The European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) has published a report on the persecution of former Muslim converts to Christianity in France and in Europe. The objective of this survey was to determine whether people of Muslim origin suffer persecution for having converted to Christianity in France and in Europe. The first article took stock of the persecutions in France.
Elsewhere in Europe, there are at least ten “ex-Muslim” associations. Most of these associations or groups support people who leave Islam to become, for many of them, atheists, agnostics, or indifferent, and, more rarely, Christians. The testimonies received from other European countries are consistent with what has been observed in France.
Several witnesses or heads of associations assured us that Germany was one of the most difficult countries for converts. There are associations of ex-Muslims and elements of our initial report for France were corroborated by German residents.
However, almost all the associations that deal with persecuted Christians on other continents are little or not at all concerned with persecuted Christians in Europe. It is certain that the situation for an ex-Muslim who has become a Christian is much more difficult in Pakistan or Nigeria. However, the situation is becoming truly worrying in Europe.
The president of the Belgian “Ex-Muslim” association was not originally a Muslim but converted to Islam in order to marry. After several years of moderate practice, geopolitical events led him to question Islam. It was the biographies of the Prophet Muhammad and the historical books on the original development of Islam that convinced him to leave Islam. As a result, he founded the association to support other people who, like him, leave Islam.
All members of the association are anonymous "to avoid trouble" and most do not tell their relatives that they have left Islam. The support meetings he organizes are very important so that ex-Muslims can support each other and avoid feeling isolated.
The stories he has heard describe a reality substantially identical to that of France: parents threatening their apostate children with death; young “apostates” being pushed out of their families; the imperative to do Ramadan so as not to be noticed; and finally, despite efforts, the need to leave to escape the pressure or threats.
There are several examples of people being fired for criticizing Islam in the workplace in Belgium, either because the employer was himself a Muslim or because an employee's comments had upset Muslim colleagues.
Hatun Tash and Nissar Hussain are two converts strongly engaged for the rights of converts in England. They confirm that the situation there is very similar to France, especially in London, where the Muslim community is very large, as both have been violently attacked in public.
According to Hatun Tash, many converts find it difficult to cope with the social pressure exerted by the Muslim community: more than 60% of converts return to Islam within five years of their conversion, because of loneliness or social pressure.
Recourse to the police triggers an investigation and ultimately more risks for the convert who often finds himself in a situation where it is his word against that of his persecutors. The normal legal repressive solution is therefore not necessarily the best solution, or in any case, it cannot be the only solution to help converts.
Nissar Hussain is a British-born Pakistani man who converted to Christianity and paid a high price for it. One evening in November 2015, he was violently attacked by two men armed with baseball bats. He suffered multiple fractures.
For him, this death threat against anyone who wants to leave Islam amounts to genocide. Where Sharia law is applied, it is not possible for a person to leave Islam and lead a normal life. There is an intrinsic oppression in Islam that historically has always sought to physically eliminate anyone who leaves Islam.
Sabatina James, a woman of Pakistani origin, whose parents moved to Austria, converted to Christianity as a teenager. She was threatened with forced marriage and had to flee her parents' home after revealing her conversion. She is now under police protection and has written a biography.
After her book was published, Sabatina's parents sued her for defamation. However, in January 2005, an Austrian court ruled against the parents and declared that the facts in the book were accurate.
Ms. James had to take refuge in a shelter home for the first time after being beaten and threatened with forced marriage. Her parents offered to take Sabatina back to Pakistan, and social services encouraged her accept this. She fell into a real trap and was enrolled in a Pakistani Koranic school to accept her forced marriage to her cousin.
After agreeing to be engaged to her cousin, she was able to return to Austria. She converted and refused to marry her cousin. She was then expelled from her home by her mother. Her conversion triggered constant persecution: harassment by telephone, at home, at work (she lost her job because of incidents caused by her father), insults, death threats if she does not renounce her Christian faith. “The honor of the family is more important than my life or yours,” her father told her.
Sabatina James finally had to leave the city where she lived for another, before leaving the country for Germany, for a place where she does not know anyone. She has since set up an association to help young girls who have been forced into marriage or abused by their families and to prevent them from being victims of honor killings in Europe.
The situation in the Netherlands is quite similar to that in France. But the concentration of Muslim communities in certain neighborhoods or cities is less there. Social pressure against converts is therefore generally weaker. Verbal threats are common, and “honor killings” occur occasionally.
According to the association, there is a kind of separation according to the national origin of the Muslim community in the Netherlands. Thus, Muslims of Pakistani origin can repress a convert of Pakistani origin, but will be more indifferent to the conversion of a Muslim of Moroccan origin.
