Historic joint Christian-Muslim declaration on freedom to convert

By staff writers
August 28, 2007

The signing of a declaration between a group representing Muslims and a leading Christian body in Norway, which supports the mutual right to convert between faiths without harassment, is the first pact of its type in the world, the two bodies have announced.

The Islamic Council of Norway and the (Lutheran) Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations jointly declared that everyone is free to adopt the religious faith of their choice, at a gathering on 22 August 2007.

"As far as we know, this is the first time that a church and representative national Muslim organization have jointly acknowledged the right to covert," said Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary general of the church council.

He continued: "By issuing this declaration we hope to contribute to the international process on this important matter."

After signing their agreement, the two groups said in a statement: "We denounce and are committed to counteracting all violence, discrimination and harassment inflicted in reaction to a person’s conversion, or desire to convert, from one religion to another, be it in Norway or abroad."

The Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relation and the Islamic Council of Norway, which have met regularly since 1993, said they believe they had clinched the world's first such joint declaration by national religious organizations.

"We reject and want to work against violence, discrimination and harassment due to a person wanting to convert or having converted from one religion to another," said the declaration, signed by Tveit and Shoaib M. Sutlan, secretary general of the Islamic Council.

Sultan said, "It is still important to establish this important principle."

About 86 percent of Norway's 4.6 million people are members of the state (Lutheran) Church of Norway, while there are about 72 000 registered Muslims, who make up only 1.8 percent of the population. Both groups said conversion between Islam and Christianity is uncommon in Norway.

The signers added, "This ongoing dialogue is based on the fundamental values of mutual respect and trust. Its purpose is to prevent conflicts, and to create space for understanding between Muslims and Christians as they relate to each other and to Norwegian society in general. A particular task has been to challenge prejudices and stereotypes in their conceptions of each other, and to combat Islamophobia and discrimination of the Muslim minority in Norway."

Many interpretations of Sharia, or strict Islamic law, forbid conversion from Islam, and it can have severe consequences in some countries, such as the death penalty in Afghanistan.

Web site link: www.kirken.no/english/news.cfm?artid=149142

[Adapted from ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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