Sabatina -- a Muslim horror taleOf course one can argue whether the statement "There is no evidence that people have been killed in Germany or Europe for apostasy, as would happen in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia or Iran" makes much sense. Of course there is no official Islamist religious police (yet) established in Europe, as there is in Saudi Arabia or Iran. But I wonder what the double-barelled professor thinks the many honour killings of Muslim women in Germany are? Or are we supposed to call a spade a spade only AFTER the establishment of such a religious police?
Author: Uwe Siemon-Netto
Date: July 3, 2003
Editor's note: This sixth installment of the UPI series on dialoguing with Islam tells of a Muslim girl sentenced to death by hear father for apostasy - in the heart of Western Europe.
This is a modern Muslim horror story from Austria, whose capital, Vienna, barely avoided falling to Islam half a millennium ago. Imagine an exquisitely beautiful citizen of this ancient Christian nation having to go underground in neighboring Germany just to stay alive.
Sabatina James, 20, fled across the border to avoid being killed by her father, a Pakistani-born crane operator and taxi driver, who along with other family members sentenced her to death for apostasy. Sabatina had given up Islam, her parents' faith, and become an evangelical Christian while attending high school near the city of Linz.
Sabatina's story - the surname "James" is a nom de plume - has shocked the German-speaking part of Europe, which is grappling with the seemingly intractable problem of how to cope with its huge Muslim minorities. There are 3.5 million in Germany alone and 350,000 in Austria, and their numbers are increasing at a rate of 20-25 percent every two years, according to Ursula Spuler-Stegemann, an Islamic studies professor at the venerable University of Marburg.
"Will they integrate fully or will a substantial part of them evolve into a parallel society that neither speaks German nor adheres entirely to this country's civil laws?" Spuler-Stegemann wondered. Will these groups insist on practicing the Shari'a - religious law - as Sabatina's father evidently intends to in Austria?
Christians are not the only ones to be increasingly apprehensive about this prospect. A small reform-minded group of Islamic intellectuals calling themselves Euro-Muslims shares these fears. Linz author Guenther Ahmed Rusznak, a convert from Catholicism who tried to arbitrate between Sabatina and her father, is of this persuasion. "Ninety percent of the Islamic Community here in Linz condemn this girl, calling her a whore. This is ghastly," he said in a telephone interview.
The story of this young woman has been turned into a successful book titled, Sabatina - vom Islam zum Christentum, ein Todesurteil (Sabatina -- from Islam to Christianity - a death sentence). It is a tale full of garish details that can give you goose bumps by underscoring the frightening sway Islam can hold even over authorities in the heart of Europe.
Sabatina's family moved from Lahore in Pakistan to Austria when she was 11 years old, her publisher, Juergen Kleindienst of Vienna, told United Press International Wednesday. As so often with the daughters of Muslim immigrants in Western Europe, her troubles began when she turned 15 and wished to look and behave like her Austrian classmates.
While her parents, especially her mother, rejected the ways of the country whose citizens they had become, Sabatina rejected the traditional Pakistani dress, wore blue jeans instead and put on lipstick, just like her friends at school. "For this she was beaten up at home to such an extent that social services had to intervene," Kleindienst said.
When she was 16, her parents took her home to Lahore during the summer break and informed her that she had been promised to a cousin. According to Kleindienst, Sabatina refused this union and was promptly sent to a Koran school where her minders frequently flogged her during her six-month stay.
In the end she apparently agreed to the betrothal and was then allowed to return to Austria, where she immediately renounced the engagement. She claimed it was coerced. Back at school, a classmate talked to her about his Christian faith. She converted. Her father's reaction was: "You have dishonored our family. This honor is more important than my life or yours. Those turning their backs on our faith deserve death."
Sabatina called the police. But when she saw her father being led away in handcuffs, she refused to press charges and he was released. In the meantime, her cousin and fiancé arrived from Lahore with what publisher Kleindienst called a bogus marriage certificate, which the Austrian authorities accepted.
"The authorities could not be bothered to launch an investigation because all this had taken place so far away," said Rusznak, the arbiter. Sabatina's parents subsequently adopted the young man, who thus became her brother, husband and cousin, all in one - in staid Austria, a cradle of Western civilization.
What will happen should she later fall in love with somebody else? "That's a problem for another time," Rusznak mused. At any rate, threatened by her father, who now called her his "ex-daughter," and other family members, she sought refuge with a family of Christian refugees from Pakistan in Germany.
It didn't help of course that at one point during her family ordeal she had fallen into the hands of a Viennese photographer who promised her a career as a model if she allowed him to take a few shots of her in the nude. These pictures promptly appeared in an Austrian magazine without Sabatina's authorization.
Be that as it may, her story shows a Muslim reality, "which Europeans do not take seriously enough," in the words of Justin Samuels, a Pakistani physician and evangelical activist living in southern Germany. "Europeans only react when something horrible happens - like the Americans after Sept. 11."
Ursula Spuler-Stegemann, the Marburg professor, shares his concerns. Spuler-Stegemann has studied the conversion phenomenon extensively. "There is no evidence that people have been killed in Germany or Europe for apostasy, as would happen in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia or Iran," she said.
"However, many have told me of serious threats," she related. "I have been told of a congregation of converts from Iran who no longer even dare to meet. There are reports, too, that groups of converts are being infiltrated (by Islamists)." Evidently, there are cases where infiltrators go as far as getting baptized in order to subvert the growing numbers of Muslims who have turned to Christianity, the professor continued.
Spuler-Stegemann, who favors a "peaceful life together with Muslims in Germany," sounded scandalized by the naivité of secular and church officials mollycoddling Muslim hardliners at the expense of moderates. "Those who warn of these dangers are being showered with lawsuits (from Islamist leaders)," she said, "and our churches are not at all playing a good role in this.
She described the current level of dialogue between Christians and Muslims as "off-beam stuff to gratify theologians," whose contacts are primarily with Islamists. "These people can't even distinguish between the different Islamic groups. They are living in cloud-cuckoo land."
I took Uwe Siemon-Netto's article from the HINDU VIVEK KENDRA website.
To go to Sabatina's homepage click HERE.
(Hat tip to Eurient!)