Convert Case Sparks Surge of Interest in Christianity Among Afghans
By Patrick Goodenough CNSNews.com International Editor March 27, 2006
(CNSNews.com) - An Afghan Christian leader in the U.S. has welcomed reports that criminal charges may be dropped against an Afghan Christian convert who was threatened with execution for refusing to return to Islam.
Hussain Andaryas said the publicity surrounding the Abdul Rahman case had resulted in a surge of interest in Christianity among Afghans, strong concern for the plight of Afghanistan's underground Christians -- and an antagonistic response from Muslims.
On Sunday, Afghan officials were quoted as saying that Rahman would likely be released soon while the case against him was examined further.
Of the possibility that Kabul may declare him mentally unfit to stand trial, Andaryas said that was simply "a matter of politics" and a convenient way to "get rid of the shame."
Andaryas runs a collection of Christian websites in Afghanistan's Dari-Persian tongue as well as daily radio programs and a weekly television program.
He is in daily contact with individuals in his homeland, and has been reporting for several years about the risks faced by Afghan Christians -- all converts from Islam and thus considered apostates worthy of death, according to Islamic law (shari'a).
He said one of the websites, which carries news on Afghan Christians, typically drew about 300 unique visitors every month, but since the Rahman story emerged it had attracted half a million visitors.
The number of emails received also has risen enormously, and 13 people are now tasked with responding to them.
The majority of emails are negative and many are abusive, coming from Muslims who felt that Rahman and other apostates -- including Andaryas himself -- should be severely punished.
But there also are many messages of support, he said.
And then there are emails coming from Afghans wanting to know more about Christianity, asking where they can get a Bible in the Dari or Pashto language, or sharing the news that they had become believers in Jesus Christ.
Among the most stirring messages are those from Afghan Muslims marveling about a faith for which a man was willing to die and wanting to study the Bible further.
"I strongly believe God is using this situation for His glory," Andaryas said. "One man's bold step has shaken the world."
Andaryas estimated there are up to 10,000 Christians in Afghanistan. He based that figure on the 6,000 messages sent to his ministry since it began in 1996, all from individuals inside Afghanistan who identified themselves as believing Christians.
Even if some of those messages were not genuine, he said, the number would be more than evened out by Christians living in remote areas without access to computers; and those who are too scared to risk their safety by coming out.
In recent days a number of news reports have quoted Afghan clerics, government officials and some ordinary citizens as saying the convert, Abdul Rahman, should die.
President Hamid Karzai has been described as being caught between Western pressure and hardliners at home demanding that the shari'a-required punishment be meted out.
Andaryas acknowledged that the international uproar over the Rahman case may make life more precarious for other believers in Afghanistan.
But the situation was dangerous already, he stressed, citing cases in recent years where converts had been killed by Islamic zealots -- usually Taliban adherents -- including in Kabul itself.
Christians were aware of the perils, and were careful not to take unnecessary risks.
Andaryas recalled instances like the one in which a father and two sons all became Christians independently of each other, but were so careful about keeping their new faith secret that more than a year passed before each became aware of the others' conversion.
Devout Muslims, he said, take their guidance not only from the Koran but also from the traditional collections of sayings and doings of Mohammed, known as the Hadith.
"In the Hadith, which are the words of Mohammed himself, it has been said multiple times that a man who leaves Islam must be put to death. Muslims take this seriously. The Western media -- there is a big blinder before their eyes, they don't understand that."
Andaryas' own journey took him from Afghanistan to Iran, where he said he was caught communicating with a local Christian and arrested. In detention, he was cut with a knife and beaten with a rod bearing the words "confession or death" in Farsi.
"The three days and nights of torture in Iran brought me to understand that God cannot be like that, that God does not need protection for His religion, His way," he wrote later.
He later managed to leave Iran and eventually found his way to the U.S. by way of Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan and India.