There is no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2:256), but to use the old Clinton Qualifier, that depends on your definition of compulsion. Islam itself is contradictory on this point, as Islamic law is rife with various forms of subtle and not-so-subtle coercion to submit, up to and including the choices afforded to unbelievers by Qur’an 9:29: conversion, subjugation, or war. But hey, no compulsion or anything. Just an offer you can’t refuse if life can be made sufficiently uncomfortable, humiliating, or dangerous for your intransigence.
That is the situation in which this community finds itself. “Conversions threaten Pakistan’s ‘Macedonian’ tribe,” from Dawn, October 20 (thanks to Anup):
BUMBORET VALLEY: Nestled among the valleys of Pakistan’s mountainous northwest, a tiny religious community that claims descent from Alexander the Great’s army is under increasing pressure from radicals bent on converting them to Islam.
The Kalash, who number just about 3,500 in Pakistan’s population of 180 million, are spread over three valleys along the border with Afghanistan.
For centuries they practiced polytheism and animal sacrifice without interference from members of Pakistan’s Muslim majority.
But now they are under increasing danger from proselytising Muslim militants just across the border, and a hardline interpretation of Islam creeping through mainstream society “”as Pook Shireen discovered.
See also: Afghanistan’s Nuristan, formerly Kafiristan.
After falling unconscious during a car accident, the mid-20s member of the paramilitary Chitral Scouts woke to find that people with him had converted him to Islam.
“Some of the Muslim people here try to influence the Kalash or encourage them by reading certain verses to them from the Quran,” said his mother, Shingerai Bibi.
“The men that were with him read verses of the Quran and then when he woke up they said to him, “˜You are a convert now to Islam”. So he converted.”
The conversion was a shock for his family. But they were lucky compared with other religious minorities under threat from growing religious conservatism that is destabilising Pakistan.
Therein lies the assumption that it is “religious conservatism,” whatever that is supposed to mean in a given context, rather than any one religion’s teachings, that pose a problem.
In May 2010, more than 80 Ahmadis were killed in attacks on two worship places in Lahore.
Then in March this year, the Christian minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, whose job it was to protect groups like the Kalash, was assassinated outside his home in the capital, Islamabad.
The lush green Kalash valleys, which sit below snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush, have been a magnet for tourists, both for the scenery and for the people, who are indigenous to the area.
Most are fair and with light eyes, which they say proves their descent from the army of Alexander of Macedonia that passed through the area in the 4th century BC to invade India.
The community brews its own wine and women are not veiled.
But the smooth co-existence between the Kalash and Muslims has been fading in recent months and the area is suffering from many of the religious tensions marring the rest of Pakistan.
The conversions are causing splits among the Kalash “”converts become outcasts overnight, described by many as “dead to their families”.
“When a Kalash converts we don’t live with them in our houses anymore,” said farmer Asil Khan, sitting on a neighbour’s balcony.
“Our festivals and our culture are different. They can’t take part in the festivals or the way we live.”…
But no death penalty, apparently, as a convert to Islam who changes his mind would face.