A UK-based Christian charity organization presented on Wednesday July 28, a major international petition signed by 88,890 people from 32 countries calling for “Muslims who choose to convert to another faith” to be “free to do so without having to face a lifetime of fear as a result.” The petition—presented by the Barnabas Fund to Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights—was launched a year ago on behalf of Muslims who convert to another faith (apostates) who face serious persecution and massive prejudice in many countries around the world.
According to traditional Islamic law (Shari’ah), adult Muslim men who choose to adopt any other belief and refuse to return to Islam, should be put to death. Other punishments include the annulment of marriage, the removal of children and the loss of all property and inheritancerights. This tradition is still upheld and taught by most Muslim religious leaders around the world today. In some countries (notably Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan) this is part of the law, and Muslims who have adopted another belief have faced imprisonment, death threats, torture and beatings because of their decision. Some have been executed; others have died in prison or disappeared. Even in countries where apostasy is not punished by law, Muslims who adopt another belief often face widespread hostility and aggression from their own families and communities.
Over the past year, supporters of Barnabas Fund’s campaign have written to Muslim leaders, parliamentarians, heads of state, public figures and religious leaders around the world urging them to speak out on the issue. In the UK alone hundreds of letters have been sent to the Muslim Council of Britain urging a constructive dialogue on the matter, although the Barnabas Fund reports that they do not know of a single response that has been received.
Hundreds of letters have also been sent to the main regional heads of the UK’s Christian denominations, with virtually no response. Many privately acknowledge the terrible suffering of apostates and admit to the gravity of the situation, but are unprepared to speak out publicly.
Speaking from Barnabas Fund’s office Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of the Barnabas Fund said “It is a tragic day when so few political or religious leaders can be found who are prepared to stick their necks out by simply publicly affirming the most basic of human rights to change one’s religion, something that has been enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for over fifty years.”
“My hope and prayer is that this campaign will help to end the turning of a blind eye to the suffering of converts from Islam, and instead put their desperate needs firmly on to the international human rights agenda where they very much belong” Sookhdeo said.
In addition to the 88,890 signatures collected from around the world, 92 British MPs last year signed an Early Day Motion in connection with the campaign in the House of Commons which commences: “That this house supports liberal Muslims, human rights campaigners and others who are calling for an end to cruel traditional punishments for apostasy”.
As well as meeting Louise Arbour, the Barnabas Fund also met with Ambassador Mike Smith, Chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights and Soli J Sorabjee, Chairman of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.