A person cannot be forced into being a Muslim, and neither should someone be punished for peacefully abandoning the faith, according to Imam Farooq Abo-Elzahab.
"The penalty is up to God in the hereafter, but there is no penalty on this Earth for apostasy," Imam Farooq said yesterday. He called the Afghan government's charges against Abdul Rahman "a kind of nonsense, a misinterpretation of Islam."
The imam pointed to Chapter 2, verse 255, in the Qur'an, or Islamic holy book: "Let there be no compulsion in religion."
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, said "it is the position of the scholars we've consulted that an individual's choice of faiths is not a matter for state intervention. If the state were to intervene, it would have to be like any other legal system in the world: It would have to be tied to some act of treason or hostile behavior."
CAIR issued a statement Friday calling for the Afghan government to release Mr. Rahman.
Imam Farooq, spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, said yesterday that if a Muslim converts to another religion and then organizes a military attack on an Islamic community, "then we would have to fight to defend the freedom of religion. They would be insurgents."
But Imam Farooq said Afghan leaders who believe Mr. Rahman should face the death penalty for converting to Christianity 16 years ago are "confused" in how they interpret the Hadith, the collected sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.
"The Hadith must be interpreted in light of the Qur'an, and the Qur'an never says that people who abandon Islam should be killed," he said.
He said he preached about the case in his Friday sermon and will address the issue again on Sunday.
"Most people in Afghanistan do not talk about it in a very reasonable manner," Imam Farooq said.
"This country has been suffering under the Taliban for a long time. They react in a way that does not fit with Islam. They need a lot of education," he said.
Not all Toledo Muslims feel it was appropriate for western governments to pressure Afghan officials to release Mr. Rahman.
Salmeena Sediqe, a Toledo Muslim who grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States 15 years ago, said that outside interference in Afghan affairs was unmerited.
"It shows that the United States has too much power. I don't like it," Ms. Sediqe said.
She said Afghanistan is "100 percent Muslim" and when someone converts to another faith, "It is very, very rare and a very hated thing to happen."
Contact David Yonke at: