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Muslim Conversions Spike as Memorials for Iraqi Archbishop Are Held
By Sabah Hajjar :: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 :: 30100 Views :: Article Rating :: Government & Society, World News & Odds 'N' Ends

Saskatchewan, CANADA - Pope Benedict celebrated a special memorial Mass in the Vatican chapel in honor of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho. Pope Benedict has called Rahho's death an "inhuman act of violence" that offended human dignity.  In his homily Monday, the Pope called Archbishop Rahho a man of peace and dialogue who paid particular attention to the poor and handicapped in his flock.

"Let his example support all Iraqis of good will — Christians and Muslims — to work for a peaceful coexistence, founded on human brotherhood and reciprocal respect," Pope Benedict said.  Most every other country followed the Pope’s lead in condemning the torture and murder and calling on the Iraqi government to be more vigilant in protecting the rights of its citizens. 

For Chaldean tween, Joseph Markos' leap-year birthday was celebrated this year amid grief in his Iraqi-born family.  "I was kind of sad because it was the same day the archbishop was kidnapped," said the 12-year-old at a news conference in Saskatoon, concerning the death of the Iraqi archbishop.  For teenager Mohammed Abeed Kahoury and his parents the memorial of the Archbishop helped them make their decision to enroll in catechism classes to learn more about Christianity.  

Markos’ parents, refugees of the war-torn country, were watching the news on Feb. 29 when they learned of the tragic fate of one of their homeland's spiritual leaders.  Mar Paulos Faraj Rahho was considered an important spiritual leader of the Christian minority in Iraq. He was kidnapped outside the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Mosul, Iraq. On March 13, his body was found in desecrated shallow grave near the city.

On Monday, Markos' mother, Sabiha Franso -- who came to Saskatoon in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada in 1994 as a refugee -- sat with her son at Saskatoon's Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church to listen to Rev. Noel Hermiz and Helen Smith-McIntyre of the Saskatoon Refugee Coalition condemn the recent death of the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul.

There are more than 150 families in Saskatoon with an Iraqi-Christian background. The news conference at the church -- so far from the country where the death occurred -- was criticized by some, according to organizer Smith-McIntyre.

"I counter by saying this is an issue for Saskatoon," said Smith-McIntyre to the small gathering in the church hall. "There's a community of 800 or so Iraqi Christians here . . . It's their relatives (and) neighbours that are being abducted, threatened and killed."

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 4.5 million Iraqis have been uprooted by the conflicts in the country.

Franso has many family members among what Hermiz called the "diaspora," or the scattered people. It has been more than a year since she has heard from one cousin in Iraq.   "We don't know if he's dead or alive," she said.  "When you're a Christian in that country, you have to hide it. His wife wears a head scarf, and they strip them off when they enter the church."

She said she also has family among what the UN estimates as two million who fled to neighbouring countries like Syria and Jordan. These people have been trying for over five years to gain refugee status.  "I pray that the Canadian government make this process easier for my family," she said.

Since coming to Saskatoon, Franso said, they feel safe practicing their religion and have a good relationship with the other Iraqis in the city.  "We came from a country full of terror and anger," said his mother. "Now the Christians and Muslims get along fine here because we're all in search of peace."

Markos' class at Father Robinson School prayed for the archbishop before spring break, he said, legs swinging from the chair in the church hall.

Traveling south into the U.S. and across the Windsor border, Michigan Chaldeans and invited dignitaries joined in a memorial mass for the archbishop. 

Other Memorial masses were held for the loved Archbishop in Denmark, Germany, France, England, Jordon, Palestine, Italy, Spain, Mexico, and Egypt. 

Continued frustration rises among the Muslim community as the Islamic religion continues to bear destructive fruits and moderate Islamic clerics and followers are pushed aside.  More and more Muslims are converting away from Islam reports Faith Freedom. 

Like the Kahoury family more and more Muslims are beginning to question their doctrine, even at the risk of death.  Over the holiday the Pope baptized outspoken Islamic critic Magdi Allam, who commonly denounced Islamic extremism. The Egyptian writer has already been marked for death by Hamas militants for criticizing Palestinian suicide bombings. Allam predicted his conversion would lead to an "even graver condemnation to death for apostasy.”

Courageously more and more Muslims are converting in face of death.  Islam prohibits conversion at penalty of death.  Nonetheless, Muslims are converting in large numbers. 

“More and more Muslims are discovering that the violence evinced by some of their coreligionists is not an aberration but is inspired by the teachings of the Quran and the examples set by its author. Muslims are becoming disillusioned with Islam,” says Ali Sina. “Every day thousands of Muslim intellectuals are leaving Islam. They find Islam inconsistent with science, logics, human rights and ethics. Millions of Iranians, Africans, and Europeans, already have left Islam. The enlightened Muslims of other nationalities are not far behind.  However the exodus from Islam is not reserved to the intellectuals but also the average Muslims who are finding that Islam is not the way to God but to ignorance, poverty and wars. They are leaving Islam to embrace other religions.” 

Aljazeera.net published an interview with Ahmad Al Qataani, an important Islamic cleric who said: “In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Everyday, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Ever year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity."

“What Muslims say among each other, is not the same thing that they say for the consumption of the Westerners,” Sina tells www.chaldean.org

The right to convert away from Muslim is no always as easy.  In Egypt, the more moderate of Islamic countries is faced with a constitutional crisis.  After Egyptian Judge, Muhammad Husseini asked Egypt’s top judicial body on March 4 to review the constitutionality of a law granting citizens the right to change religions.

Egypt’s top administrative court used Article 47 of Egypt’s civil law to justify allowing 12 converts to Islam to return to Christianity last month. Husseini has demanded that the constitutional court rule on whether Article 47 conflicts with the Egyptian constitution’s second article, which designates Islam as the main source of legislation.

The cases of several hundred converts seeking Christianity have been frozen pending the constitutional court’s verdict.  Even the 12 Christian converts who won a legal battle have been blocked from obtaining documents listing their change of faith.

Egypt’s Civil Status Department turned down Bishay Farag Bishay, one of the 12, when he requested new documents, Egyptian Christian weekly Watani reported. The newspaper reported on March 9 that officials claimed their computerized system could only enter one word in the religion section.

The current legal battle over sharia’s role in Egyptian law promises to be sensitive because of unique restrictions Islamic law places on non-Muslims.  Under Islamic law it is illegal for a Christian man to marry a Muslim woman but, Muslims are encouraged to wed Christian women. 
According to sharia, if a parent becomes Muslim, his or her underage children automatically follow suit.

Egypt, like all Islamic countries has yet to grant citizens the right to leave their faith do the Islam’s prohibition of apostasy.

The murder of the Chaldean Archbishop, who was known throughout the Islamic world, has many questioning their adherence to Islam.  Those who live in countries who are not under threat of capital punishment have fairly sought what other religions teach about faith and after learning most choose to convert.  

“The increasing numbers of converts leaving Islam have made many Moderate clerics uncomfortable.  As the balancing force to Islamic extremism dwindles a dangerous concentration remains,” says Sina.