Apostasy in Islam
The case of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan
A conflict of values:
|"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and
religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief,
and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or
private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship
and observance." Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. (Emphasis ours). |
|"Whosoever turns back from his belief, openly or secretly, take him and
kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself
from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard." Sura 4:
As noted in our essay on apostasy in Islam, people who have left the
religion of Islam have been rarely executed in the 21st century. However, most Muslims
feel "a powerful sense of rage...when one of their number forsakes the
community." 1 They consider it a profound insult
to Allah and to all Muslims. Some predominately Muslim countries have laws
which require the death penalty for any adult who abandons Islam.
Afghanistan is one such country. Abdul Rahman, an Afghan Christian, was arrested
in 2006-FEB, and was expected to be placed on
trial for apostasy. There was worldwide concern that he might be executed.
If he had been raised a Christian and remained Christian all his life, he
would have had no problem. There are a few dozen -- at most a few hundred --
Christians in Afghanistan out of a population of about 30 million.
About 99% of the population are Muslim -- 80% Sunni and 19%
Shi'a. 1% are Hindu. 2
Rahman's case was dismissed on 2006-MAR-26 because
of lack of evidence.
Abdul Rahman, 41, was born into a Muslim family
in Afghanistan, and raised in that faith. While working for an Christian aid group in Peshawar
some 16 years ago, he converted to Christianity. He left the country and
worked in Germany for nine years. He recently returned to Afghanistan in 2002 where
he attempted to gain custody of his daughters who had been living with their
grandparents. His parents reported his religious conversion to the
authorities. He was arrested during 2006-FEB. Rahman was found to be
carrying a Bible when he was taken into custody.
He was placed on trial
for an "attack on Islam" by his action of leaving Islam for another
religion. Under the draft constitution of the country, the
punishment is death by hanging.
Judge Alhaj Ansarullah Mawlawy Zada will be
trying his case. He said:
"The Attorney General is emphasizing he
should be hung. It is a crime to convert to Christianity from Islam. He
is teasing and insulting his family by converting,....We are not against any particular religion in the world.
But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law. It is an
attack on Islam."
On another occasion, he told The Times that
"...was a Muslim for 25 years more than he
has been a Christian. We will request him to become a Muslim again. In
your country two women can marry I think that is very strange. In this
country we have the perfect constitution, it is Islamic law and it is
illegal to be a Christian and it should be punished."
The Associated Press quoted Zada on 2006-MAR-23 as saying:
"There is no direct pressure on our court so far, but if it happens we
will consider it as an interference." He added that he expects to rule on
the case in the next few days. 8
Prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, offered Rahman his freedom if he would only
renounce Christianity and return to Islam, but he has refused.
"He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said
he was a Christian and would always remain one. We are Muslims and
becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death
The media has not been able to talk to Rahman. Prison officials said that
they had been threatened with dismissal if they allowed an interview.
However, Sayad Miakhel, 30, a cell mate of Rahman said:
"He is standing by his words he will not become a Muslim again, he
has been a Christian for over 14 years. It is what he believes in. His
father complained to authorities after he said he wanted to take his
daughters abroad. He is an intelligent man and his faith belongs to
A medical team is examining Rahman; they suspect that his rejection of
Islam may be a sign of insanity. If
found guilty, Rahman would have had the option of appealing his case to the Provincial
Court, and finally to the Supreme Court. President Hamid Karzai would have had to
ratify the execution before it is carried out.
Abdul Raoulf, who the Associated Press describes as
a moderate Muslim cleric, said "Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not
allow God to be humiliated. This man must die."
