Man on a mission

Front of Mormon flyer On my way to the post office the other day, I was approached by a young man on a bike. He was wearing a helmet and a dark blue suit jacket. Pinned to his jacket was a name tag in both English and Chinese. The young man wanted to tell me about his mission: Espousing the virtues of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints and the Book of Mormon. The young man, with facial hair just barely visible, seemed a bit nervous. I thought I might have been the first person he approached. Maybe I was the first soul he was trying to save.

I did not want to disappoint him. I took the flier he offered me, wondering to myself what his reaction would be if I told him I come from the Holy Land. I put the flier in my purse and headed to the post office. I mailed my package and headed back home.

Page 2 of flyerThen, in the comfort of my own room, I gave the flier a closer look. I kept looking at the image on the front side of the flier trying to decipher what kind of message it was trying to convey. Flipping the flier over, I found an invitation to receive another testament of Jesus Christ. I paused, looking at the word "another" in disbelief. As someone who believes that the Bible is the only testimony of Jesus Christ, I could not buy the young man’s mission.

But the incident stayed with me for a few days. Eventually I decided to let it go. As I currently live in a country where freedom of religion and freedom of speech are safeguarded, I should expect more similar encounters. The next time, though, I will proclaim that I come from the Holy Land.

Bigotry at Jordan’s education ministry

Renowned journalist Randa Habib, who heads the AFP bureau in Amman, reported in a column she writes for The Jordan Times a very disturbing situation. Here is an excerpt:

One of my readers called to tell me about this shocking problem: she works for a Christian who is in the field of education, but her boss is being refused any supply of books from departments that depend on the Ministry of Education. Why?

Well she is told that they will never provide books to this "kafer" (non-Muslim) whom they described as filth." My reader, a Muslim herself, was appalled and told those men that their attitude has nothing to do with Islam and its precepts of tolerance. But her speech had no effect on them. On the contrary, they criticized her for working for a non-Muslim.

My reader was very distressed when she called me, and told me that her boss is in fact thinking of emigrating. When I suggested that a complaint be filed, my caller expressed skepticism over the outcome. "Someone higher up in the Ministry of Education must know that such things are happening," she said. Do they?

The most disturbing part for me is that the bigot in this instance happens to work at a department related to the Ministry of Education, of all places. What kind of education is this person trying to instill in the youth of the kingdom? An education of intolerance, bigotry and hatred? Should I begin worrying about upcoming generations? Will this bigot’s brainwashing techniques ever reach them? It really disturbs me to see this happening in Jordan, which, in my opinion, remains a model of co-existence between Christians and Muslims. Hat tip: [Jordanblogger]

Disturbing morning reading

I was extremely disturbed to read (via What’s in up in Jordan) that Jordanian columnist Abd Allah al Qaq has openly asked [in Arabic] in Al-Dustour daily for the death penalty to be imposed on the Afghan, Abdul Rahman, who converted to Christianity. I guess every author is entitled to his opinion, but calling for the death of someone who chose to change religions is something I just cannot tolerate. It also seems that Al-Qaq is not the only one who wants Abdul Rahman dead. Sigh!

Hundreds of people protested in a northern Afghan city following reports that a man who faced a possible death penalty for converting to Christianity would be released, officials said. About 700 Muslim clerics and others chanted "Death to Bush" and other anti-Western slogans in Mazar-e-Sharif on Monday, officials told The Associated Press. Clerics have called for protests across Afghanistan against both the government and the West, which had pressured President Hamid Karzai’s administration to drop the case against Abdul Rahman. Source: [CNN]

Mad, mad man!

It seems that the case of the Afghani Islam-to-Christian convert is attracting attention from the international community. One of the more outspoken is Amnesty International, which released a statement condemning the acts of the Afghani authorities.

ConvertAmnesty International today called on the Afghan authorities to urgently commit themselves to judicial reform and the upholding of international standards as Abdul Rahman, 41, reportedly faces calls for his execution in connection with his reported conversion from Islam to Christianity.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the government of Afghanistan is bound to uphold Article 18, which provides that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" and that "this right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice."

I’m assuming that due to international pressure, Afghnistan has suddently found itself between a rock and hard place and deciced to declare this man unfit for trial, as he might just be "mad."

Prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari said questions have been raised about his mental fitness. "We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn’t talk like a normal person," he told The Associated Press.

No comment!

UPDATE: The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called for the release of Abdul Rahman, saying the man’s conversion was a personal matter and not subject to the intervention of the state. Here are some excerpts from their press release:

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 Quran, Islam’s revealed text. …We urge the government of Afghanistan to order the immediate release of Mr. Abdul Rahman.

