Not many days ago, I promised not to hush the much bigger part of life’s hodgepodge of good and evil. Today, in Afghanistan, the world admires a sliver of this goodness in a flickering flame of blessed humanity. He is Abdul Rahman, a 41 year-old Afghan on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity. The authorities have charged him with rejecting Islam, a crime deserving execution under the country's Sharia-based law.
The prosecution is driven by misguided religious fanaticism that perverts the natural law present in every human soul. When it's intact, that natural law — perceived as the voice of conscience — tells us to avoid evil and do good. It also points out those things that are always and everywhere wrong, like killing the innocent and telling lies. When perverted, it either denies the existence of evil or, as in the case of misguided religion, says good is bad and bad is good.
Freedom of religion is not bad. It is good — always and everywhere.
The court case in Afghanistan is not a duel of religions. No, God is not on trial. It is a test of two political wills — the Afghan government’s against that of the old guard of Muslim clerics. Caught in the line of fire is Mr. Rahman, whose steel will is shining light on more than darkness. His defense leans on the bright light of a newly formed constitution, ratified en masse by the Afghan people.
And the world is speaking out against any religious imposters that would reject such light. U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in concert with many European countries, put it like this:
"...it is our great hope and desire that Afghanistan will reaffirm what is already in its constitution, that the universal declaration on human rights will be respected, and that this will be resolved in a way that is consistent with those principles."
When we look at Abdul’s face we empathize, and then we shudder. Did the thrashing of the Taliban make any difference at all? Of course it did. A constitution that reflects universal rights including the right to convert from Islam to Christianity and back again a thousand times, is a good thing, even if it’s weak. The test it now endures may make it strong.
The outcome of this case is not about theory. It’s about real people, their safety and their freedom. That’s what I was reminded of when I made contact last night with a group of Protestant missionaries who are on the ground in Kabul. I was curious to know if there were others like Abdul. Here’s part of an e-mail they sent me. It too will make you shudder.
Dear Father Jonathan,
I appreciate your interest in this case. It is time for the Afghan government to take a stand. They want the West’s money by embracing democracy, because that is what they know the West wants, but when it comes to implementing democracy then they have all kinds of excuses. If they can burn up embassies, cars and kill people because of a cartoon, then we can turn up the heat through international free press.
I cannot describe to you the fear that is gripping the Christian community in Afghanistan at the moment. These people have been through so much over the past 17 years. They are so excited about the future, and they were even at the point of mobilizing 200 Christians to approach the government and ask permission to build an Afghan Church, hoping for the opportunity to worship freely.
Statements that just went out from the Afghan government about execution puts them back ten years. They are fearful of a Taliban-like government returning. Some of them even started talking about leaving the country. We estimate there are more than 10,000 Christians inside the country at the moment.
In our organization no one will approach an Afghan about Christianity, but will answer questions about it when asked. We explain and give them the opportunity to decide. If they want to pursue Christianity we will explain as much as they want.
Thank you again for taking up the cause.
Sincerely, "Another Christian on the Ground"
But more than shudder, the story should make us pray and work. We pray for Abdul Rahman, for his safety and his courage. Fortified by prayer, we work for justice — the virtue of giving everyone what is their due.
Afghanistan, give Abdul his due — to worship in freedom and in truth.
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. The story of martyrdom is an ancient one, but it frightens and inspires just the same. Do you shudder? Are you inspired? Would you be willing to stand your ground? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Write to Father Jonathan at email@example.com.