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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Top Muslim says there is no worldly punishment for apostasy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Egypt’s top Muslim religious advisor has ruled that the Quran, Islam’s holy book, prescribes no worldly punishment for Muslims who change their religion.

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, head of Dar al-Iftaa, the Egyptian governmental body responsible for issuing religious opinions, said in a Washington Post-Newsweek forum that “the act of abandoning one’s religion is a sin punishable by God on the day of judgment. If the case in question is one of merely rejecting faith, then there is no worldly punishment.”

Gomaa’s previous rulings had said apostasy threatened public order, but a spokesman for Dar al-Iftaa said his positions on the issue had not changed. “The posting is consistent with the mufti’s past fatwas,” he told the AFP news service. “Apostasy is only punishable when it is considered akin to subversion.” While Muslims around the world who leave Islam often are punished, even killed, as apostates, Gomaa’s ruling leaves open the possibility that conversion is permitted if it does not threaten “the foundations of society.”

The statement has particular implications for the case of 12 Egyptian Coptic Christians who converted to Islam and have petitioned the government to allow them to return to Christianity. A lower court denied their request in April and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear their appeal in September.

“This (ruling) is significant, especially coming from Gomaa,” Hossam Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told AFP. “Between 2004 and now there have been many court cases involving Christian converts to Islam that want to convert back to Christianity who are unable to do so.”

Ahmed Mekky, the deputy head of Egypt’s Supreme Court, told AFP, “The punishment for apostasy is controversial. There is nothing in any Quranic text about this.” The Quran talks about apostates who were put to death for treachery -– a political rather than religious crime, he said.

PRO-LIFERS HOPE INDIA ELECTIONS ‘A TURNING POINT’ — Voters in India elected their first woman president July 21 in an historic election many hope will relieve the plight of millions of oppressed women and girls in the country.

Pratibha Patil, a 72-year-old lawyer, defeated Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the country’s standing vice president, with a landslide two-thirds majority for the largely ceremonial post.

The Family Research Council said the election of a woman could mark “a turning point in the global war against female oppression.”

Patil’s election “could spell liberation and opportunity for the country’s suffering female population,” FRC’s Tony Perkins said in his Washington Update e-mail. “For pro-lifers, the election could be a significant step in the fight to rescue the millions of girls who fall prey to the rampant sex selection in India’s male-dominated society.”

A United Nation’s study recently established that, of the 100 million female infants killed worldwide by abortions, 43 million would have been Indian, the FRC said. Indians have viewed girls as an economic liability since brides’ families are traditionally required to pay a sizable dowry to the grooms’ parents before marrying. As a result, the rate of sex selection has soared, leaving a massive gender gap in its wake.

“We can only pray that Patil’s election means the beginning of the end of discrimination against Indian women and a chapter in moving toward a culture of life,” Perkins concluded.

TOP PAKISTANI JUDGE REINSTATED — Pakistan’s former chief justice, fired in March by the country’s military ruler, has been reinstated with a unanimous verdict from the nation’s high court. The ruling marks a serious political setback for President Pervez Musharraf, who is dealing with growing violence from Islamic extremists and popular discontent with his eight-year rule.

Presiding Judge Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday announced the court had ruled the suspension of Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry was “illegal” and set aside the misconduct charges against him, according to the Associated Press. A spokesman for Musharraf said he would respect the decision of the Supreme Court. Tom Casey, deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department said the reinstatement “respects the rule of law” and praised the fact the court was “capable of making independent decisions.”

The ruling triggered jubilant rallies in Islamabad and Lahore, with crowds chanting slogans urging Musharraf to resign, the AP reported. Benazir Bhutto, the country’s exiled prime minister, said the ruling had seriously weakened Musharraf politically.

Musharraf had suspended Chaudhry for allegedly using his position to secure a police job for his son and take inappropriate advantage of privileges such as the use of government aircraft. The government insisted the suspension was not politically motivated, but critics accused Musharraf of removing the independent-minded Chaudhry to prevent challenges when he asked lawmakers to approve another five-year term for himself.

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  • Mark Kelly