Response to Persecution
The reception of these converts to support them psychologically and materially is deficient and does not help them to assert their rights. Only a few associations are committed to this, but with limited means and effectiveness. According to converts and leaders of associations, there is a triple challenge:
1. Immediate management of crisis situations.
2. Their welcome into the Christian community.
3. State response to violation of their rights and security.
If a converted or person in the process of converting is discovered or finds himself in a distressing situation, there are two necessary responses to be reinforced:
– setting up a dedicated telephone hotline;
– emergency relocation.
Counseling should be provided to Muslims considering or wishing to change their religion. According to several officials, converts should be warned and helped to behave discreetly towards the Muslim community, not revealing their conversion too soon and anticipating negative reactions. Initiatives are being developed in this direction.
Emergency rehousing is a serious problem faced by those in charge of associations: following the announcement or discovery of a conversion, the convert is either literally driven out of his home, or driven to flee by violence or threat of violence.
However, these associations have limited resources, and help could be provided by both the State and the Church, which are the families of the converts and which should make it their duty to welcome them.
Reception in Christian Communities
There is great sadness and misunderstanding among converts that they are not better welcomed by the religious communities they join. Whether it be Catholic or Protestant.
We have been told of priests who reproached the convert for leaving Islam or refuse to catechize Muslims who ask for it. One person testified that he had written to the bishopric of Paris about his desire to enter the Church but never received a response. More generally, converts say they find a community of Christian believers unwelcoming.
Two examples were repeatedly cited: converts are almost never invited to share a meal for a feast, and they are seen more as “former Muslims” than as full-fledged Christians. There is also a noticeable tension when a convert from Islam expresses a critical discourse towards the Muslim religion.
The convert is often accused of caricaturing or generalizing his story, and sometimes even of lying and of not “really” knowing Islam. According to several officials, this tension has its origins in a conception of interreligious dialogue that refuses to hear any criticism of Islam. An ex-Muslim Christian is sometimes seen as a “problem.”
Many converts have lost almost everything by choosing Christianity: their family, their city, sometimes their job, or their university studies. When they enter the Church, they hope to find a new family and for many of them, it is a cold shower.
After some time, loneliness and material difficulties cause a significant part of converts from Islam to Christianity to give up. According to association leaders, between 10% and 50% of converts leave the Christian religion after several years of practice. The lack of appropriate reception by Christian communities plays a major role in these departures.
According to all the members of the associative support teams for converts, most Catholic authorities have difficulty understanding and taking responsibility for the spiritual, relational, and material reception of converts. Awareness therefore needs to be raised.
At present, France and other European countries do not sufficiently guarantee the rights and freedoms of those who wish to leave the Muslim religion. For the ECLJ, the appropriate response must be firm and lawful: these rights and freedoms must be effectively guaranteed and protected.
Since the persecutions of converts to Islam are mainly situation in the family context, it is difficult for converts to file a complaint because most of the time this would involve denouncing their father, brother, or cousin in court. The penal response cannot therefore be the only one to fight against this phenomenon of hindrance to conversion.
Another suitable solution to allow people of Muslim background to effectively choose the religion of their choice would be to give more force and visibility to “the Charter of the Principles of Islam in France.”
Article 3 of the Charter, which deals with freedom, stipulates that: “freedom is guaranteed by the principle of secularism which allows each citizen to believe or not to believe, to practice the religion of his choice and to change religion.”
“Thus, the signatories undertake not to criminalize the renunciation of Islam, nor to qualify it as ‘apostasy’ (ridda), still less to stigmatize or to call, in a directly or indirect way, to attack the physical or moral integrity of those who renounce a religion.” This article 3 of the Charter is necessary and is not respected by part of the Muslim community in France.
Faced with the refusal of several Muslim associations to sign this charter, the Ministry of the Interior should verify the reasons which lead them not to sign it. It is not acceptable that Muslims in France and elsewhere in Europe refuse to tolerate those who leave Islam.
Finally, the fight against the disclosure of personal data, or “doxing,” must be intensified. Doxing is the practice of searching for and disclosing information about the identity and private life of an individual on the Internet or to people who request it, with the aim of harming them.
The information revealed can be identity, address, social security number, bank account number, etc. Such practices exist on social media against converts. In France, these acts are now punishable by three years' imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros under Article 223-1-1 of the Criminal Code.
But governments should be aware of this phenomenon of conversion, and of the persecutions that very often follow. If states do not establish and recognize the reality of the problem, most public actors will continue to deny any persecution of those who leave Islam, and will prevent thousands of people from living in peace and practicing their faith.