Associated Press had an insightful article on the freedom to choose one's religion in the Middle East and North Africa . Unlike India, Japan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand, almost all states in the Middle East and North Africa criminalize Christian missionary activity. Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey are the only three countries in the region that permit an individual to convert from Islam to any other religion.
Lebanon is a secular state that once had a Christian majority. The Christian population appears to have now declined to 35% due to an exodus. Muslim religious authorities forbid the change of religion in Lebanon and will not legalize a marriage between a Christian man and a Muslim woman. The reverse is allowed since the Prophet Mohammed had 12 wives, one of whom was a Christian. Muslim Lebanese women travel to Cyprus to marry a non-Muslim man and register this marriage upon their return to Lebanon.
The Shari'ah considers the conversion of any Muslim as apostasy that is punishable by death. According to Palestinian law, Muslim women who seek to divorce their husbands who convert to Christianity have only to report the matter to a Palestinian court to have the marriage nullified. Muslim women who wish to divorce the husbands in Jordan who converted to Christianity can report the matter to court and the courts will convict the man of apostasy. A Muslim man who adopted Christianity in 2004 was convicted, fired from his job and had his marriage annulled.
The law of Israel forbids organized Christian missionary activity amongst Jews.
Sa'udi law forbids conversion from Islam and does not permit the public practice of any religion but Islam within the kingdom. Missionaries are not allowed entry and the law forbids the construction of churches in Sa'udi Arabia. Riyadh has a different scale of compensation for those murdered depending on the religion of the victim. Families of Muslim male victims are entitled to maximum compensation under the law while the families of Hindu women victims are paid the least - a fraction of the compensation received by a Muslim male's family.
In May, 2005, a Muslim who converted to Christianity in Egypt was charged for contempt for religion, a charge that entails a jail sentence of 5 years. The man however has not been charged and remains in indefinite custody. A court convicted a Shi'ite Muslim who adopted Christianity in Kuwait but did not punish him since the criminal court did not spell out a punishment. Sudan enforces the death penalty for Muslims who convert to Christianity. A Sudanese Muslim who allegedly converted in Khartoum but denied it upon arrest remains in prison and has been tortured according the United States Department of State.
The case of Abdul Rahman, the 41year old Afghan who converted to Islam and was referred to an Afghan court for possible execution hit the world headlines in the last fortnight. Even Amin Farhang, the Afghan Economic Minister who had lived in Germany for 22 years before returning to Kabul had defended possible prosecution arguing that Afghanistan can not switch suddenly from one extreme to the other" and the added that the right to convert was impossible in a land that continues to uphold the Islamic punishment for apostasy.
Afghanistan was forced to release Abdul Rahman given the avalanche of international criticism. As Bush had remarked on March 22, "It is deeply troubling, that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another". Or as the New York Times put it, "If Afghanistan wants to return to the Taleban days, it can do so without the help of the United States". The Anglican Archbishop of Canada had mentioned "I'm absolutely horrified to think that this kind of fanatical literalism would be applied to this time and age". The Milan-based newspaper - Corriere dell Serra - added that "western states helping Afghanistan should launch a movement to reform Islam there".
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