Reaction to the case:
|2006-MAR-20: State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
"Our view … is that tolerance, freedom
of worship is an important element of any democracy. And these are
issues as Afghan democracy matures that they are going to have to
deal with increasingly." 6
He appears to be missing the point. Minority religions are tolerated in Afghanistan. People are free to
worship as they wish. People are able to convert from another religion
to Islam. However, individuals who convert from Islam to another
religion risk a judicial trial and execution. 6
|Dominic Nutt of Christian Aid, a
non-profit working in Afghanistan, believes that the case is a step
backwards for the country. He said: "few practitioners are used to
the concept of democracy and toleration … [many] are educated only in
Islamic law." 6|
|B. Preston posting to Junk Yard Blog
"Mr. Rahman’s plight deserves
attention. He deserves religious freedom. Afghans deserve freedom to
worship as they please and should not be subject to the laws of a
religion they don’t serve. Writing Islam into Afghanistan’s
constitution—and Iraq’s—may yet undo all the good work our troops
have done in both." 7
|2006-MAR-22: President Bush said:|
"I'm troubled when I hear, deeply troubled
when I hear, the fact that a person who converted away from Islam may be
held to account. That's not the universal application of the values that
I talked about. I look forward to working with the government of that
country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to
|The Council on American-Islamic Relations
(CAIR) consulted with members of the Fiqh Council of North America,
an association of Islamic legal scholars who interpret Muslim religious law.
CAIR then issued a statement calling on the
government of Afghanistan to release Rahman. They wrote:|
"Islamic scholars say the original rulings on apostasy were similar
to those for treasonous acts in legal systems worldwide and do not apply
to an individual's choice of religion. Islam advocates both freedom of
religion and freedom of conscience, a position supported by verses in
the Qur'an, Islam's revealed text....Religious decisions should be
matters of personal choice, not a cause for state intervention. Faith
imposed by force is not true belief, but coercion. Islam has no need to
compel belief in its divine truth." 12
|2006-MAR-23: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned
Afghan President Hamid Karazai on MAR-23. She later said during a press
forward, hopefully, to a resolution to this in the very near future.....We
have raised it in the strongest possible terms to make clear that it is
our great hope and desire that Afghanistan will reaffirm what is already
in its constitution, that the universal declaration on human rights will
be respected, and that this will be resolved in a way that is consistent
with those principles." 10
|Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman said that Rice emphasized to Karzai the:
"fact that the United States stands forthrightly for principles of
freedom of worship, freedom of expression, and that these are bedrock
principles of democracy around the world, these are principles that are
enshrined in the Afghan constitution and they're principles that are
enshrined in the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. We're
looking for a favorable resolution at the earliest possible time"
|William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International stated:
"No individual should ever be persecuted — let alone executed —
for his or her religious beliefs. The freedom to practice one's own
faith without fear of retribution is one of humanity's most sacred
rights. If Rahman has been imprisoned solely because he converted to
Christianity, he must be immediately and unconditionally released," said
Amnesty International" 10
|Bill Frist (R) Senate Majority Leader said:
"I am greatly concerned by Mr. Rahman's prosecution and the challenge
his case presents to the future of Afghanistan. It is fair to say that
the United States has not spent the last four plus years liberating,
defending, rebuilding and assisting Afghanistan's democratic development
only to see the Afghani people remain subject to laws reminiscent of the
Taliban's reign." 10
|The Associated Press interviewed four clerics in Kabul:|
|Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque, said:
"The government is scared of the international community. But the
people will kill him if he is freed....[If Rahman is freed]
"There will be an uprising. The government will
lose the support of the people. What sort of democracy would it be if
the government ignored the will of all the people."
|Raoulf, member of the Afghan Ulama Council said:
"The government are playing games. The people will not be fooled. Cut off his head! We will call on the people to pull him
into pieces so there's nothing left."
|Said Mirhossain Nasri of the Hossainia Mosque said:
"If he is allowed to live in the West then others will claim to be Christian so they can too. We must set an
example....He must be hanged....We are a small country and we welcome the help the outside world is giving us,
but please don't interfere in this issue. We are Muslims and these are our beliefs. This is much more important
to us than all the aid the world has given us."
|2006-MAR-24: The Fundamentalist Baptist Information Service
"What more evidence do we need to overthrow George W. Bush's
philosophy that Islam is basically a tolerant religion and that only the
'extremists' are the problem. After spending billions of dollars getting
rid of the 'extremists' in Afghanistan we are left with a 'tolerant'
regime that threatens Christians with death." 9
|2006-MAR-25: The Muslim Public
Affairs Council (MPAC) called for Rahman's release. They noted that: |
"International scrutiny on this issue has
cast sharia as clear-cut on the issue of apostasy -- a person who turns
his/her back on Islam is an apostate and must be punished by death. In
reality, the 'rules of Islam' are not codified, and the Qur'an mandates
that religious freedom be respected. Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad
himself never sentenced an apostate to death....We strongly oppose the
state's use of coercion in regulating Islamic belief in such a manner,
since faith is a matter of individual choice on which only God can
Political aspects of the case:
Rahman is clearly admitting that he converted from Islam to Christianity.
