Forced conversion

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A forced conversion is the religious conversion or acceptance of a philosophy against the will of the subject, often with the threatened consequence of earthly penalties or harm. These consequences range from job loss and social isolation to incarceration, torture or death. It is a form of religious cleansing.

Christianity[edit]

Serbian civilians who are being forced to convert to Catholicism by the Ustaše regime stand in front of a baptismal font in a church in Glina, July 1941

End of Roman empire[edit]

Forced conversion was a major way for the Christianization of the Roman Empire. In 392 Emperor Theodosius I decreed that Christianity was the only legal religion of the Roman Empire, and forbidding pagan practices by law:

It is Our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans....The rest, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative" (Codex Theodosianus XVI 1.2.).[1]

Medieval era[edit]

During the Saxon Wars, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, forcibly Roman Catholicized the Saxons from their native Germanic paganism by way of warfare and law upon conquest. Examples include the Massacre of Verden in 782, during which Charlemagne reportedly had 4,500 captive Saxons massacred upon rebelling against conversion, and the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae, a law imposed on conquered Saxons in 785 which prescribes death to those that refuse to convert to Christianity.[2]

Pope Innocent III 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.[3]

From The Crusades, by Bernard Hamilton[4] “In 1309 the Teutonic Order moved its headquarters to Marienburg in Prussia. It had a papal license to wage perpetual war against the pagans and used this to launch annual crusades against Lithuania. These expeditions were very popular with the nobility of northern Europe: campaigns were held twice a year, in the summer and in the winter when the order laid on special Christmas festivities for visiting crusaders.” “The excuse for men who enjoyed fighting and to lay waste large parts of Lithuania in the name of Christ was removed in 1386 when the King of Lithuania, Jagiello, married Queen Jadwiga of Poland and received Catholic baptism. The two kingdoms were united under Christian rulers and the Teutonic Knights no longer had any justification for crusading against pagans there.”

Spanish Inquisition[edit]

After the end of the Islamic control of Spain, Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497.[5] After the Reconquista, so called "New Christians" were those inhabitants (Sephardic Jews or Mudéjar Muslims) during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era who were baptized under coercion and in the face of murder, becoming forced converts from Islam (Moriscos, Conversos and secret Moors) and forced converts from Judaism (Conversos, Crypto-Jews and Marranos). Then the Spanish Inquisition targeted primarily forced converts from Judaism who came under suspicion of either continuing to adhere to their old religion or of having fallen back into it. Jewish conversos still resided in Spain and often hiddenly (cryptically) practiced Judaism and were suspected by the "Old Christians" of being Crypto-Jews. The Spanish Inquisition generated much wealth and income for the church and individual inquisitors by confiscating the property of the persecutees or selling them into slavery. The end of the Al-Andalus and the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula went hand in hand with the increase of Spanish-Portugal influence in the world, as exemplified in the Christian conquest of the Americas and their aboriginal Indian population. The Ottoman empire, the Netherlands, and the New World absorbed much of the Jewish refugees.[6]

Goa Inquisition[edit]

Main article: Goa Inquisition

Religious persecution took place by the Portuguese in Goa, India from 16th to the 17th century. The natives of Goa, most of them Hindus were subjected to severe torture and oppression by the zealous Portuguese rulers and missionaries and forcibly converted to Christianity.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

In 1567, the campaign of destroying temples in Bardez met with success. At the end of it 300 Hindu temples were destroyed. Enacting laws, prohibition was laid from December 4, 1567 on rituals of Hindu marriages, sacred thread wearing and cremation. All the persons above 15 years of age were compelled to listen to Christian preaching, failing which they were punished. In 1583, Hindu temples at Assolna and Cuncolim were destroyed through army action. "The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion. They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshipped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers." wrote Filippo Sassetti, who was in India from 1578 to 1588. An order was issued in June 1684 for suppressing the Konkani language and making it compulsory to speak the Portuguese language. The law provided for dealing toughly with anyone using the local language. Following that law all the non-Christian cultural symbols and the books written in local languages were sought to be destroyed.[13]

Methods such as repressive laws, demolition of temples and mosques, destruction of holy books, fines and the forcible conversion of orphans were used.[14]

Native American boarding schools[edit]

