Muslim convert to Christianity goes into hiding after her father wants her killed for apostasy. Instead of protecting her, Austrian authorities suggest she returns to Islam.
Sabatina James has one wish. She wants to enjoy the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which is 60 years old this week. But the 26-year-old Austrian of Pakistani heritage, in hiding since becoming Christian, is at the center of a storm between Islam and international human rights law.
After converting from Islam a few years ago, James had to flee from a father who wanted her killed for apostasy — and from Austrian authorities who instead of protecting her, suggested she resolve the conflict by returning to Islam.
James, who uses a pseudonym, grew up in Linz, a city near the Alps more famous for chocolate than disputes between Islamic and international law. But when she renounced Islam, her father’s verdict was clear. “He said, ‘In two weeks you have to become a Muslim again or you’re dead,'” says James, who fled to Germany, where she now lives under police protection.
On the anniversary of the UDHR’s ratification, James’s case dramatically illustrates Islam’s growing challenge to the principles enshrined in the world’s most translated document, including the freedom of thought, conscience, and worship — and the right to change one’s religion.
Many Muslim jurists say Shari’a does not envision such liberties — and that apostasy is always punishable by death. Although there is growing debate about that interpretation, the tension between Islamic and international law is at the center of James’s personal drama as well as Western attempts to accommodate Muslim citizens. It’s also behind efforts by Muslim countries to establish new rights frameworks based on Shari’a.*
But what surprises James isn’t that Muslim states have sought their own Shari’a-based rights charters. It’s that in some Western countries she sees a willingness to have Shari’a applied to Muslim citizens at the expense of their tutelage under national and international laws.For example, when she was first threatened by her father, James asked local police for help. “They said to me, ‘Why don’t you become Muslim again? Then you won’t have problems, Madam. Why are you doing all that? It doesn’t matter if you believe in Allah or Jesus.’ But for me, it did matter, and I was living in a country which is not under Islamic law. And I was like, ‘Why are these people taking the side of my parents?'”
Islam’s Challenges To ‘Universal Human Rights’
Jeffrey Donovan, Radio Free Europe, December 9, 2008