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Forced conversion

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A forced conversion is the conversion to a religion or philosophy under duress, with the threatened consequence of earthly penalties or harm. These consequences range from job loss and social isolation to incarceration, torture or death. Typically, such a conversion entails the repudiation of former religious or philosophical convictions.


Pope Innocent III, who denounced forced conversions, pronounced in 1201 that even if torture and intimidation had been employed in receiving the sacrament, one nevertheless:

...does receive the impress of Christianity and may be forced to observe the Christian Faith as one who expressed a conditional willingness though, absolutely speaking, he was unwilling. ... [For] the grace of Baptism had been received, and they had been anointed with the sacred oil, and had participated in the body of the Lord, they might properly be forced to hold to the faith which they had accepted perforce, lest the name of the Lord be blasphemed, and lest they hold in contempt and consider vile the faith they had joined.[1]

The "New Christians" were inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula (Sephardic Jews or Mudéjar Muslims) during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era who were baptized under coercion, becoming Conversos or Moriscos. In spite of their new faith, they were suspected by the "Old Christians" of being Crypto-Jews or Crypto-Muslims. Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497.[2] Religious Persecution took place by the Portuguese in Goa, India from 16th to the 17th century. The natives of Goa were subjected to severe torture and oppression by the zealous Portuguese rulers and missionaries.

Additionally, the economic conquest of the Americas by various European forces coincided with and depended on forced conversion to undo indigenous culture resistant to assimilation.[3]

African slaves held in the Americas were also often forcibly converted to Christianity by their masters.


Islamic scripture and law forbids forced conversion.[4] A verse of the Qur'an (2:256) is frequently cited: "Let there be no compulsion in religion".[5][6][7][8][9] Karen Armstrong asserts that after Muhammad's death, nobody in the Islamic empire was forced to accept the Islamic faith.[10]

Nonetheless, in practice, forced conversions have been very common throughout all Islamic history.[4][11] Noted cases include the conversion of Samaritans to Islam at the hands of the rebel Ibn Firāsa,[12][13] conversions in the 12th century under the Almohad dynasty of North Africa and Andalusia, as well as in Persia under the Safawid dynasty where Sunnis were converted to Shi'ism[11] and Jews were converted to Islam[14].

Prof. K.S. Lal, suggests in his book Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India that between the years 1000 AD and 1500 AD the population of Hindus decreased by 80 million in the Indian Subcontinent, forced conversion to Islam and widespread manslaughter of Hindus who resisted conversion being the reason. Given that the population of Entire Asia was only around 500 million[15] during that period, this forced conversion would later form the basis of the partition of India on religious lines. Other notables among these have been the cases of Iraq's Mandaeans[16], Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Christians, Christians of Pakistan [17] and Assyrian Christians of Iraq [18][19][20] who have faced coercion to convert to Islam.[21][22]

In 2006 two journalists of the Fox News Network had been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. After conversion they were made to read statements on videotape proclaiming that they had converted, after which they were released by their captors.[23] In 2007, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, a right-wing Hindu leader in India, received a letter from Jaish-e-Mohammed, threatening him with death if he did not convert to Islam[24].

Twenty-first century allegations


India's Christian missionaries have been accused of forcibly converting people to Christianity[25][26]. Archbishop Moras, has denied this allegation.[27]


In 2001 the Indonesian army evacuated hundreds of Christian refugees from the remote Kesui and Teor islands in Maluku (province) after the refugees stated that they had been forced to convert to Islam. According to reports, some of the men had been circumcised against their will, and a paramilitary group involved in the incident confirmed that circumcisions had taken place while denying any element of coercion. [28]

In 2004 Coptic Christians in Egypt occupied the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo for several days, angry at the disappearance of a priest's wife in a village in the Nile delta, who was rumoured to have been forced to convert to Islam. The BBC reported that allegations of forced conversions of Copts to Islam surface every year in Egypt.[29]

In August 2006 two journalists, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, were kidnapped by Holy Jihad Brigades in Gaza City, and were apparently forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. The Palestinian news service Ramattan and Fox News reported that they were released unharmed shortly after the release of a new video.[30] In the video, both journalists, wearing beige robes, read statements saying that they had converted to Islam, with Centanni stating "Islam is not just meant for some people; it is the true religion for all people at all times."[30] After being freed, Steve Centanni stated, "We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint, and don't get me wrong here, I have the highest respect for Islam, and learned a lot of very good things about it, but it was something we felt we had to do, because they had the guns, and we didn't know what the hell was going on."[30]

It was reported in February 2007 that Hindu and Sikh organisations in the UK believe that young women of these faiths are being coerced by young men they meet at university into converting to Islam. The chief of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair attended a conference where the allegations were made. A spokeswoman for the police said: "We are aware of it as an issue that concerns the Hindu community but are not aware, without further research, of any specific incidents reported to police. We would encourage anyone who has been targeted in this way to seek help."[31]

In May 2007, members of the Christian community of Charsadda in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, close to the border of Afghanistan, reported that they had received letters threatening bombings if they did not convert to Islam, and that the police were not taking their fears seriously.[32]

There have been numerous reports of Islamic attempts to forcibly convert religious minorities in Iraq. In Baghdad, Christians have been told to convert to Islam, pay the jizya or die.[33][34][35] In March 2007 the BBC reported that people in the Mandaean religious minority in Iraq alleged that they were being targeted by Islamist insurgents, who offered them the choice of conversion or death.[36]

On October 2009 it was reported that Muslim groups in the Indian state of Kerala have been engaging in a "Love Jihad", whereby Muslim men were trained to seduce college-going Hindu and Christian girls to marry them and forcibly convert to Islam.[37]. Both Hindu and Catholic Christian groups in the state expressed alarm at this trend and have been working together to protest this trend. The High Court in the state has resolved to probe the matter. The primary Islamic group currently being held responsible for this is the Islamic extremist front Popular Front of India, a conglomeration of radical Islamist groups disguised as civil rights groups that are dedicated to implementing Islamic Sharia law in Hindu majority India.[38]. The Catholic Church in Kerala has joined up with Hindu groups in order to combat this trend.[39]. Such cases of "Love Jihad" have reportedly started to occur in the neighboring state of Karnataka as well.[39]

See also


  1. Grayzel, Solomon, The Church and the Jews in the Thirteenth Century, rev. ed., New York: Hermon, 1966, p. 103
  3. See, for instance: Americanization (of Native Americans) > Americanization and assimilation (1880-1920) > Suppression of Religion
  4. 4.0 4.1 Waines (2003) "An Introduction to Islam" Cambridge University Press. p. 53
  5. Sir Thomas W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam
  6. Marshall G. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam
  7. Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples
  8. Ira Lapidus, History of Islamic Societies
  9. L.S. Starorianos, A Global History, the Human Heritage
  10. Armstrong, A History of God: from Abraham to the Present: the 4000-year Quest for God, 1993, p. 185.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Lewis (1984), p. 17, 18, 94, 95.
  12. M. Levy-Rubin, "New evidence relating to the process of Islamization in Palestine in the Early Muslim Period - The Case of Samaria", in: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 43 (3), p. 257-276, 2000, Springer
  13. Fattal, A.(1958) Le statut légal des non-Musulman en pays d'Islam, Beyrouth: Imprimerie Catholique, p. 72-73.
  16. Iraq's Mandaeans 'face extinction'
  17. Taliban Tells Pakistani Christians: Convert or Die
  18. Christian Minorities in the Islamic Middle East : Rosie Malek-Yonan on the Assyrians
  19. The assault on Assyrian Christians
  20. Told to Convert or Die, 21 Assyrian Families Seek Shelter in Baghdad Churches
  22. 'Conversion' sparks Copt protest
  23. Kidnapped Fox journalists released
  24. "Ram Janambhumi trust chief threatened". PTI. Times of India. 22 Nov 2007. 
  25. [1]
  26. [2]
  27. Satisfied with govt action- Archbishop Moras
  28. Maluku refugees allege forced circumcision, BBC News Online, Wednesday, 31 January, 2001 [3]
  29. Heba Saleh (BBC News, Cairo), 'Conversion' sparks Copt protest. BBC News Online 9 December 2004. [4]
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 "Kidnapped Fox journalists released". CNN. Retrieved August 27, 2006. 
  31. Times Online
  32. Report on Fox News, from AP
  33. Told to Convert or Die, 21 Assyrian Families Seek Shelter in Baghdad Churches
  34. The assault on Assyrian Christians - International Herald Tribune
  35. The Religion Report - 30 May 2007 - Christian Minorities in the Islamic Middle East : Rosie Malek-Yonan on the Assyrians
  36. BBC News on-line 7 March 2007
  37. [5]
  38. [6]
  39. 39.0 39.1 [7]

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