Journalists freed in Gaza forced to “convert”

The news has been reporting that the two journalist hostages just freed in Gaza had been forced to “convert” to Islam at the point of a gun. They seem to have stated that the conversion was not valid as it was done out of fear of their lives.

I was intrigued by all this and did a Google on “forced conversaion to Islam”. There seem to be two broadly different types of hits for this Google. The first type is of Christian websites detailing forced conversions in Egypt, Pakistan, and especially Indonesia. These conversions are usually performed under pain of death and involve forced circumcision of both males and females (I wasn’t aware that Islam required circumcision of women…) In Egypt they often took the form of young Coptic women being separated from their families through kidnapping and then denied contact with them, with the official excuse that they had converted and no longer considered themselves part of a Christian family.

The second type is Islamic websites, which invariably state that Islam does not permit forced conversion, quoting the Koran and various other sources with which I am not familiar.

I find something spine-chilling about forced conversion. It could conceivably happen to almost anyone who finds themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. And although the same Islamic sites I mention above normally also deny that there is any death penalty for “apostacy from Islam”, there are numerous historical precedents saying that this is indeed the penalty applied. One website was frank enough to say that if an apostate from Islam threatened the community (unspecified, but I suspect it would even be through his or her presence in it as a convert from Islam to something else) then a civil death penalty would be appropriate.

So will these journalists, who I believe are repudiating any “conversion”, now be under fear for their lives for being “apostates” from a religion which they seemed to join but did not? Or will they be under threat of death because their “conversion” was not sincere? Only time will tell.

I admit that forced conversions to Christianity have been practiced from the time of Constantine the Great for centuries. I don’t believe it normally occurs nowadays (perhaps the forced conversions of the Jews and Muslims in Spain after the Moorish rulers had been forced back across the Straits of Gibraltar were the last major occurrence) but the fact that it did does not obviate the fact that forced conversion of whatever kind is wrong and a contravention of a person’s human right to believe in anything (or nothing) and to change his or her beliefs without coercion.

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