The government paid religious societies to provide education to Native American children on reservations. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) founded additional American Indian boarding schools based on the assimilation model of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

Children were usually immersed in European-American culture through appearance changes with haircuts, were forbidden to speak their native languages, and traditional names were replaced by new European-American names. The experience of the schools was often harsh, especially for the younger children who were separated from their families. In numerous ways, they were encouraged or forced to abandon their Native American identities and cultures.[15] The number of Native American children in the boarding schools reached a peak in the 1970s, with an estimated enrollment of 60,000 in 1973. Especially through investigations of the later twentieth century, there have been many documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuse occurring at such schools.[16][17] Since those years, tribal nations have increasingly insisted on community-based schools and have also founded numerous tribally controlled colleges. Community schools have also been supported by the federal government through the BIA and legislation. The largest boarding schools have closed. In some cases, reservations or tribes were too small or poor to support independent schools and still wanted an alternative for their children, especially for high school. By 2007, the number of Native American children in boarding schools had declined to 9,500.

21st century[edit]

The Baptist Church of Tripura is alleged to have supplied the NLFT with arms and financial support and to have encouraged the murder of Hindus, particularly infants, as a means to depopulate the region of all Hindus.[18] In 2009, the Assam Times reported that about fifteen armed Hmar militants, members of Manmasi National Christian Army, tried to force Hindu residents of Bhuvan Pahar, Assam to convert to Christianity.[19] A few Christian evangelists in India have been accused of forced conversion of Hindus, and some of them have been for allegedly converting others by force.[20][21]

Roman Catholicism[edit]

Archbishop Moras, refuting allegations of forced conversions and the charges of conversions against the Christian missionaries, said "We do not believe in forced conversions" and "It is easy to charge people with wrong allegations but difficult to stop evil powers that are working against Christians".[22]

Hinduism[edit]

Indian Christians have alleged that "radical Hindu groups" in Orissa, India have forced Christian converts from Hinduism to "revert"[23] to Hinduism. These "religious riots" were largely between two tribal groups in Orissa, one of which was predominantly Hindu and another predominantly Christian, over the assassination of a Hindu leader named Swami Lakshmanananda by Christian Maoists operating as terrorist groups in India (see Naxalite).[24] In the aftermath of the violence, American Christian evangelical groups have claimed that Hindu groups are "forcibly reverting" Christians converts from Hinduism back to Hinduism.[23] However, some local Christian groups have dismissed these allegations as forced conversion is not what Jesus Christ preached.[25]

Judaism[edit]

Forced conversions occurred under the Hasmonean Empire. The Idumaens were forced to convert to Judaism, either by threats of exile, or threats of death, depending on the source.[26][27] In Eusebíus, Christianity, and Judaism Harold W. Attridge claims that “there is reason to think that Josephus’ account of their conversion is substantially accurate.” He also writes, “That these were not isolated instances but that forced conversion was a national policy is clear from the fact that Alexander Jannaeus (ca 80 BCE) demolished the city of Pella in Moab, ‘because the inhabitants would not agree to adopt the national custom of the Jews.’” Josephus, Antiquities. 13.15.4.[28]

Maurice Sartre has written of the "policy of forced Judaization adopted by Hyrcanos, Aristobulus I and Jannaeus”, who offered "the conquered peoples a choice between expulsion or conversion,”[29]

William Horbury has written that “The evidence is best explained by postulating that an existing small Jewish population in Lower Galilee was massively expanded by the forced conversion in c.104 BCE of their Gentile neighbours in the north.”[30]

In 2009 the BBC defended a claim that in 524CE the Yemeni Jewish Himyar tribe, led by King Dhu Nuwashad offered Christian residents of a village in Saudi Arabia the choice between conversion to Judaism or death and that 20,000 Christians had then been massacred stating that "The production team spoke to many historians over 18 months, among them Nigel Groom, who was our consultant, and Professor Abdul Rahman Al-Ansary [former professor of archaeology at the King Saud University in Riyadh]."[31] Inscriptions documented by Yousef himself shows the great pride he expressed after massacring more than 22,000 Christians in Zafar and Najran.[32]

Islam[edit]

See also: Islamization

Early[edit]

Historians point out that forced conversions have occurred during Islamic history.[33][34][35][36][37][38] Noted cases include the conversion of Samaritans to Islam at the hands of the rebel Ibn Firāsa,[39][40]

The Arabs came to conquer Sindh under command of Muhammad bin Qasim in 711 CE. This was an easy task, as the people of Sindh had been practicing Buddhism and Hindu ahimsa (non-violence)[citation needed] for many years, and battle was sinful.[41] The Arab Muslims quickly destroyed the Sindhi forts and conquered Sindh. Many Hindus chose to flee Sindh and move to Punjab and Kutch.[42] Those that stayed behind were asked to convert to Islam. For those that did not comply to this request, heavy taxes were levied on them and their properties were taken from them.[43]

The Jizya (poll tax) was the most important factor in the mass conversion to Islam, the tax paid by all non-Muslims (Dhimmis) in Islamic empires.[44][45][46][43] In the 8th century, under administration of the Muslim Arabs, heavy taxation moves large numbers of Coptic Christians to convert to Islam in North Africa.[45] And also with the Zoroastrians living under Muslim's rule in ancient Persia,[46]

Sahih al-Bukhari, for example, describes Muhammed asking his followers,

Narrated Ibn 'Umar: Allah's Apostle said: "I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah."

Sahih al-Bukhari, 1:2:25 see also Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:643[47][48][49][50]

Sahih Muslim similarly, in Book 19, describes the conquest of mecca where when faced with a group from the Quraish, Muhammed asked his followers,

"You see the ruffians and the lowly followers of the Quraish. And he indicated by striking one of his hands over the other that they should be killed."

Sahih Muslim, 19:4395 see also Sahih Muslim, 1:29 Sahih Muslim, 1:30 Sahih Muslim, 1:31 Sahih Muslim, 1:32 Sahih Muslim, 1:33 Sahih Muslim, 1:34 Sahih Muslim, 1:35 [51]

Medieval[edit]

Registration of boys for the devşirme. Ottoman miniature painting from the Süleymanname, 1558.

A form of forced conversion became institutionalized during the Ottoman Empire in the practice of devşirme, a human levy in which Christian boys were seized and collected from their families (usually in the Balkans), enslaved, converted to Islam, and then trained as elite military unit within the Ottoman army or for high-ranking service to the sultan.[52] From the mid to late 14th, through early 18th centuries, the devşirmejanissary system enslaved an estimated 500,000 to one million non–Muslim adolescent males.[53]

There were conversions in the 12th century under the Almohad dynasty of North Africa and Andalusia, as well as in Persia under the Safavid dynasty where Sunnis were converted to Shi'ism[54] and Jews were converted to Islam.[55]

There is dispute amongst scholars as to whether the famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides converted to Islam in order to freely escape from Almohad territory, and then reconverted back to Judaism in either the Levant or in Egypt.[56] Maimonides wrote a book on apostasy wherein he advocated accepting forced conversion rather than suffer martydom, and to then seek refuge afterward at a place where it was safe. The dispute also extended to the allegedly forced conversion of Sabbatai Zevi, an Ottoman Jew from Smyrna. In reality, at the beginning of 1666, the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople ordered Sabbatai, who had many followers and had claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish messiah, to be imprisoned. When Sabbatai was later taken to Adrianople, the Sultan's physician, a former Jew, advised him to convert to Islam. The following day he converted before the Sultan, who happily rewarded Sabbatai by conferring the title (Mahmed) Effendi, and appointing him as his doorkeeper with a high salary. A number of Sabbatai's followers also went over to Islam and about 300 families converted and were known as dönmeh (converts).[57]

Modern[edit]

Mughal ruler Aurangzeb cherished the ambition of converting India into a land of Islam. For this, he encouraged forced religious conversions and destroyed thousands of Hindu temples during his reign.[58][59] During Tipu Sultan's invasion of Malabar in the late 18th century, he forcefully converted over 400,000 Hindus to Islam.[60][61][62] During the Moplah Riots of 1921 in Kerala, Muslim Mappilas forcibly converted thousands of Hindus to Islam[63] and killed all those who refused to apostatise.[64] During the Noakhali genocide of Hindus in 1946, several thousand Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam by Muslim mobs.[65][66] In Bangladesh, the International Crimes Tribunal tried and convicted several leaders of the Islamic Razakar militias, as well as Bangladesh Muslim Awami league (Forid Uddin Mausood), of war crimes committed against Hindus during the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities. The charges included forced conversion of Bengali Hindus to Islam.[67] In the 1998 Prankote massacre, 26 Kashmiri Hindus were beheaded by Islamist militants after their denial of converting into Islam. The militants struck when the villagers refused demands from the gunmen to convert to Islam and prove their conversion by eating beef.[68]

