by Barbara G. Baker
ISTANBUL (Compass) -- The supreme leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia warned on January 8 that his regime will apply the death penalty to any Muslim who converts to another faith.
Monitored over Radio Shariat, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar declared that any Afghan caught professing Christianity or Judaism would be executed, as required by the strict interpretation of Islamic law enforced under Taliban rule. The Taliban control roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan.
According to an Associated Press report on the broadcast, Omar also specified that "any non-Muslim found trying to win converts will also be killed."
The Taliban leader made reference to a global campaign against Islam being mounted by the followers of other faiths. "It is seen that enemies of the sacred religion of Islam are making efforts throughout the world to eliminate this pure religion," he said. Omar did not elaborate, except to declare that "numerous plots" had been uncovered to corrupt Islam, and that some Afghans had converted for "material benefits."
Senior Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmain went on to allege that "certain foreigners" in the country were trying secretly to convert Afghans to Christianity. "There are programs by some agencies inside and outside Afghanistan to do this," Mutmain said. He did not identify any organizations by name.
"Therefore it is seriously announced to all countrymen," the edict said, "that if an Afghan Muslim accepts Christian beliefs or has converted to this abolished religion, or if he is seen professing Christianity and Judaism, distributing their religious literature or making publicity in their interest, he will be condemned to death."
According to Mutmain, the Taliban's religious police have been ordered to implement the reinforced edict against apostasy. The decree also announced a five-year jail sentence for anyone caught selling or distributing "anti-Islamic" literature.
Since the Taliban seized control of Kabul in 1996, the movement has introduced a harsh version of Islamic and tribal law. "Murderers are executed by their victims' families, thieves' hands are chopped off, adulterers are stoned to death and homosexuals are killed by having a tank flatten a wall on them," the Agence France Press noted in its report on the latest edict.
Social restrictions imposed by the Taliban have barred women from education and most employment, required men to wear beards and perform public prayers, prescribed male and female dress codes and outlawed music and television.
Of necessity, secret Christian believers in Afghanistan have remained invisible since the Taliban takeover, both in terms of identity and numbers. Two Afghan men suspected of converting to Christianity were reported hanged by the Taliban in 1998, but details remain unconfirmed.
On July 9, 1998, Radio Kabul announced that violations of the Koranic ban on converting from Islam to another religion would be punished under strict Islamic law. Radio listeners were ordered to report to the authorities any reported conversions among their acquaintances.
Copyright Â© 2001 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.