KABUL - The supreme leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement warned on Monday that any Afghan converting to Christianity or promoting other religions would be executed.
In his decree, Mullah Muhammad 'Umar also cautioned that any non-Muslim found trying to win converts will be killed. Further, he warned booksellers would face five years in prison if they sell material that is critical of Islam, or that promotes other religions.
'Umar accused followers of other faiths-particularly Christians and Jews-of trying to convert Muslims and seeking to demonize the strict brand of Islam practiced by the Taliban. He also asserted that enemies of Islam based in Afghanistan and outside-such as Pakistan-were trying to seduce Muslims through money and other incentives to convert to Christianity or Judaism. 'Umar stated that some people in the guise of Muslims want to root out Islam worldwide.
"Therefore, all countrymen are seriously notified that any Muslim Afghan will be sentenced to death if he accepts Christianity and has converted to this nullified religion or is seen inviting people to Christianity and Judaism as well as propagating and distributing their books," he said.
'Abd al-Hayy Mutma'in, a top Taliban spokesman, said the decree was issued after reports some foreigners inside Afghanistan and abroad were actively seeking converts. He said they might belong to foreign aid groups based in Afghanistan and conversion efforts began a long time ago.
"This is for sure that there are foreign individuals in some parts of the country and outside who do this secretly," said Mutma'in.
Despite the ban on evangelism, followers of other faiths have been allowed to continue practicing their religions. A large Sikh and Hindu community worships at several temples in Kabul, the capital, and a lone Jewish rabbi still lives in the city though most Jews left when the former Soviet Union invaded in 1979.
The Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan more than four years ago, and now control about 95 percent of the country where it intends to build the world's purest Islamic regime. Women are barred from working, and the Taliban have stopped all schooling for girls beyond age 8. Men are required to wear beards and pray in mosques without fail, while women must wear head-to-toe coverings. Most forms of entertainment have been outlawed, including television and music other than religious songs.
The Taliban's primary opposition is led by ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who now controls the other five percent of the country. Fighting between the two sides has raged in recent weeks in central Bamiyan province.
Reuters and Associated Press, Jan. 8, 2000