21st century[edit]

United Nations Refugee Agency and other global human rights groups have published several reports describing forced conversion to Islam in nations with majority Muslim and large regional Muslim populations. Many Hindus in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been forcefully converted to Islam by Islamic extremist groups in the region.[citation needed] A common theme of conversions by extremist groups is the choice between conversion or death.[citation needed] Many Hindu temples have been destroyed in recent decades in Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh by Islamic extremist groups in the region.[citation needed] There are also several cases of forceful conversion in Europe and America.[citation needed] Additionally, some Muslim prisoners in the UK are converting people to Islam in prison itself.[citation needed] In Tamil Nadu state of India, Visharam (a township in Vellore district) has around 75% Muslim population. The authorities in the township want the rest of the people to convert to Islam, and the access to facilities in non-Muslim sections in the township are limited.[citation needed] In Malapuram district, Kerala, there is an unwritten rule by the Muslim majority is that ' if a Hindu wants to sell his/her property, he/she can sell only to a Muslim'.[citation needed] Many Christians in Egypt are forcefully converted to Islam by extremist groups.[citation needed] Many Hindu Temples and Christian Churches have been destroyed in Pakistan and Bangladesh by extremist groups with the intention of making the region purely Islamic.[69][70][71] Some historical and current examples of forced conversion into Islam within the current century are described below.

Indonesia[edit]

In 2012, over 1000 Catholic children in East Timor, removed from their families, were reported to being held in Indonesia without consent of their parents, forcibly converted to Islam, educated in Islamic schools and naturalized.[72] Other reports claim forced conversion of minority Ahmadiyya sect Muslims to Sunni Islam, with the use of violence.[73][74][75]

In 2005, three Indonesian Christian women were charged with attempting to convert Muslim children to Christianity in 2005. They were sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The punishment was upheld by the Supreme Court of Indonesia upon appeal.[76][77]

In 2001 the Indonesian army evacuated hundreds of Christian refugees from the remote Kesui and Teor islands in Maluku 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.[78]

Middle-East[edit]

In 2013, Inter Press Service reported more than 500 Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, over the last two years, with a growing number of cases involving girls between the ages of 13 and 17.[79] In 2012, a 14-year old Coptic Christian girl was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married in Al Dab'a, Egypt, though Egyptian laws criminalize child marriage and prohibit the conversion of minors.[80]

Egypt's largest newspaper Al-Ahram has reported a number of kidnapping and forced conversion of Coptic Christian girls to Islam, followed by marriage against their will to Muslim men.[81] Similar claims of forced conversion have been reported by other independent organizations.[82][83]

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, they alleged, had been forced to convert to Islam. The BBC reported that allegations of forced conversions of Copts to Islam surface every year in Egypt.[84]

Other notables among these have been the cases of Iraq's Mandaeans,[85] Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Christians, Christians of Pakistan[86] and Assyrian Christians of Iraq[87][88][89] who have faced coercion to convert to Islam.[90][91]

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.[92]

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.[93][94][95] 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.[96]

In several Middle East countries, force of law has been used to prevent and punish apostasy and religious conversions. For example, in 2008, sharia courts of Jordan have used Islamic law to judge religious conversion. People who convert from Islam to other religions lose their civil and property rights, their marriages are annulled, and their Muslims relatives gain custody of their children.[97] In Saudi Arabia, on December 17, 2012, the Jeddah District Court, hearing charges against Raif Badawi for the crime of apostasy (leaving Islamic faith), demanded that the defendant "repent to God" in the court. Badawi refused. The judge then referred the sentence of death penalty to a higher court.[98]

Maldives[edit]