On the issue of conversion

This morning I read disturbing news about an Afghan that converted to Christianity and now might be facing the death penalty for choosing a religion different from Islam.

A man could be sentenced to death after being charged with converting from Islam to Christianity, a crime under Afghanistan’s shariah laws, a judge said yesterday. The trial is thought to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan and highlights a struggle between religious conservatives and reformists over what shape Islam will take four years after the fall of the Taliban.

Abdul Rahman, 41, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian, Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada told Associated Press. The accused was charged with rejecting Islam. During the one-day hearing on Thursday, the defendant allegedly confessed to converting to Christianity 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Judge Mawlavezada said. Source: [The Guardian]

What’s really disturbing about all this, in my opinion, is that this is happening in the supposedly post-Taliban era. It is no secret that those that covert to Christianity in the Arab and the Muslim world get harassed, but to be threatened with death is really horrendous.

Sadly enough, Jordan is another country where converts to Christianity will not only be ostracized, but will be also harassed by the authorities. To be fair, anyone changing religion in Jordan, whether from Islam to Christianity or vise versa, faces social ostracization. The difference, though, is that in the case of converting to Christianity one can expect to spend some time behind bars as was the case with a Jordanian couple I blogged about last year.

Ask Samer and Abeer. Last September Jordanian security police connected to the country’s Mukhabarat, or intelligence agency, showed up at the couple’s home unannounced. They arrested Samer and detained him overnight. Samer’s crime: coming to faith in Jesus Christ 14 years ago. Originally a Muslim, Samer over the years since his conversion has been questioned several times by security police but never detained. This time, the police turned him over to the Islamic courts. The judges convicted Samer of apostasy. In a Nov. 23 decision the court decreed that his identification papers must be changed from "Muslim" to "no religion;" that he had forfeited any inheritance; that his marriage to Abeer is now illegal and therefore he is not entitled to custody of his son.

The US State Department 2005 report on religious freedom in Jordan also mentions this issue :

Members of unrecognized religious groups and converts from Islam face legal discrimination and bureaucratic difficulties in personal status cases. Converts from Islam additionally risk the loss of civil rights. There is no statute that expressly forbids proselytizing Muslims. However, Shari’a courts have the authority to prosecute proselytizers.

I’m fully aware that this topic is very controversial so I’m not going to say much besides reiterating what I said last year: In my humble, unbiased opinion I think that if Jordan intends to tread on a truly democratic path, then its citizens should be given the basic right of practicing a religion of their own choosing.

The Prophet cartoon row rolls on

Editor Muhammad al-Asadi Yemeni lawyers have called for a newspaper editor to be sentenced to death for showing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, his paper says. Muhammad al-Asadi was arrested after his publication, the Yemen Observer, showed the Danish cartoons in February. He denies the charges of offending Islam, under which he is being tried. The English-language newspaper has had its license to publish suspended, although its staff have continued to produce material on-line. Lawyers leading a civil case against publishers of the cartoons — in addition to the public case — cited precedents from Muslim history when the prophet was insulted by a woman and then praised her killer. Source: [BBC]

The death penalty! Geez! This is just out of control. There is an interview with him from jail right after his arrest that suggests he is at least somewhat prepared. Meanwhile, as expected, the cartoon row seems to have played an integral part in a new survey highlighting the growing negative image of Muslims and Arabs. Her are some excerpts from the Washington Post’s front page story:

As the war in Iraq grinds into its fourth year, a growing proportion of Americans are expressing unfavorable views of Islam, and a majority now say that Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The poll found that nearly half of Americans — 46 percent — have a negative view of Islam, seven percentage points higher than in the tense months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when Muslims were often targeted for violence.

The survey comes at a time of increasing tension; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq show little sign of ending, and members of Congress are seeking to block the Bush administration’s attempt to hire an Arab company to manage operations at six of the nation’s ports. Also, Americans are reading news of deadly protests by Muslims over Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

As a school bus driver in Chicago, Gary McCord, 65, dealt with many children of Arab descent. "Some of the best families I’ve ever had were some of my Muslim families," he said in a follow-up interview. "They were so nice to me." He now works for a Palestinian Christian family, whose members he says are "really marvelous." But his good feelings do not extend to Islam. "I don’t mean to sound harsh or anything, but I don’t like what the Muslim people believe in, according to the Koran. Because I think they preach hate," he said. As for the controversial cartoons of Muhammad, he said Arabs seem hypersensitive about religion. "I think it’s been blown out of proportion," he said. Source: [Washington Post]