but the country’s social fabric has not changed one bit. There is no trace of secularism anywhere in Afghanistan and the country’s official name is still Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Afghanestan (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan). The legal system is based on Islamic Sha’ria laws. The newly written constitution specifically states that no law should be “contrary to Islam.” The state however is obliged to create a prosperous and progressive society based on social justice, protection of human dignity, protection of human rights, realization of democracy, and to ensure national unity and equality among all ethnic groups and tribes. Also, the state shall abide by the UN charter, international treaties, international conventions that Afghanistan signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

The Karzai Administration did not mention once that killing Abdur Rahman would be out question because it would violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Afghan government decided to invoke the mental competence issue of the defended. By declaring Mr. Rahman mentally not fit, the court dropped the charge and released Mr. Rahman from the high-security Policharki prison on the outskirts of Kabul on March 27, 2006. Muslim clerics condemned the government’s decision to release Abdur Rahman, saying it was a “betrayal of Islam.” They threatened to incite violent protests. In Islam, apostasy is a serious crime for which the punishment is death. An apostate (in Arabic Murtaad) is a fair game; any Muslim can kill an ex-Muslim. Therefore, the government is hiding Mr. Rahman and working out a plan to send him out of the country. According to news report, the Italian government is considering giving Mr. Rahman to grant asylum there. It looks like the plight of Mr. Rahman may end soon. But that cannot be said about Karzai’s government. The fragmented Talibans inside Afghanistan would foment political trouble by saying that Karzai is a weak administrator who listens to George Bush. How this saga is going to play out in days to come is not known. But one may make a strong case for devout Afghans who may think that the release of Abdur Rahman by Karzai government had breached Islamic law. The disgruntled war lords who are not happy with Karzai may join the mullahs to destabilize the country. Afghans are notorious for changing sides. We have seen this trait in the aftermath of December 2001 air attack in Afghanistan . The forces that supported the Taliban regime for years suddenly changed their allegiance when it was all clear that Americans were winning the war and Talibans were on the run. 

In summary, a Christian convert in Afghanistan , Abdur Rahman, was condemned by Muslim clerics to die for apostasy. However, under pressure from the West and most notably from the Bush Administration, the condemned man was released from jail on the ground of mental incapacity of the defendant to face the charge. The country of Italy may offer the man political asylum to end the fiasco. However, this generosity of Karzai Administration may open can of worms for him. The country is still unstable where warlords rule many remote provinces and collect taxes to maintain their private army. One powerful cleric in Afghanistan said, “This is a betrayal of Islam and the entire Afghan nation by our government.” The clerics and remnants of Talibans who are lying low in the countryside may foment trouble against Karzai. Please stay tuned for more development for this crisis is far from over.


A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from Ithaca , New York







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