Afghan clerics warn Karzai against missionaries

KABUL – Afghanistan’s Islamic council has told President Hamid Karzai to stop foreign aid groups from converting locals to Christianity and also demanded the reintroduction of public executions.

The council, an influential group but without binding authority, is made up of Islamic clergy and ulema (scholars) from various parts of Afghanistan and made the warning in a statement during a meeting with Karzai on Friday.

The ulema have always played a crucial role in Muslim Afghanistan and have been behind a series of revolts against past governments.

But since the ousting of Taliban’s radical Islamic administration by U.S.-led troops in 2001, Afghanistan has seen an unprecedented period of freedoms.

“The council is concerned about the activities of some … missionary and atheistic organs and considers such acts against Islamic sharia (law), the constitution, and political stability,” said a copy of the statement obtained by Reuters.

“If not prevented, God forbid, catastrophe will emerge, which will not only destabilize the country, but the region and the world.”

Quoting what he said were reliable sources, Ahmad Ali Jebrayeli, a member of the council and also a member of parliament, said unnamed Christian missionaries had offices in Kabul and in the provinces to convert Afghans.

“Some NGOs are encouraging them (to convert), give them books (Bibles) and promise to send them abroad,” he told Reuters on Saturday.

STRONG CHRISTIAN LINKS

Numerous foreign aid groups and charities operating in Afghanistan have strong direct or indirect links to Christian organizations, but they insist they are not proselytizing.

Some 23 South Korean missionaries, were kidnapped by the Taliban last year and, amongst other things, accused of trying to convert Muslims. Two of the group were murdered before the rest, almost all women, were freed following a complex secret deal.

The conversion and spiriting out of an Afghan Christian convert following the intervention of several Western leaders and Pope Benedict in 2006 also sparked a series of protests locally.

Strict interpretations of Islam as practiced in Afghanistan treat conversions as apostasy, which is punishable by death.

The council also urged Karzai to stop local TV stations from airing Indian soap operas and movies — enormously popular in Afghanistan — which they said showed obscenities and scenes which threatened the morality of society.

The council also demanded a return to public executions for murderers as well as a crackdown against graft.

The Taliban, leading an insurgency against Karzai’s government and foreign troops, used to publicly execute those convicted of capital crimes — usually on Fridays after midday prayers.

While Afghanistan still has the death penalty on its books, it has been rarely been carried out since the Taliban’s fall and never in public.

Karzai instructed various government departments to address the demands of the council, but stopped short of committing to change, Jebrayeli said.

“If he fails to listen to the Ulema, people will further distance themselves from the government (and) there will be more pessimism and instability,” he said.

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