It is currently being spouted through all forms of media -- impossible to ignore -- you will hear claims over and over again by many radical Imams, Muslim scholars, and preachers that Islam is a religion of inclusiveness, that anyone can become a Muslim just by muttering a few words. It seems quite simple, right?
This is not new. I grew up hearing all these claims in Iran, under Islamic laws. To uninformed ears, this can sound almost magical. What is important, however, are the many more significant requirements the imams conveniently leave out. Above all, once you become a Muslim, there is no way to turn back. Your faith is under the control of the extremist imams, sheikhs, governments, or simply the community. You cannot just decide to abandon Islam and go back to how you were living. The penalty of attempting this is death.
Additionally, those imams and sheikhs who will have you believe how easy it is to join Islam, claim that Islam accepts Christianity and Judaism ("people of the book"), and that there is absolutely no difference between the Abrahamic religions. Sounds nice to most ears. But it is absolutely false. Let us take a quick look at some people who left Islam for other "Abrahamic" religions, particularly Christianity.
Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a 38 year-old Christian convert from Islam, is currently facing serious health issues in one of the world's most vicious jails; Evin prison in Tehran.
A former children's music teacher, Zargaran became acquainted with teachings of Christianity at young age. Even though she grew up in a Muslim family and under Sharia, she found Christianity to be her true faith. She made a decision to convert, and dedicated her life to helping children, and ended up at an orphanage. She did her best to care for the children, and provide them with the stability and love they had been missing.
What harm was Zargaran doing to the society? She was contributing the society doing charity work and privately practicing her faith. But, if you live under Islamic laws, your faith is neither private nor personal. Your faith is directly controlled by Islamist authorities or the state.
"She was initially held for five days in the Vozara Detention Center in Tehran under unsanitary conditions along with ordinary criminals, including drug addicts."
On March 9, 2013, Judge Mohammad Moghisseh of Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Courts sentenced her to four years in prison for vague charges such as "propagating against the Islamic regime and collusion intended to harm national security". She was not allowed to have access to an attorney.
When you become a Muslim and then leave Islam, even for another religion that is supposedly "accepted" by Islamists, you are considered a serious danger. The Islamist authorities desire to control every aspect of your faith. Most of all, the Islamist leaders fear that as a former Muslim, you have true knowledge of what Islam actually is, and you may disclose that information to others.
Zargaran began her journey into Evin prison the same time as the president of the Islamist state of Iran pledged that "All ethnicities, all religions, even religious minorities, must feel justice." Did she hear those words as the prison door slammed shut? Does she hear them now? What in his view is "justice"? Under his presidency, despite his silky words, the targeting of Christian converts has only been increasing.
Kept in intolerable conditions, Zargaran had a heart attack a few months after her imprisonment. She was not provided with appropriate medical treatment, despite her serious condition. She engaged in multiple hunger strikes. On July 15, 2016, she went on an indefinite hunger strike. The authorities, even with confirmation of her grave medical condition, still refused to address it. When she was finally allowed a medical leave with a heavy bond, when she was returned to the prison, her sentence was extended to cover the time she was hospitalized.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has strongly urged the Iranian government to release Maryam Naghash Zargaran from prison. It recently stated:
"Not only has she been detained unjustly because of her Christian faith, but the Iranian authorities have denied her urgently needed medical care. On this day last year, Maryam launched a hunger strike, sadly one of many, to protest the authorities' disregard of her medical needs and refusal to grant her conditional release or medical leave."
USCIRF Commissioner Clifford D. May pointed to the targeting of Christians by stating:
"For more than four years, Maryam Naghash Zargaran has suffered in an Iranian prison, falsely charged with 'propagating against the Islamic regime and collusion intended to harm national security'. The Iranian government must cease its targeting of Christians and release Maryam and other religious prisoners of conscience. They should be honored for their contributions to society rather than penalized for who they are or what they believe."
According to the USCIRF:
"Ms. Zargaran suffers from a severe heart condition, ASD (atrial septal defect), which required surgery prior to her arrest. Her condition has required ongoing monitoring and follow-up with a cardiologist, but since her detention, she has not had regular access to such care. Ms. Zargaran also suffers from diabetes, high cholesterol, and arthritis."
Muslim countries that treat Christians and other religious minorities unjustly, and violate their religious freedoms, should be designated as a "country of particular concern" by the U.S. State Department.
International pressure should also be applied to push the Islamist state of Iran to release Zargaran or at the very least provide medical treatment to her.
Maryam Naghash Zargaran. (Image source: "Free Maryam Naghash-Zargaran - Nasim")
If you live, study, work, or have grown up under Islamist laws, as I have, what you learn first-hand is that to the Islamists, radical imams, and sheikhs -- despite all their nice claims and preaching -- all religions, even the "Abrahamic" ones, are absolutely inferior to Islam. Any other impression given by Islamic leaders should be greeted with the utmost skepticism. Perhaps, if you were to listen to their words, see the lies they propagate, through the eyes of a woman, once Muslim, then Christian, now a prisoner of a faith that allows no leniency, the truth would be clear. Or perhaps reality can be discovered through the eyes of the abandoned, neglected orphans, whose lives she attempted to make whole, before she was detained for her belief in what is seen as the "wrong" deity.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He is a Harvard-educated and world-renowned Iranian-American political scientist, businessman, and author of "Peaceful Reformation in Iran's Islam". He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu.