‘If you want people to stop converting, stop oppressing them’

‘If you want people to stop converting, stop oppressing them’

The best way to halt the mass conversions of Iranian Muslims to Christianity is to stop oppressing them, says a Turkish Muslim author.

“If [the Iranian regime] want[s] to avert more apostasy from Islam, they should consider oppressing their people less, rather than more, for their very oppression is itself the source of the escape from Islam,” writes Mustafa Akyol, in an opinion piece for the New York Times.

He says he is offering the Iranian regime this “great idea” as a “Muslim who is not happy to see my coreligionists leave the faith”.

Akyol is responding to recent articles by Mohabat News and CBN claiming that Christianity is growing in Iran – faster than in any other country in the world, according to CBN – despite the regular targeting and imprisonment of Christians.

Akyol notes that while the exact number of converts is hard to pinpoint, “the trend seems strong enough to worry Iran’s religious establishment – and make it turn to a solution it knows well: oppression”. 

But Akyol says the result has been only to increase the “disillusionment” of Iranians with the Islamic Republic and, in many cases, with Islam as well.

“Of course, as in every human affair, motivations for losing faith in Islam are complex and vary from individual to individual. But suffering from the oppression or violence perpetrated in the name of religion is cited very often,” he writes.

He says “authoritarianism at the communal level is also similarly self-defeating”, and that the trend of people leaving Islam due to “authoritarianism, violence, bigotry and patriarchy” has also been seen in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

Akyol concludes that Muslim leaders today need to realise that modern society is no longer patriarchal, hierarchical and communitarian, and that with the increase of liberal values like free speech, open debate and individual freedom, “questions cannot be answered by platitudes, and ideas cannot be shut down by crude dictates”.

He says Islam must “put at end to religious violence, bigotry and dictatorship” and employ the same reason used by medieval Muslim theologians and philosophers, who “wrestled with foreign ideas … rather than banning them”.