The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Killing for conversion

By N. Kunju

USA is claiming to be the most powerful democracy that has taken up the cause of human rights all over the world. It is also a predominantly Christian country and subtly looks after Christian interests at home and abroad. As such, it was time Americans asked President George Bush if their sons have died fighting in the alien land to establish a regime in which opting to put one’s faith in Christianity is punishable with death.

"I am aghast at the virtual silence in India over the proposed execution of Abdul Rehman of Afghanistan for what his country’s legal system regards as the capital offence of having converted to Christianity. But I hear no outcry from moderate Muslims or Hindu intellectuals who normally wave the secular flag. None of the major secular parties seem interested in deploring the horror. They would rather bury their heads in the sand and emerge only when Hindu communalism is the issue...”

The above passage is not from a speech of a prominent BJP leader or from the writing of a regular columnist of Organiser. Neither was the author a Hindutva activist nor one complaining of minority appeasement by the UPA government. It is an excerpt from eminent economist Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyer’s column “Swaminomics” in Times of India. And Swaminathan, brother of Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer, is no Hindutva enthusiast, but a self-confessed atheist.

According to Islamic law, Shariat, a Muslim who converts to another religion is guilty of apostasy, which attracts the punishment of death sentence. Strange it may seem for two reasons. One, all Muslims are converts from Jew, Christian, Hindu or other religions to Islam and if these religions too had such a law, Islam would have been nipped in the bud. Secondly, devout Muslims think it their duty to convert other religionists to their fold, the only true path to Allah (God). If Muslims think that conversion to other religions is punishable with death, how could other religions tolerate their followers to be converted to Islam? Why should Muslims raise ballyhoo if a state passes laws banning conversion?

Remember, Afghanistan is not a theocracy like Saudi Arabia or Iran, which is ruled by the mullahs. It is a country liberated by USA from the fanatic rule of the dreaded Taliban, the worst kind of Islamic fundamentalists, at the cost of the lives of hundreds of American soldiers and billions of dollars. Elections were held in Afghanistan and a democratic government was formed headed by Prime Minister Hamid Karzai. Even today US army is stationed in the country engaged in the job of wiping out the remnants of the jehadi terrorists guided by the international Islamic terrorist Osama bin Laden.

USA is claiming to be the most powerful democracy that has taken up the cause of human rights all over the world. It is also a predominantly Christian country and subtly looks after Christian interests at home and abroad. As such, it was time Americans asked President George Bush if their sons have died fighting in the alien land to establish a regime in which opting to put one’s faith in Christianity is punishable with death.

Of course conversion is bad; people can be good irrespective of the religions they follow and there is no need to convert from one to another to have divine bliss or realise God. There are rare cases when individuals voluntarily accept the guidance of gurus belonging to a different sect or religion and embrace the guru’s faith. However, such gurus are becoming fast extinct. Today conversion is carried out through inducements. And countries that have plenty of money to spare to spread their faith use it through missionaries and other religious institutions.

But none has the right to kill the converted person for the crime, even if the conversion was through inducement. It will be like hanging a hungry beggar for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. Laws of such barbaric nature, even if it has religious sanction, should not be tolerated.

Muslims all over the world protested when a Danish cartoonist drew a caricature of their Prophet. In India, they joined even godless communists in taking out protest marches and demonstrations that turned violent in the frenzy. Shouldn’t they protest to save the good name of Islam on the issue of punishing a person in Afghanistan for merely exercising his freedom of faith? And the communists should have protested more because there was an American hand in defeating a socialist government in Afghanistan, which caused the return of Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

(The writer a veteran journalist can be contacted at 42-B, Pocket 1, Mayur Vihar Phase 1, Delhi 110091.)

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