Muslim Clerics Press Afghan President to Block Missionary Activity

The President of Afghanistan has been told by the country's Islamic council to stop foreign aid groups from converting locals to Christianity.

The influential council of Islamic clergy and ulema (scholars) made the warning in a statement during a meeting with President Hamid Karzai on Friday in which it also called for the reintroduction of public executions, which have not taken place since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

"The council is concerned about the activities of some ... missionary and atheistic organs and considers such acts against Islamic sharia (law), the constitution, and political stability," the council said in its statement.

"If not prevented, God forbid, catastrophe will emerge, which will not only destabilize the country, but the region and the world."

Ahmad Ali Jebrayeli, a member of the council and also a member of parliament, said that reliable sources had told him of Christian missionaries using offices in Kabul and in the provinces as bases from which to convert the local population.

He also alleged that the missionaries are being supported by NGOs.

"Some NGOs are encouraging them (to convert), give them books (Bibles) and promise to send them abroad," he told Reuters on Saturday.

Missionary work in Afghanistan came under fire in 2007 when a group of 23 South Korean missionaries were kidnapped and held hostage by the Taliban, who accused them of converting Muslim Afghans to Christianity. They were later released, but not before two from the group were murdered.

Some Muslims who hold onto a strict interpretation of the Koran believe that conversion to another faith from Islam is apostasy and therefore punishable by death.

In 2006, Pope Benedict appealed for clemency and a number of Western leaders protested over the case made by an Afghan court against Abdul Rahman over his conversion to Christianity. The case was later dropped amid international clamor and widespread protests after the court ruled that Rahman was mentally ill.

A number of foreign aid groups and charities operating in Afghanistan are supported by or partnered with Christian organizations. They make clear, however, that their remit is restricted to providing aid and practical support, and not to proselytize.