The state religion of Iran, as everyone I suppose knows, is Islam. In fact 98% of the nation’s 66 million people are Muslim. The problem this presents for people of any other faith, especially Christians, is a major human rights issue but few world leaders pay attention.
Satellite television is having some impact within Iran
and there is evidence of Christian conversions taking place. When this happens believers remain underground and are often directed to other believers where they can find encouragement and a Bible. But publicly these new Christians remain Muslims, going through the motions of prayers and practices that keep the government at a distance.
Leaving Islam has always invited serious consequences from the Iranian government. If a person is born into a Christian home it is acceptable to be a Christian. What is not acceptable is any attempt to convert others to the Christian faith. Since Christianity is inherently evangelistic this presents real challenges for believers. The government has recently introduced legislation that would mandate the death penalty for Muslim apostates. Joseph Griesboski, the president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, says, “Life for so-called apostates in Iran has never been easy, but it could become literally impossible if Iran passes this new draft penal code. For anyone who dares to question the regime’s religious ideology, there could soon be no room to argue—only death.”
The code being considered defines two kinds of apostates: (1) Fetri, an innate apostate, or one who has at least one Muslim parent, identifies as a Muslim after puberty, and later renounces Islam, and; (2) Melli, a parental apostate, who is a non-Muslim at birth but later embraces Islam, only to renounce it again. Punishment for the first category is death. In the second case three days are allowed to repent or then will come death.
In the past various laws were more ambiguous, which allowed some leeway for interpretation. These new laws close all such ambiguity and thus will bring about the death of hundreds, probably thousands, of Christians.
Parliament has slowed its process toward approving this legislation, primarily because of outside protests such as those of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. It would be good if all Christians expressed themselves on behalf of the suffering people of God inside Iran.