This is Part II of a three-part story on Muslims converting to Christianity. If you have not done so already, we suggest first reading From Islam to Christianity – Apostasy that Enlightens - Part I
“The reasons to leaving Islam are manifold,” said Reuven Paz, a researcher specializing in Islam and radical Islamic movements at Interdisciplinary Center in Herzeliya. “Most people do so because they marry Christian spouses. Others – especially in the US and Europe – opt for Christianity to blend with the majority and become part of the new culture, and yet others – mostly in Africa – simply follow their tribe’s chief,” he argued.
But there are some whose motivation had deeper roots. Jamal Jivanjee, the Executive Director of Illuminate-US, a website dedicated to spreading the message of Christianity, said he left Islam at the age of 18, enchanted by Christ's unconditional love.
“Being born and raised in the US, my father insisted on raising me as a Muslim. Despite being a pious man, he was empty. Islam had never been able to turn him into a happy man,” said Jivanjee, emphasizing that his father’s subsequent conversion brought him the peace he had always longed for. “After my father learned of my decision to become a Christian, he initially felt like a failure, blaming himself for failing to do enough to turn me into a devoted Muslim. But when he saw my eyes and the change in my attitude towards people and life, he accepted it,” he explained.
Unlike Jivanjee, whose conversion was sparked by sheer curiosity, others were motivated by a more acute urge. “The turning point happened to me in America when I went to a mosque and was told not assimilate because a Muslim's mission is to Islamize the country. I left the mosque and never went back,” said Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian born writer, author of “The Devil We don’t Know; the dark side of revolutions in the Middle East”. “It took me many years to see the truth about the religion I was born in; a religion that encourages hatred, lies, slander, killing and terrorism – all in the name of Allah,” she continued.
Leaving Islam – or apostasy – is punishable by death; and even though some say the Islamic Holy Scripture, the Quran, doesn’t mention it explicitly, scholars have found evidence of implicit support for such a severe penalty. Similarly, there are numerous authentic religious texts ascribed to the prophet Mohammed that also support this claim.
However, some scholars say that the death penalty is a fanatical interpretation of the book, with the violence usually deriving from family members and radical elements rather than Islamic authorities. “Since the conversion is illegal, it’s usually expressed in violence (especially towards women). At the same time, many secular Muslims don’t view apostasy as something forbidden because Jesus is also a Muslim prophet,” reasoned Paz.
“The death penalty is typical of extremists – a group of educated people, who studied Islam by themselves,” he argued, referring to such individuals as Osama Bin Laden or Al-Qaeeda’s second in command, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. “Most Islamic clerics oppose conversion but they would not order the execution of a person who converted. Fanatics are a different case; for them Islam should encompass the entire world,” he continued.
Some Muslim scholars agree. Rayed Habib, a Palestinian cleric, who preaches in one of Bethlehem’s mosques, said Islam is a peaceful religion that objects to the murder of apostates. “Killing is a sin; it is forbidden in the Quran,” he told Israel Today. “Apostasy is wrong but that doesn’t mean we have to kill those people, especially since there is no law in Islam that orders us to do so,” he explained.
Habib also said that conversions don’t take place in Palestine. “There was only one person, who did it,” he told the magazine, referring to the son of Hamas, Mosab Hassan Yousef, “but he left to America because he feared radicals would kill his father. Other than him, nobody does it,” he claimed. If Habib's claim about zero conversions is correct, it may suggest that they are not exactly tolerated, even if they aren't punishable by death.
The internet is rife with cases of persecuted former Muslims in the Palestinian Authority, indicating that Yousef’s conversion is far from a rare phenomenon. In 2003, for example, a missing convert to Christianity was returned to his family, slaughtered and cut into pieces by Muslims. In a similar case that took place in 2005, another convert was shot dead by masked gunmen.
Similar expressions of violence and murder have been documented in many other countries, including Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Austria, Germany, the USA, and others.
But as Habib pointed out, it’s unfair to blame Islam for all the atrocities, stressing that other religions are far from perfect. Indeed, the conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews and the Crusades took thousands of innocent lives. But, unlike in Islam, historic violence has never been codified into the Jewish law. In Christianity, parts of the Old Testament that encouraged violence were subsequently replaced by Jesus’ approach of unconditional love, teaching people to “turn the other cheek” instead of fighting to extract an “eye for an eye” retribution. As far as the Crusades are concerned, many experts view them as a counterattack to the deeds of Abu Ali Mansur Tariqul-Hakim, accused of destroying a number of important churches.
Therefore, some say, that it is Islam, rather than other religions, that preaches intolerance and violence towards non-Muslims.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the third and final part of this story