In traditional Islamic culture, religion and society are one. For someone to change his or her religion is apostasy, an abandonment of one's heritage and a threat to the religion and to the country. Such beliefs justify the imprisonment of eight Christian aid workers jailed in Kabul on charges of proselytizing.
"In classical Islamic law, the apostate loses all his civil liberties, his kids are taken away and his marriage is dissolved," says the Rev. Ernest Hahn, an Islamic researcher and Lutheran pastor based in Toronto. "He loses his inheritance and he cannot be buried in a Muslim graveyard."
Many Muslims assert that Islam teaches there is freedom of religion, based on Sura 2:256, a passage in the Koran that reads, "Let there be no compulsion in religion," notes Hahn. But that's been supplanted by a passage in the Hadith, supplemental writings to the Koran, which holds, "Any person who has changed his religion, kill him." The Koran also states in Sura 3:85 that anyone who desires "a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him," for Islam is the perfect expression of all religions that have come before it.
Inside U.S. borders, however, Muslims who attend one of 1,209 mosques around the country are free to practice their religion and seek converts. Nevertheless, some complain that anti-Muslim prejudice is alive and well in the United States. "In any library, we find 600 or more books, novels and other things talking about Islam and Muslims in a very bad way," says Taha Jaber Alalwani, Iraqiborn president of the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Va., which trains Islamic chaplains for an estimated 4,000 Muslims in the U.S. armed forces and offers a master's degree in Islamic studies.
"These are best sellers about terrorists, about how Muslims put a lot of pressure on their women, how they deal with them in a very bad way, how a Muslim is a hypocrite and lives a double standard," says Alalwani. "Everyone looks to the West, especially to America. The Western culture dominates the whole world."
Muslims consider America to have enough clout, he insists, to stop Russian incursions into Chechnya, "because they are massacring Muslims there. No country can say `stop' to Russia except America. The same thing with Israel," which gets $3 billion annually from the United States in foreign aid. "People expect America, with its history and its Founders, to say, `Enough is enough,'" says Alalwani. The United States also supplies $2 billion yearly in foreign aid to Egypt, which Alalwani dismisses. …