Sunday, June 22, 2014

AZAM AHMED - A Christian Convert, on the Run in Afghanistan

Kabul:  In a dank basement on the outskirts of Kabul, Josef read his worn blue Bible by the light of a propane lantern, as he had done for weeks since he fled from his family in Pakistan.

His few worldly possessions sat nearby in the 10-by-10-foot room of stone and crumbling brown earth. He keeps a wooden cross with a passage from the Sermon on the Mount written on it, a carton of Esse cigarettes, and a thin plastic folder containing records of his conversion to Christianity.

The documents are the reason he is hiding for his life. On paper, Afghan law protects freedom of religion, but the reality here and in some other Muslim countries is that renouncing Islam is a capital offense.

Josef's brother-in-law Ibrahim arrived in Kabul recently, leaving behind his family and business in Pakistan, to hunt the apostate down and kill him. Reached by telephone, Ibrahim, who uses only one name, offered a reporter for The New York Times $20,000 to tell him where Josef was hiding. "If I find him, once we are done with him, I will kill his son as well, because his son is a bastard," Ibrahim said, referring to Josef's 3-year-old child. "He is not from a Muslim father."

For Josef, 32, who asked to be identified only by his Christian name to protect his wife and young child, the path to Christianity was only one segment on a much longer journey, a year of wandering that took him through Turkey, Greece, Italy and Germany, seeking refuge from Afghanistan's violence.

But at each stop he found misfortune. He was detained in Greece and deported from Germany, and he lived on the streets in Italy before he truly understood that there would be no happy ending in Europe, where his application for asylum has gone nowhere. He voluntarily left Italy for Pakistan to be with his wife and son, but that is no longer an option.

Neither is reverting to Islam. "I inherited my faith, but I saw so many things that made me discard my religious beliefs," Josef said. "Even if I get killed, I won't convert back." In official eyes here, there are no Afghan Christians. The few Afghans who practice the faith do so in private for fear of persecution, attending one of a handful of underground churches that are believed to be operating in the country. Expatriates use chapels on embassy grounds, but those are effectively inaccessible to Afghans.

Only a few Afghan converts have surfaced in the past decade, and the government has typically dealt with them swiftly and silently: They are asked to recant, and if they refuse, they are expelled, usually to India, where an Afghan church flourishes in New Delhi. In a country of crippling poverty, ethnic fault lines and decades of war, Islamic piety offers many Afghans a rare thread of national solidarity. To reject Islam is seen as tantamount to treason.

"Religious identity is the only thing that Afghans can claim," said Daud Moradian, a professor at the American University in Afghanistan. "They do not have a national identity, they do not have an economic identity, and there is no middle or working class here." That leaves Josef almost nowhere to turn for protection. The police would be no help: Converts report being beaten and sexually abused while in custody. His family in Afghanistan is also a dead end: His uncles are hunting for him now, too.

Josef said he lost his faith well before he knew what would replace it. Most of his siblings emigrated to Germany when he was a teenager, but he stayed behind to look after his aging, ailing parents. He drove a taxi at night and studied medicine, earning a degree from Kabul Medical University. 

He hung on through civil war, repressive Taliban rule and Western invasion, but a senseless shooting he witnessed at close range in 2009 that left an 8-year-old boy dying in his mother's arms finally shattered his resolve to stay.

He borrowed money from his family and worked double shifts until he could pay a smuggler to get him to Europe. He left behind his mother, who died soon afterward, and his pregnant wife, who moved to Pakistan to be with her family. .. read more:

See also:

IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2013: Death penalty for atheism in 13 countries

Bangladesh targets only Nobel prize winner, Muhammad Yunus for being 'un-Islamic'

You can be put to death for atheism in 13 countries around the world

Religion and after: Bangladeshi identity since 1971

Pakistan’s Hindu community facing ‘forced conversion’

And we are Muslims? — Mehr Tarar

No compromise with live-ins or gay rights, moral values supreme: RSS // AMU group extols purdah, ‘Islamic solutions’ on Women’s Day

United front of religious fanatics on the issue of 377

Pakistani Activist Rashid Rehman shot dead; he fought for blasphemy suspects

Mahmoud Mohammed Taha (Author of Second Message of Islam)also known as Ustaz Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, was a Sudanese religious thinker, leader, and trained engineer. He was executed for apostasy at the age of 76 by the regime of Gaafar Nimeiry(See his Court statement)
THE MODERATE MARTYR - A radically peaceful vision of Islam

Taslima Nasreen - ‘Religion Is The Biggest Bane For Any Democracy’

Gita Sahgal - Bangladesh: Blasphemy, Genocide and Violence Against Women

LUMS fires Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy

Maryam Namazie: Defend Bangladesh's Bloggers

Tableeghi Jamaat members can knock at any door anywhere in the West. But Christian missionaries cannot proselytize the Muslim world

‘Freedom to criticize religion is a touchstone of free expression’ - Interview with Gilbert Achcar

 WOLE SOYINKA: Religion Against Humanity

IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2013: Death penalty for atheism in 13 countries

Salman Rushdie - ON CENSORSHIP

Communal fanatics continue their assault on free speech & expression - Kolkata TV serial based on Taslima Nasrin's script put off indefinitely