A Maldivian man, Mohammed Nazim,[99] was assaulted in 2010 after he attended a conference on religion and, during the question and answer session, asked questions on Islam, while confessing that he was born to Muslim parents, has read a translation of Qur'an, but does not believe in religion, that he is atheist. The conference gathering of about 11,000 demanded that the atheist be attacked and killed. Maldives' constitution stipulates Maldives citizens must be Muslims. The Maldivian man was arrested, given a chance to return to Islam or face criminal charges with death penalty. In prison, he agreed to return to Islam.[100][101]

India[edit]

In Jammu & Kashmir, the Ladakh Buddhist Association has said: "There is a deliberate and organised design to convert Kargil's Buddhists to Islam. In the last four years, about 50 girls and married women with children were taken and converted from village Wakha alone. If this continues unchecked, we fear that Buddhists will be wiped out from Kargil in the next two decades or so. Anyone objecting to such allurement and conversions is harassed."[102][103]

Pakistan[edit]

In 2003 a six year old Sikh girl was kidnapped by a member of the Afridi tribe in Northwest Frontier Province; he also claimed the girl had converted to Islam and therefore could not be returned to her family.[104]

The United Nations Refugee Agency reported in 2013 that at least 700 Christian girls in Pakistan are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam every year. Additionally, the report claims 15 to 20 Hindu kidnapping cases are reported each month to the Hindu Council in Karachi alone, widespread complaints of forced conversions and forced child marriages of Hindu girls to Muslim men in Sindh province of Pakistan. The Human Rights Council of Pakistan has reported that cases of forced conversion are increasing.[105][106]

In prior years too, around 25 Hindu girls have been reported to be abducted every month and converted to Islam forcibly in Pakistan, as reported by Pakistani media.[107] 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.[108] In June 2009, International Christian Concern (ICC) reported the rape and killing of a Christian man in Pakistan, for refusing to convert to Islam.[109]

Rinkle Kumari, a 19 year Pakistani student, Dr. Lata Kumari, and Asha Kumari, a Hindu working in a beauty parlor, were allegedly forced to convert from Hinduism to Islam.[110][111] Their cases were appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Pakistan where they said that they wanted to live with their parents and not their 'so called' husbands.[112] The court issued a verdict that they should stay with their husbands.

Somalia[edit]

In August 2009, ICC reported that four Christians working to help orphans in Somalia were beheaded by Islamist extremists when they refused to convert to Islam.[113]

United Kingdom[edit]

According to the Daily Mail, in 2007, commissioner of police Sir Ian Blair stated the police were targeting extremist members of the Muslim community who were allegedly forcing vulnerable girls to convert to Islam in response to claims made by the Hindu Forum.[114] In 2007 a Sikh girl's family claimed that she had been forcibly converted to Islam, and they received a police guard after being attacked by an armed gang, although the "Police said no one was injured in the incident".[115]

In response to these news stories, an open letter to Sir Ian Blair, signed by ten Hindu academics, argued that claims that Hindu and Sikh girls were being forcefully converted were "part of an arsenal of myths propagated by right-wing Hindu supremacist organisations in India".[116] The Muslim Council of Britain issued a press release pointing out there is a lack of evidence of any forced conversions and suggested it is an underhand attempt to smear the British Muslim population.[117] Sheikh Musa Admani, an imam, said Islamic extremist groups may be evading university bans on groups such as Hizb ut Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroun.[118]

An academic paper by Katy Sian published in the journal South Asian Popular Culture in 2011 explored the question of how "'forced' conversion narratives" arose around the Sikh diaspora in the United Kingdom.[119] Sian, who reports that claims of conversion through courtship on campuses are widespread in the UK, indicates that rather than relying on actual evidence they primarily rest on the word of "a friend of a friend" or on personal anecdote. According to Sian, the narrative is similar to accusations of "white slavery" lodged against the Jewish community and foreigners to the UK and the US, with the former having ties to anti-semitism that mirror the Islamophobia betrayed by the modern narrative. Sian expanded on these views in 2013's Mistaken Identities, Forced Conversions, and Postcolonial Formations.[120]

Atheism[edit]

Under the state atheism of the U.S.S.R., there was a "government-sponsored program of forced conversion to atheism."[121][122][clarification needed]

Buddhism[edit]

In Burma in recent years[when?][clarification needed] the military dictatorship has strongly encouraged the conversion of ethnic minorities, often by force, as part of its campaign of assimilation.[123]


See also[edit]

References[edit]

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