So his guilt is well established. If he is executed, the country may well
lose a great deal of support from the international community. If his life
is spared, then the Taliban will be granted a great propaganda victory; they
will be able to claim that the government of Afghanistan has abandoned centuries
old Sharia law in favor of secularism and human rights. It is a no-win situation
for the government.
Resolution of the case:
The case against Abdul Rahman was dismissed on 2006-MAR-26. An anonymous
official said: "The court dismissed today the case against Abdul Rahman for a
lack of information and a lot of legal gaps in the case. The decision about his
release will be taken possibly tomorrow."
CNN reported just before midnight on MAR-27 that Abdul Rahman had been
released. Because so many Muslim clergy have called for him to be murdered,
steps were taken to find a country that will accept him as a refugee.
Usually reliable news sources reported on MAR-28 that he was outside of the
Compass Direct is an agency that tracks cases worldwide where
Christians are persecuted for their beliefs. They stated on 2006-MAR-22:
"An avalanche of media coverage of an Afghan man facing the death penalty
for converting to Christianity has apparently sparked the arrest and
deepening harassment of other Afghan Christians in the ultra-conservative
"During the past few days, Compass has confirmed the arrest of two other
Afghan Christians elsewhere in the country. Because of the sensitive
situation, local sources requested that the location of the jailed converts
"This past weekend, (MAR-18 & 19) one young Afghan convert to
Christianity was beaten severely outside his home by a group of six men, who
finally knocked him unconscious with a hard blow to his temple. He woke up
in the hospital two hours later but was discharged before morning."
" 'Our brother remains steadfast, despite the ostracism and beatings,'
one of his friends said. "
"Several other Afghan Christians have been subjected to police raids on
their homes and places of work in the past month, as well as to telephone
The Family Research Council commented on the
Compass Direct statement about the beatings and arrests saying:
"This is the daily reality inside the Muslim world. Americans have a
special reason to decry such outrages in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our soldiers
have fought and died to bring freedom to these peoples. While we celebrate
Abdul's release there remains much work for this Administration to do.
Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq must mean religious freedom, too. Otherwise,
our efforts there will ultimately be futile."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, "Apostacy (Irtidad) in
Islam," at: http://www.al-islam.org/
- "Afghanistan," The World Fact Book, at:
- "Afghan Christian Could Get Death
Sentence," Examiner, 2006-MAR-19, at:
- "Christian convert could be
executed," Toronto Star, 2006-MAR-20.
- Tiom Albone, "Afghan faces death
penalty for Christian faith," The Times, 2006-MAR-20, at:
- Michelle Malkin, "Save Abdul
Rahman," 2006-MAR-20, at:
- B. Preston "On trial for his faith,"
Junk Yard Blog, 2006-MAR-20, at:
- "Clerics demand death for Christian
convert," Associated Press, 2006-MAR-23.
- "Christian faces death penalty in
Afghanistan," FBIS Mailing List, 2006-MAR-24
- "Rice Calls Karzai on Christian Convert's Fate," Fox News,
2006-MAR-23, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
- "Clerics Call for Christian Convert's Death Despite Western Outrage,"
Associated Press, 2006-MAR-23, at:
- "CAIR calls for release of Afghan Christian," Islam-Infonet,
- "MPAC joins calls for release of Afghan Christian," MPAC, 2006-MAR-25,
- Daniel Cooney, "Afghan court drops case against Christian," Associated
- "Afghanistan: More Christian arrested in wake of 'apostasy:' Two
other converts from Islam in custody; another hospitalized after beating,"
Compass Direct, 2006-MAR-22, at:
http://www.compassdirect.org/ This is expected to be a temporary listing
that will later be transferred to their news archive.
- Tony Perkins, "Safe! - For Now," Family Research Council,
Washington Update, 2006-MAR-28.
Copyright © 2006 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2006-MAR-20
Latest update: 2011-FEB-20
Author: B.A. Robinson