In the wake of the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. and allied nations have looked to the Middle East as a site for building President Bush’s “new world order.” Yet international religious liberty watchdog groups have criticized the Bush administration for its failure publicly to include attention to human rights and religious liberty in that effort. Of most concern are the vast restrictions that most predominantly Muslim countries place on Christians and other religious minorities. According to many observers, the key question is whether Islam is compatible with religious pluralism.

Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the International Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, located in Great Britain, has his doubts, particularly on the issue of conversion. Speaking at a Washington, D.C., conference on religious liberty and Islam, Sookhdeo said, “It is intrinsic within the very nature of Islam in its classical formation that a Muslim may not choose to embrace another faith.”

Sookhdeo, who is also on the Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship, cited widely held and practiced Muslim traditions that the “apostate” be executed. “Given the historical difficulties in defining precisely who is a Muslim, apostasy is being used as the basis of the suppression of any idea, person, or group which dissents from established authority,” he said.

Sookhdeo made his remarks at a one-day meeting sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), the National Association of Evangelicals, Catholic University of America, and the Trinitarians, a Catholic human-rights organization. More than 100 people attended the conference, held in the Senate office building on Capitol Hill, which brought together scholars, theologians, ...

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