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Islamic laws restricting human rights

(Pakistan Daily Times) WASHINGTON : An uproar over the threatened execution of an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity highlights a disturbing conflict between application of Islamic laws and protection of human rights in Asia and the Middle East , US experts say.
The case of Abdul Rahman, who narrowly escaped the death penalty in Afghanistan by fleeing to Italy , reflects a bigger trend of anti-conversion legislation curtailing rights of non-Muslim minorities, the experts told a US Congress-sponsored meeting.
Rahman, 41, was spirited out of Afghanistan on March 29 after a US-led Western furore over his trial under Shariah law which says that anyone who leaves Islam must be put to death unless they recant. Though state prosecution for conversion out of Islam is relatively rare in Muslim-majority countries, at least 14 such countries considered apostasy a crime, with Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania and Comoros making it punishable by death, said Nina Shea, director of global rights group Freedom House’s centre for religious freedom.
Lesser punishments are imposed in Jordan , Kuwait , Malaysia , the Maldives , Oman and Qatar while some states deny civil rights to those viewed as apostates.
Shea faulted the United States , which has extensive influence in Kabul , for the “fatal flaw” in the Afghanistan constitution that allowed prosecution of apostasy crimes.
After all, this is “the very constitution that the United States supported and guided and about which our officials heralded as ‘one of the most enlightened constitutions in the Islamic world,’” she said. “The implication of Rahman’s case is that it points out the unresolved tension in certain Muslim countries between the application of Islamic law and protection of human rights,” said Felice Gaer, vice chairwoman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
She said it was an irony that Islamic nations which considered conversion a crime also vowed, as UN members, to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which “cleary affirm and protect” the freedom to change religions or beliefs.
International experts entrusted with the interpretation of freedom of religion have consistently affirmed that “the freedom to adopt a religion is the freedom to change religion,” Gaer said.
Islamic law or principles are “a source of, or a limitation on, general legislation” in 15 of 44 predominantly Muslim countries studied by the commission, an independent body created by Congress to monitor religious freedom.
“In the vast majority of these cases, however, no constitutional guidance is given or how legislation should be assessed against Islamic principles, or how conflicts between Islamic principles and constitutional protections for human rights should be resolved,” Gaer said.
“The Rahman case is unfortunately only one example of a larger trend of anti-conversion and anti-blasphemy laws throughout Asia and the Middle East,” according to the US Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which held the forum last week.
Religious minorities in mostly Islamic states are in a “precarious” position because laws there “do not provide adequate protection” to them, said the bipartisan caucus.
In addition to imposing criminal penalties, some Islamic states are accused of denying civil rights to those considered apostates, including dissolution of marriages, interference with child custody, inheritance and property decisions, as well as difficulties in obtaining crucial identity documents.
In Malaysia, for example, the courts have ruled that ethnic Malays could not renounce Islam at all because they were defined by the Federal Constitution to be persons of the Islamic faith, said Angela Wu of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
One Malay Muslim woman who converted to Christianity was asked to apply to the Shariah court for permission to legally renounce Islam before she could change the Muslim designation on her national identification papers, she said. But Malaysian Shariah courts reportedly have never granted permission for a Malay Muslim to convert out of Islam and Wu said the Muslim designation had prevented the woman from marrying a Christian and placed other restrictions on her.
“I believe that punishing those converting out of Islam is absolutely unIslamic, absolutely illegal under Islamic law and unQuranic and contradicts the teaching of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) in whose teachings we believe,” said Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain of Washington-based Georgetown University.
The Palestinian-American told the Congressional forum that “there is not a single verse in the Quran that talks about apostasy and that those who convert out of Islam should be killed.
“On the contrary five verses of the Quran say that those who convert out of Islam have the right to do so,” he said. AFP