What would you sacrifice for your faith?
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 24 - Afghan clerics used Friday Prayers at mosques across the capital to call for death for an Afghan man who converted to Christianity, despite widespread protest in the West.
As the international pressure on Afghanistan grew, the clerics demanded the execution of the Afghan, Abdul Rahman 41, if he does not convert back to Islam. His conversion 15 years ago was brought to the attention of Afghan authorities as part of a child custody dispute.
The Bush administration and European governments have strongly protested the case as a violation of religious freedom.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman was asked whether the United States had made it clear to the Afghan government that its conduct on the issue could have consequences for its relationship with the United States.
"It has been made abundantly clear to the government of Afghanistan how the United States feels about this issue and the importance that we attach to its positive resolution," the spokesman, Adam Ereli, replied.
Asked what should happen next, Mr. Ereli said, "The next step is for the issue to be resolved by the government of Afghanistan."
Mr. Rahman's case has drawn such a strong reaction in Afghanistan because many hardline clerics believe there is no greater offense than apostacy.
One speaker, Mawlavi Habibullah, told more than a thousand clerics and young people who had gathered in Kabul that "Afghanistan does not have any obligation under international laws.
"The prophet says when somebody changes religion, he must be killed" he said.
He and others demanded that the country's political leaders and judges resist international pressure over the case, placing them squarely at odds with President Hamid Karzai, who has promised to bring democracy to Afghanistan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters today that she had received assurances from Mr. Karzai in a telephone call that Mr. Rahman would not be sentenced to death, The Associated Press reported.
The case has exposed the contradictions within Afghanistan's constitution, which promises freedom of religion on the one hand, and on the other declares Islam supreme.
Shiekh Asif Muhsini, a Shiite cleric, emphasized that the constitution says, "No law can contradict Islam and the values of the constitution."
The case had fueled feelings among many here of a sense of assault against Islam worldwide, coming after widely publicized cases involving the desecration of the Koran in Guantánamo Bay in 2004 by American soldiers interrogating prisoners and, more recently, cartoons published in Europe of the Prophet Muhamma.
Dr. Mohammad Ayaz Niyazi, an Egyptian educated in Islamic law, who attended one of the gatherings today, said, "There have been serial attacks on the Islamic world recently, starting with insulting the Holy Quran, insulting the prophet of Islam, and now converting to Christianity by an Afghan."
Dr. Niyazi objected to warnings from Italian leaders, who threatened to protest the case by withdrawing from Afghanistan the forces who are part of an international security force here.
"Do your troops come to Afghanistan to incite apostasy?" Dr. Niyazi said. "We thought your troops were here for security." By ABDUL WAHEED WAFA
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