An Islamic martyr – a shahid – is a follower of the prophet who dies fighting for Allah during jihad, and his goal is to enter Paradise while killing as many of the enemy as possible. In recent years martyrdom has increasingly been associated with the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent infidel (or apostate) civilians, even children.
But Christian martyrs are somewhat different. In the Christian tradition, a martyr faces death rather than renounce his faith, and dies without violent resistance, with his eyes turned towards God. To target anyone else during martyrdom, especially the innocent, would be specifically un-Christian.
At the dawn of Christianity innumerable believers were martyred at the hands of the Romans. Throughout the centuries since there have been many more dying at the hands of pagans, or during the internecine strife that has been all too common within Christianity. The latest examples occur in places like Nigeria, Sudan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, often at the hands of Muslims. The news doesn’t generally make it to the newspapers or TV, but there are Christians being martyred for their faith almost every day.
Now we come to Abdul Rahman, who has made it to the newspapers and TV. He is an apostate from Islam in Afghanistan, a convert to Christianity, and he faces a possible death sentence for his heinous act.
President Bush has been a long time acknowledging this travesty. The delay is peculiar, coming from a man with an Evangelical background. You would think it was incumbent upon him to bear witness to the suffering and possible death of a fellow Christian due solely to his profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
But Afghanistan, as we all know, is an example of the new wave of democratic change, a shining beacon of hope in the benighted Middle East. So it’s tough for our President to recognize publicly that a man may be put to death legally in Afghanistan because of his religious beliefs.
Today, in West Virginia, President Bush finally reacted:
[President Bush] said he was upset that an Afghan man is being tried for converting to Christianity. Abdul Rahman, 41, faces a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago. He has been charged with rejecting Islam, a crime under this country’s Islamic laws.
“We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom,” Mr. Bush said at Capitol Music Hall, an ornate theater downtown. “I’m troubled when I hear, deeply troubled when I hear, the fact that a person who converted away from Islam may be held to account. … I look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship.”
This is weak dishwater indeed, passing as a defense of religious freedom. What does he look forward to working with the Afghan government about? Arranging a proper Christian burial for Mr. Rahman after his execution? Attempting to negotiate a lesser penalty for the poor man, say the cutting off of a hand, or the gouging out of an eye?
What Afghanistan is proposing to do is completely legal, under a constitution that we helped to install, under a government that was duly elected in a free and fair ballot.
No wonder President Bush doesn’t want to talk about it.
No wonder he waited until after the Germans and Italians protested before he said anything.
But, even if he avoids a death sentence, Mr. Rahman is facing an ordeal. Here’s an interesting story from News 14 Carolina:
…prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari said questions have been raised about [Mr. Rahman’s] mental fitness.
“We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn’t talk like a normal person,” he told The Associated Press.
Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination.
“Doctors must examine him,” he said. “If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped.”
It was not immediately clear when he would be examined or when the trial would resume. Authorities have barred attempts by the AP to see Rahman and he is not believed to have a lawyer.
Well, of course he’s crazy. Anyone who rejects Islam has to be crazy; it’s obvious.
This is the old Soviet technique, refined and updated for the Umma of the 21st century: if brainwashing fails, label the poor bastard “nuts”, put him in a straitjacket, give him electroshock, and lock him away. What do you think the inside of an Afghan mental hospital is like?
And no lawyer, either, naturally.
Then there’s this account of a theological debate amongst Islamic scholars in Islam Online:
…Mohammad Salim Al-’Awwa, member of the International Association of Muslim Scholars, stated that the Ever-Glorious Qur’an did not specify a worldly punishment for apostasy. The Qur’anic verses talking about apostasy only warned of a punishment for the apostate in the Hereafter, echoing Qaradawi’s stance.
“Although we admit that apostasy is a crime, I doubt that the punishment mentioned by some classical jurists in the books of jurisprudence for apostasy is the capital punishment. I further doubt to include this form of punishment as a legal punishment prescribed by the Shari’ah. I am of the opinion that the punishment for apostasy is a discretionary one that is wholly left to concerned authorities to apply in the Muslim State,” said Awwa.
Well-known Azharite scholar Sheikh ’Abdul-Majeed Subh had said that the punishment for apostasy is dependent on the public interest of the Muslim nation and the assessment of scholars to each case.
“If the apostate does not harm the Muslim society, there may be no need for killing him.”
So, according to Dr. Awwa, the punishment might be “discretionary” – somehow, that doesn’t make me optimistic. “Discretionary” punishment in that part of the world is usually what I would call “draconian”.
And Sheikh Subh says that Mr. Rahman might be spared if he doesn’t harm the Umma. What would harm Muslim society? Carrying a Bible? Wearing a cross? Announcing his faith in Christ?
And if the Umma escapes harm, if nasty ol’ Jesus doesn’t hurt any poor Muslims, then what? Life without parole? Solitary confinement on bread and water?
As a public service, I have written a speech for President Bush to give the day after Mr. Rahman is convicted an sentenced:
My fellow Americans,
It is with great sadness that I must report to you the conviction and sentencing of a brave Christian in Afghanistan. Mr. Abdul Rahman faces death at the hands of the Afghan government solely for his profession of the Christian faith, as an apostate from Islam.
This barbaric act goes against everything that America stands for. It dishonors the blood that the brave members of our military shed in order to free Afghanistan from tyranny. It is a challenge to freedom of religion throughout the world.
I have made the strongest protest possible to President Hamid Karzai and the government of Afghanistan.
Ladies and gentlemen, America is the great lamp of freedom to the rest of the world, and religious freedom is perhaps the most important freedom of all. We cannot sit idly by while peaceful believers are brutalized and murdered because of their religious faith.
Unfortunately, the strategic circumstances of the Long War require us to maintain a working relationship with Afghanistan, in order to prosecute more effectively the war against the terrorists who would kill us.
But make no mistake about it – this partnership will continue only so long as it is absolutely necessary. After that, America will withdraw its aid and its soldiers until such time as the people of Afghanistan renounce their barbaric ways and join the civilized world.
Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear him say these things.