Thursday April 24, 2008
Relatives attack convert family for deserting Islam.
ISTANBUL, April 24 (Compass Direct News) – On trial for converting from Islam to Christianity, a Jordanian man may lose legal custody of his children and have his marriage annulled if found guilty of “apostasy.”
Mohammad Abbad, 40, fled Jordan last month after Muslims violently attacked him and his 10-year-old son in their home and his father sued him on charges of apostasy, or leaving Islam.
“I can’t win this case as long as I insist that I converted from Islam to Christianity,” Abbad wrote from the safety of a nearby country.
“The court will annul my marriage, I will be deprived of my kids, I will be with no ID or passport, and my properties will be confiscated,” said the father of two, referring to a previous Jordanian apostasy verdict.
In a separate November 2004 ruling, an Amman Sharia Court headed by Judge Suleiman Abdullah Abu Yahya convicted a Muslim convert to Christianity of apostasy. Stripped of all his legal rights, the convert and his family fled Jordan to escape the verdict.
One of only a few Jordanians to leave Islam for Christianity, Abbad said he became a Christian as a young man in Jordan and grew in his faith while working abroad in 1993.
“I had an encounter with the Lord Jesus who changed my life, filled my heart with love and gave me the grace of enjoying life,” the convert said.
In 1994, Abbad married a Jordanian from a Christian family, and together they had two children.
When Abbad returned to Jordan in 2000, his father began criticizing him in front of his mother and siblings, claiming that “suspicious organizations” were paying Abbad to remain Christian. Abbad’s father encouraged the rest of the family to shun the convert, who was otherwise able to quietly practice his faith free of overt harassment.
Last month a married couple who had been raised Muslim but had converted to Christianity moved into Abbad’s home for several days to escape death threats from relatives.
The wife’s brothers discovered the couple’s location and visited Abbad’s house on the evening of March 23. While the visitors were talking with their sister, three other family members broke into the room and began attacking Abbad and the convert husband.
“My 10-year-old son tried to help me when he saw me fall down, but he was hit on the face near his eye,” Abbad said.
The brothers struck Abbad several times on his head and body, wounding his chest and his right eye. They also beat his wife’s face and neck before forcibly abducting their sister.
“My chest was bleeding and I was so dizzy, my wife and kids were hysterical, especially when they saw that I could not breath,” Abbad said.
Father Demands Custody, Judge Mocks
Having received an initial medical examination, Abbad went to a local police station where he found his father registering a complaint against him for his conversion. The Muslim father, who had been in touch with Abbad’s attackers, demanded custody of Abbad’s children.
Police registered Abbad’s complaint and asked him to come back the next morning for follow-up.
But the next day, officials brought Abbad before Judge Faysal Khreisat of Sweileh’s sharia (Islamic law) court on a charge of apostasy. According to Abbad, Khreisat ridiculed him for his conversion.
“He mocked me and said I was crazy,” the convert said. “When he saw how persistent I was, he accused me of contempt of court and ordered that I be imprisoned for a week, although I told him that I had been attacked and needed medication according to the [medical] reports.”
Mohammad Abbad in the hospital
Still recovering from his injuries, Abbad fainted on his way to jail from the court. Police refused to provide him any treatment but called an ambulance when he again fainted three hours later.
“The paramedics began mocking me when they found out I was a convert,” the Christian said. Once at the hospital, Abbad waited for an hour and a half because he had no money to pay the initial $30 treatment fee. Eventually his wife discovered his location and took him to a private hospital, where he received medical tests for his head, eye and chest.
He spent the night in the hospital handcuffed to his bed.
“I felt that animals in other countries are treated better [than I was],” Abbad said.
Though the Islamic court judge initially refused to allow Abbad to post bail, threatening to blacklist the Christian from leaving the country, an in-law eventually freed Abbad for $14,000 on March 25. The couple left Jordan with their two children three days later.
The Christian convert whose wife’s relatives had attacked Abbad also appeared before Khreisat on March 24. The Muslim judge threatened to legally dissolve the convert’s marriage and became furious when he found out the man’s wife had also become a Christian.
“[He] was under huge pressure that day from his in-laws, so when [he and his wife] stood in front of the judge the next day [March 25], they denied being Christians,” Abbad said. By declaring the Muslim creed three times before the court, the couple officially re-converted to Islam.
The five attackers were arrested on March 26 and charged with assault. But when the convert woman’s family threatened to forcibly separate her from her husband, he dropped all charges and the attackers were released.
At a subsequent court hearing in Abbad’s apostasy trial on March 30, the absence of Abbad and his wife prompted the judge to issue warrants for the couple’s arrest. During a third hearing the following week, Khreisat ordered Abbad’s father to produce his son’s marriage certificate by Tuesday (April 22) in order to annul the Christian couple’s marriage.
Tuesday’s hearing saw no new developments, only a request from the judge for further documentation, Abbad said.
‘Freedom of Religion’
Writing from a nearby country where he has temporarily settled with his wife, son and 11-year-old daughter, Abbad said that he was happy to be safe and united with his family.
“I hope and pray that I will be able to help other believers in Jordan not to be treated in a bad way,” the convert said.
The exact number of Muslim converts to Christianity in Jordan is unknown. Many choose to maintain a low profile in order to avoid harassment.
Jordan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, as does the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that was made law in July 2006. But Muslim conversion to another faith is forbidden by the country’s official religion, Islam.
According to one Jordanian publication this month, there are even “unwritten rules” against evangelism.
An article in English-language Jordan Business stated that any religious practice is legally required to be consistent with “public order and morality.”
“This rather broad definition leaves quite some room for the state to impose some restrictions on freedom of religion, officials say,” wrote Rana Sabbagh-Gargour.
Like Abbad’s father, many Jordanians, including government officials, believe that foreign Christians pay Muslims to convert.
Officials told Jordan Business that foreign missionaries had targeted Iraqi refugees with promises of U.S. passports.
“They are abusing people’s poverty and desperation,” one official said.
The government worker also implied that missionaries were at fault for inciting violent attacks against themselves by Muslims.
“They are endangering themselves, because any jealous Muslim can react by attacking them,” the government worker said.
Jordan’s historical Christian community – Orthodox, Catholics and a smaller number of Protestants – make up around 4 percent of the population.
One of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, Jordan is to receive $663.5 million in economic support and military financing this year. Since 2004 the U.S. Agency for International Development has invested in streamlining Jordan’s judicial system and educating society on good governance and human rights.