Something was reported the last couple of weeks that I have been expecting ever since the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq began. A Muslim who converted to Christianity faced the death penalty in Afghanistan.

Why is this a surprise to the White House and the American people? Death to anyone who deserts Islam is clearly a teaching of the Prophet Muhammad. His words are known as hadith.

Hadith sayings are a part of Islamic law, or Sharia, but are not in the Quran. An Islamist writer at Cairo University (Abdelsabour Shahin) writes: “If someone changes from Islam to kufr (unbelief), that has to remain a personal matter, and he should not make it public.”

Beginning in the seventh century, Islamic Arabs conquered North Africa, ruled Spain for centuries and made converts to the shores of the Danube–all at the point of a sword. “Convert to Islam or die by the sword.” Arab culture was swallowed up by the religion of Islam.

Anyone converting from Islam to Christianity was condemned as a traitor and worthy of death. Today’s constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq tiptoe around this fact.

All the while our government leaders proclaim the new democracies there as something wonderful. Afghanistan’s constitution, written in 2004, enshrines the country as an Islamic state under which no law can contravene Islam.

“It is a deliberately ambiguous document which tries to paper over the cracks and contradictions of Afghanistan,” says one Afghan law professor privately.

In the 1980s, when my wife and I were working in far west China (Urumqi, the most Muslim city in China), we learned of the persecution from Muslims toward those who converted to Christianity.

A Muslim man might never go near the mosque nor give Allah a thought, but if a relative shows interest in Christianity, they immediately get religious and demand retribution. They see it as an insult for a Muslim to become a Christian. Then “insulted Muslims,” who know next to nothing about either Islam or Christianity, go on the warpath.

Abdul Rahman was jailed in Afghanistan March 19 for violating Islamic law. The law he broke was rejecting the Islamic faith. Now, Rahman has been a Christian for more than 10 years. He lived in Germany for a time and converted to Christianity while working in Pakistan. His conversion was not a problem until others saw an advantage in exposing him.

Rahman’s conversion was brought out by his angry in-laws during a custody dispute between Rahman and his ex-wife over their children. From that exposure the authorities arrested him.

When the news came out, the Afghan court delayed the trial, saying the man was insane and could not stand trial. To a die-hard Muslim, anyone who converted to Christianity must be crazy. Rather than face the issue the government would send him to an insane asylum, solving nothing.

“Live and let live” is a somewhat unknown tenet for fundamentalist Muslims.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations was slow to respond, but finally condemned the action of the Afghan government. Part of their statement said Islam advocates both freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Some American Muslims may feel that way, but history and the experience of non-Muslims living in Muslim countries definitely differ.

As of this writing the government has decided not to condemn Rahman, but if they set him free Muslims have sworn he will be killed. Italy offered him asylum. He is there now. That does not solve anything. Muslim law still trumps Afghanistan’s new laws. Tension will continue anywhere Islamic law is considered equal with a nation’s laws.

An Afghan man was quoted in one news report as saying: “Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die…. We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there’s nothing left.”

Since October, 2002, American soldiers have suffered and died so Afghans could enjoy “freedom.” This is the thanks we get.

Britt Towery, a retired Baptist missionary, writes for the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.

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