State Dept.: Rejecting Islam Is Capital Offense in Many Muslim Countries

Brittany M. Hughes | September 5, 2014 | 11:59am EDT
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President Barack Obama accepts the gold necklace of the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit from Saudi King Abdullah on June 3, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

( - According to the State Department’s most recent country reports on religious freedom, at least six predominantly Muslim countries consider “apostasy” from Islam a crime punishable by death.

In its 2013 International Religious Freedom Report on Iran, the State Department said Iran’s “constitution states that Ja’afari Shia Islam is the official state religion.”

The report goes on to state: “The government automatically considers a child born to a Muslim father to be a Muslim and deems conversion from Islam to be apostasy, which is punishable by death.”

“Non-Muslims may not engage in public religious expression, persuasion or conversation among Muslims. Such proselytizing is punishable by death,” the report says.

In Afghanistan, where “Islam is the religion of the state,” “Conversion, considered an act of apostasy and a crime against Islam, is punishable by death if the convert does not recant,” the State Department reported in 2013.

Blasphemy is also a capital offense in Afghanistan, the report explains, and “an Islamic judge may impose a death sentence for blasphemy.”

The Afghan government was established with the help of the United States after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to remove the Taliban regime that had given sanctuary to al Qaida.

In Saudi Arabia, “Sunni Islam is the official religion and the country’s constitution is the Quran and the Sunna (traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammed),” the State Department says in its religious freedom report on that country.

While there have been no reported executions for apostasy since 1992, the law stipulates that “[C]onversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy, which can be punishable by death,” the report says, adding that “blasphemy against Islam also can be punished with death.”

In Sudan, where the “laws and policies of the government…favor Islam,” says the State Department, “the law specifies imprisonment or death as punishment for those who convert from Islam to another religion.”

Earlier this year, 27-year-old Miriam Ibrahim, the wife of a U.S. citizen, was sentenced to death for apostasy when she refused to recant her Christian faith. At the time she was pregnant with her second child, who was born in a Sudanese prison. In the face of international outrage, Ibrahim was released in June and was allowed to leave Sudan for the United States in July.

Qatar’s constitution says Islam as the state religion and “prohibits discrimination” on the basis of religion, the State Department said in its 2013 assessment, adding that there have been no reported executions for apostasy since 1971. However, the report adds that “Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and is a capital offense.”

Apostasy can also be punished with death in Mauritania, where “the constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and recognizes Islam as the sole religion of its citizens and the state,” says the State Department.

But apostates aren’t the only targets for death or discrimination in some countries, according to the State Department.

In Saudi Arabia, the State Department reported that government-approved textbooks included “some intolerant content” including “justification for the social exclusion and killing of Islamic minorities and ‘apostates.’” Some books “continued to contain directives to kill ‘sorcerers’ and socially exclude infidels,” the report said.

In 2013, the State Department also reported: “Individuals were detained and charged with ‘witchcraft’ and ‘sorcery,’ which carry potential death penalties” in Saudi Arabia. One man was reportedly sentenced to death for witchcraft for participating in more than 40 abortions and “a number of ‘witchcraft activities.’”

In Afghanistan, where blasphemy is punishable by death, the nation’s Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that “the Bahai faith was distinct from Islam and a form of blasphemy” and “all Bahais were infidels,” said the State Department.

“Most local Bahais and Christians did not publicly state their beliefs or gather openly to worship out of fear of discrimination, persecution, detention, or death,” the report states.

In 2013, the State Department reported, the Iranian government executed 27 people “on charges of moharabeh,” or crimes against God and Islam.

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