11/03/2015, 00.00
IRAQ
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For Kurdish bishop, ban on 18-year-olds choosing their religion is anti-Christian

Mgr Rabban al Qas criticises Iraq’s Parliament for rejecting an amendment to a controversial law. If a parent converts to Islam, his or her children are automatically Muslim and unable to change religion upon reaching legal age. For the prelate, this constitutes "genocide" in a country that knows neither freedom nor respect. Now he fears it might be extended to Kurdistan.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Mgr Rabban al-Qas, bishop of Amadiyah and Zaku (Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan), said that a decision late last month by the Iraqi parliament to reject an amendment to a controversial religious law goes against Christians and other Iraqi minorities.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate noted that the failure to amend the law could have serious “repercussions in Kurdistan,” where it is not yet applicable. As it snuffs out their desire for freedom, the law “will drive Christians away,” accelerating a process that is already underway.

"We are facing a genocide in a country that knows only death and liberticidal laws,” Mgr al-Qasr said. Here there is “neither freedom nor respect”.

The law at the heart of the controversy involves the religion of minors. Under existing legislation, children are considered automatically Muslim if one of the parents converts to Islam. An amendment proposed by Christian legislators, backed by parliamentarians from a number of parties and other religious groups, would cancel that provision but mustered only 51 votes in favour and 137 against.

The amendment would allow minors to retain the religion of birth until the legal age of 18. This would have allowed young people to choose their religion instead of being automatically classified as Muslim even against their will.

For young men and women, changing religion is a trying experience, especially in a country whose dominant religion punishes apostasy with the death penalty and where an extreme version of Islam is fast spreading.

In his talk with AsiaNews, the bishop of Amadiyah and Zaku did not mince words. His diocese is in Dohuk Governorate on the border with Turkey and Syria, and is currently sheltering hundreds of thousands of Christian refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain.

Speaking about the rejection, he said that "It is not just a political project. There are also traces of an Islam that wants to eliminate minorities: a faith that prevents you from coming back or change if you are Muslim. If you change your religion, it will be forever. Such a mentality has nothing that is human. "

“Not only have they taken homes and property from Christians,” he lamented, “but now they also want to take their willpower, hope, freedom of religion and freedom to choose for the future.”

The law contains a double standard that patently violates the individual right to religious freedom and the equality of religions because it establishes the primacy of Islam at the expense of the principles of citizenship, social justice, and religious freedom.

"Once it was possible to change religion at the age of 18,” Mgr al-Qas said. “Now that is outlawed. This is a serious decision by the government in Baghdad behind which one finds fanatical groups and extremist groups that did their utmost to ensure that parliament would reject the amendment.” Sadly, fighting for change “was not enough,” the prelate added.

For now, the law “has not yet come into force” in Kurdistan, Mgr Rabban explained. The Autonomous Region still upholds civic liberties and “allows people to choose”. For the Iraqi government however, “this is a big mistake, and one cannot exclude that in the future it may also touch us” in Kurdistan.

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