By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Afghanistan's tiny Christian minority faced more danger Monday, September 23, after a key legislator suggested that those who convert from Islam to Christianity "are to be executed," Catholics familiar with the situation said.
Muslim Parliamentarian Nazir Ahmad Hanafi said converts should be killed according to Sharia, or Islamic, law to halt the "rapid growth of Christianity" among Afghan citizens within the country and abroad, reported Fides, the news agency of the Vatican's missionary arm.
"The Afghan people continue to convert to Christianity...This is an affront to the Islamic law and, according to the Koran, they have to be executed", Hanafi reportedly told parliament.
He spoke after Afghan media noted an increase in the number of Christians in the Islamic country.
Another legislator was quoted as saying that in India, which hosts thousands of Afghan refugees, a Christian congregation was established called 'Church of the Afghans' for "all Afghan citizens."
WESTERN TROOPS ACCUSED
Parliamentarian Abdul Latif Pedram reportedly accused Western troops of involvement in evangelism. "Conversions to Christianity are the result of the presence of the United States in Afghanistan," he said in published remarks.
Parliamentary speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi condemned all "Christian proselytism" in Afghanistan, and ordered the country's national security committee to "follow the matter seriously".
BosNewsLife also noted an increase interest for Bibles in the country, following conversations with a well-informed former Muslim who asked not be identified amid security concerns.
Even some members of the Afghan Parliament have secretly converted to Christianity, despite the risks involved, Christians said.
HOUSE CHURCHES WORSHIP
A growing number of Afghans, including politicians, are meeting in "house churches" despite death treats and attacks by Islamic militants, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
Islamic leaders of Afghanistan consider the growth of Christianity a threat to their powerbase and the country's traditions.
In recent months, the influential 'Islamic Council of Afghanistan' reportedly expressed concern to President Hamid Karzai about the growing presence of Christian foreigners in the country, including aid workers.
Open Doors, an advocacy aid group supporting "persecuted Christians", isn't suprised about these developments. "Seeing itself as the ‘defender of Islam’, the state treats converts, who all come from a Muslim background, in a very hostile manner," the group said in a recent assessment.
EXTREME CAUTION URGED
"Christians cannot meet in public and even gatherings in private houses require extreme caution. No church buildings exist, even for expatriates, and both local and expatriate Christians are subject to cases of kidnapping, abduction, killing and having to flee the country," Open Doors added.
Afghanistan ranks third on the group's annual World Watch List of 50 countries where it claims Christians suffer most for their faith.
"Islamic extremism’ as well as ‘organized corruption’ are the main persecution dynamics in Afghanistan. Family and societal pressure combined with government persecution makes the situation for Christians in the country very difficult despite international agreements designed to protect the freedom of religion," Open Doors said.
Open Doors expressed concern about the future of Christians after the withdrawal of American and other Western troops from the nation.
TALIBAN REGAINING STRENGTH
"The militant Taliban [group] is regaining strength in the country and has vowed to purge all Christians from Afghanistan, both foreign and local. Relief organizations and non-government organizations are accused of evangelizing and Christian relief workers are a prime target," Open Doors noted.
"The future does not look bright for Christians: Afghanistan is entering a new phase with the withdrawal of troops in 2013-14," the group said in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.
"Different ethnic factions struggle for their share of power, the election in April 2014 is approaching and the volatile situation in neighboring Pakistan, where the Taliban have a stronghold, is complicating the situation additionally," the group explained.
Open Doors said the church "has been pushed underground" as the country is facing "extreme persecution".
Muslims comprise the vast majority of Afghanistan's 31-million population, with Christians accounting far less than 1 percent according to previous estimates, but reports suggest the real figure may be higher.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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