Foreign Policy Blogs

Regulating Conversions in Muslim Countries

Al Jazeera has published a “breaking news” report about the evangelical Christians serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Of course – as Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said, the U.S. Army is not intentionally involved in “promoting religion.” On the other hand, and as the media is now questioning (again), the highly religious servicemen may not be able to separate their fervor for evangelism from proselytizing (which is illegal in Afghanistan). The Al Jazeera article on this news item has emphasized the seriousness of the allegations because of the potential for damage to diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan. However, the main source in the article is arguing that it could damage relations because there cannot be open propaganda of other religions “which have no followers in Afghanistan.”

This same logic has been increasingly dangerous for Central Asia and the Middle East and should be avoided as much as possible.

In Tajikistan, for example, there is a new law on religion (as of this April), which basically says that religions must be indigenous because religious associations can only be founded by persons who have resided in the country for a certain number of years. Regardless of the fact that some Muslim schools of thought do not permit conversion from Islam to any other religion, there are also trends in general to prevent the introduction of minority faiths (in migrants for example). Such restrictions on personal freedom of belief and conscience can lead directly to confrontation between the majorities and minorities and may push a segment of the majority towards more extremist thought. For example, if certain Christian sects cannot practice openly because they cannot comply with the rules and regulations, they will be forced to petition the government and protest openly. Such protestations may lead to less tolerant groups in the majority to become even more hostile.

This vicious cycle should be prevented by prohibiting illegal missionary work but allowing non-indigenous religious groups (i.e. non-Muslims) to practice their beliefs freely and openly.



Karin Esposito

Karin Esposito is blogging on religion and politics from her base in Central Asia. Currently, she is the Project Manager for the Tajikistan Dialogue Project in Dushanbe. The Project is run through the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies with the support of PDIV of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The aim of the project is to establish practical mechanisms for co-existence and peaceful conflict resolution between Islamic and secular representatives in Tajikistan. After receiving a Juris Doctorate from Boston University School of Law in 2007, she worked in Tajikistan for the Bureau of Human Rights and later as a Visting Professor of Politics and Law at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research (KIMEP). Ms. Esposito also holds a Master's in Contemporary Iranian Politics (2007) from the School of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran and a Master's in International Relations (2003) from the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (GIIDS) in Switzerland.

Areas of Focus:
Islam; Christianity; Secularism;


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