Muslims converting to Christianity is a thorny issue almost anywhere in the world, but recently U.K. media attention has focused in on the persecution of former Muslims not in foreign land but in its own backyard.
Former Muslims who convert to Christianity are threatened with disownment and violence at the hands of their own family members much like in parts of the Middle East. But the difference is these families dont reside in a theocratic society, but in a western country that upholds religious freedom including the right to convert to another faith.
BBC, U.K.s leading news network, featured several stories and programs in recent months devoted to the issue of persecution of Christian converts from Islam. In its latest feature on Monday, it highlighted real cases of England-based Muslims who convert to Christianity and the consequences that follow.
Sophia (not her real name) is from a Pakistani background but lives in east London. Her family has put extreme pressure on her to return to Islam since she converted to Christianity.
They kept saying, The punishment is death, do you know the punishment is death? she recalled to BBC.
She ended up running away from home, but her mother found her and showed up at her baptism.
I got up to get baptized, thats when my mother got up, ran to the front and tried to pull me out of the water, Sophia said.
My brother was really angry. He reacted and phoned me on my mobile and just said, Im coming down to burn that church, she remembered.
Another U.K. convert case is Ziya Meral, who was disowned by his parents when they found out about his conversion.
They said go away, youre not our son, Meral said. They told people I died in an accident rather than having the shame of their son leaving Islam.
Merals case is slightly different from Sophia because he was born and raised in Turey. His family still remains there. He went to England to study at a university and later became a follower of Jesus Christ.
He had planned to gently break the news to his parents, but instead they found out when they saw him on national news being described as an evil missionary intent on brainwashing Turkish children. The wild story was based on a clip of Meral eating at a Christian summer camp right before heading back to Turkey.
For converts such as Sophia and Meral, there is widespread belief by Muslims around the world that they should be punished by death.
A poll conducted by the Policy Exchange last year suggested that over a third of young British Muslims believe that the death penalty should be used for apostasy.
But several highly respected Muslim scholars are saying that the Quran does not say apostates must be punished by death. Rather, the teaching is from hadiths, or recorded traditions and sayings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Usama Hassan, a Cambridge-educated scientist and an imam, contends that classical scholars were wrong in how they interpreted the Quran. He firmly denounces those who advocate the death penalty.
"I believe the classical law of apostasy in Islam is wrong and based on a misunderstanding of the original sources, because the Quran and Hadith don't actually talk about a death penalty for apostasy," Hassan argues.
Last year, Egypts top religious advisor, the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, also said Muslims are free to change their religion and should not be given worldly punishment because it is a matter between an individual and God, according to Agence France-Presse.
Former Muslim turned Christian leader, Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund, said he is delighted to see the British media zoom in on the issue of conversion from Islam and the persecution of former Muslims.
As a convert from Islam myself, part of my lifes work has been to seek to see this most cruel of laws removed from Islam, and to see that Christians like myself are given freedom to choose and believe without facing persecution and possibly death, Sookhdeo wrote in a Barnabas e-mail newsletter Monday.
It is good to hear imams like Usama Hassan stating clearly that he believes the classical law of apostasy in Islam is wrong and denouncing those who advocate the death penalty, said Sookhdeo, who is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity. Finally the world is waking up to this outrage and injustice. The secular media is to be congratulated for taking up the issue.
The Islam expert who advises British, American, and NATO military officials on jihadist ideology called on Christians to pray that there will be real progress in religious freedom for former Muslims in the world.