11/05/2008, 00.00
VATICAN – ISLAM

Muslim converts to Christianity ask religious experts at Vatican meeting for religious freedom

An appeal by 144 people calls on experts engaged in talks not to forget the difficult predicament in which Christians live. Often treated as “outsiders and outcastes”, they urgently demand protection for the right to change religion.

Rome (AsiaNews) – A group of 144 Christians, including 77 Muslims who converted to Christianity, have launched an appeal to Muslim and Catholics scholars who are currently meeting in the Vatican not to forget Christian minorities and new Christian converts living in Islamic countries. The petitioners, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestants from North Africa and the Middle Eat, want the meeting in the Vatican to agree to the following points:

1.      that Islamic law does not apply to non-Muslims;

2.      that dhimmi (or second class) status be abolished;

3.      that the right to change religion be recognised as a fundamental right.

The appeal that was sent to AsiaNews was also published on an Algerian Christian site, Notre Dame de Kabylie (in French).

Those who signed the appeal are happy for the steps taken in the last few years and for the Letter signed by 128 Muslim scholars which many see as a sign that “Islam is not anti-Christian.”

They stress however that the minority condition endured by Christians in Muslim countries, already influenced by the unbearable status of dhimmi (group protection extended by Islamic rulers to their non-Muslim subjects in exchange for paying a tax, which in effect denies them equal treatment in society), has worsened lately as a result of the rise of militant Islamism.  

“As for new Christians or converts, they are denied the right to express their new religious identity unless they are prepared to run the risk of being called apostate, which, if they can, effectively forces them into exile,” the appeal said. 

Those who signed the appeal want the meeting between the Vatican and Muslim scholars to focus on “three urgent topics”:

1.      that Islamic law not be applied to non-Muslims;

2.      that dhimmi status, which marginalises Christians and turns them into outcastes, no longer be acceptable and be abolished instead because like slavery it offends human dignity;

3.      that the right to change religions be recognised as a fundamental right since it comes from God who does not force anyone to worship him.”

To buttress its arguments, the appeal also points out that in the Qur’an there verses that are in favour of religious freedom even if some hadith call for the death of apostates.

“Sadly, some states have incorporated the latter in their constitution (ex. Mauritania), which they enforce despite the 1948 Universal declaration of Human Rights.”

In reaffirming the need for an Islamic-Christian dialogue, the signers of the appeal urge the experts “to take into account Christian communities who live in the said ‘Muslim’ world, or who hail from there. Leaving us out or forgetting about us can only be a sign of ignorance or a deliberate attempt to avoid the issues that cause problems. It is sad to say that current news reports unfailingly show that Christians in the Muslim world are in grave peril.”

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