In its first session since last week's general elections, the new Iranian parliament is expected to discuss a law that will condemn to death anyone who decides to leave the Muslim faith and convert to other religions.But...I heard Islam was a Religion of Peace. Where is the moderate, tolerant Islam we keep hearing about?
The parliament, also known as the Majlis, will debate the new law which has been presented by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Under the proposed law, anyone who is born to Muslim parents and decides to convert to another faith, will face the death penalty.
Currently converts, particularly those who have decided to leave the Muslim faith for Evangelical churches, are arrested and then released after some years of detention.Ah, there it is.
According to unofficial sources, in the past five years, one million Iranians, particularly young people and women, have abandoned Islam and joined Evangelical churches.The total population of Iran is roughly 70 million, of whom 98% are Muslims, of one kind or another (at least officially). Clearly, the conversion of one million people, or 1.4% of the total population, is not going to have an immediate Earth-shattering impact upon the religious make-up of Iran. But it is significant, taking place over a period of just five years, and in the face of such severe persecution of those who do convert. Certainly, it must be worrying the Mullahs, if they want to start executing Christian converts!
This phenomenon has surprised even the missionaries who carry out their activities in secret in Iran.
An Evangelical priest and former Muslim in Iran told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the conversions were "interesting, enthusiastic but very dangerous".
"The high number of conversions is the reason that the government has decided to make the repression of Christians official with this new law," said the priest on condition of anonymity.
"Often we get to know about a new community that has been formed, after a lot of time, given that the people gather in homes to pray and often with rituals that they invent without any real spiritual guide," he told AKI.
"We find ourselves facing what is more than a conversion to the Christian faith," he said. "It's a mass exodus from Islam."
But what really struck me about this story related not so much to the future religious direction of Iran, as to the contrast between the courage of these Iranian Christians, and the spinelessness displayed by so many of our own "Christian leaders". In Iran, these brave people are putting their freedom, and, potentially, their lives, at risk in order to reject Islam and embrace Christianity. Meanwhile in Britain, the Canon Chancellor of Blackburn Cathedral expresses his gratitude for Ramadan, the Bishop of Oxford describes plans to broadcast the Adhan - the Islamic call to prayer - over the city as "enjoyable community diversity", and congregations dwindle as churches close and reopen as mosques.
Hat-tip: Gates of Vienna