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Forced conversion


Forced conversion

A forced conversion is the religious conversion or acceptance of a philosophy against the will of the subject, often with the threatened consequence of earthly penalties or harm. These consequences range from job loss and social isolation to incarceration, torture or death. It is a form of religious cleansing.


  • Religion and power 1
  • Christianity 2
    • End of Roman empire 2.1
    • Medieval era 2.2
    • Spanish Inquisition 2.3
    • Goa inquisition 2.4
    • Indigenous children 2.5
      • North America 2.5.1
      • Australia 2.5.2
    • Hindus in India 2.6
  • Judaism 3
  • Islam 4
    • Early 4.1
    • Medieval 4.2
    • Modern 4.3
      • India 4.3.1
      • Bangladesh 4.3.2
      • Pakistan 4.3.3
      • Indonesia 4.3.4
      • Middle-East 4.3.5
      • Maldives 4.3.6
      • Somalia 4.3.7
      • United Kingdom 4.3.8
  • Hinduism 5
  • Atheism 6
  • Revolutionary Mexico 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9

Religion and power

In general, anthropologists have shown that the relationship between religion and politics is complex, especially when viewed over the expanse of human history.[1] While religion and the state have generally different aims, both are concerned with power and order; both use reason and emotion to motivate behavior. And throughout history, leaders of religious and political institutions have cooperated, opposed one another, and attempted to co-opt each other, for purposes both noble and base, and have implemented programs with a wide range of driving values, from compassion aimed at alleviating current suffering to brutal change aimed at achieving longer term goals, for the benefit of narrow groups ranging from small cliques to all of humanity. The relationship is far from simple. But there is no doubt that religion has been used coercively, and has used coercion.[1]


Early Christianity was a minority religion in the Roman Empire and the early Christians were themselves persecuted during that time. After Constantine I converted to Christianity, it became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. Already under the reign of Constantine I, Christian heretics had been persecuted; beginning in the late 4th century AD also the ancient pagan religions were actively suppressed. In the view of many historians, the Constantinian shift turned Christianity from a persecuted religion into one capable and sometimes eager to persecute.[2] There are many examples throughout the history of Christianity: during the Roman empire, in the Middle Ages, inquisitions in Spain and Goa, forced conversion of indigenous children, and against Hindus.

End of Roman empire

In 392 Emperor Theodosius I decreed that Christianity was the only legal religion of the Roman Empire, and forbidding pagan practices by law:

It is Our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans....The rest, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative" (Codex Theodosianus XVI 1.2.).[3]

Much of the Roman world, however, remained pagan for centuries.

Medieval era

During the Saxon Wars, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, forcibly Roman Catholicized the Saxons from their native Germanic paganism by way of warfare and law upon conquest. Examples include the Massacre of Verden in 782, during which Charlemagne reportedly had 4,500 captive Saxons massacred upon rebelling against conversion, and the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae, a law imposed on conquered Saxons in 785 which prescribes death to those that refuse to convert to Christianity.[4][5]

Pope Innocent III pronounced in 1201 that even if torture and intimidation had been employed in receiving the sacrament, one nevertheless:

...does receive the impress of Christianity and may be forced to observe the Christian Faith as one who expressed a conditional willingness though, absolutely speaking, he was unwilling. ... [For] the grace of Baptism had been received, and they had been anointed with the sacred oil, and had participated in the body of the Lord, they might properly be forced to hold to the faith which they had accepted perforce, lest the name of the Lord be blasphemed, and lest they hold in contempt and consider vile the faith they had joined.[6]

Spanish Inquisition

After the end of the Islamic control of Spain, Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497.[7] After the Reconquista, so called "New Christians" were those inhabitants (Sephardic Jews or Mudéjar Muslims) during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era who were baptized under coercion and in the face of execution, becoming forced converts from Islam (Moriscos, Conversos and secret Moors) and forced converts from Judaism (Conversos, Crypto-Jews and Marranos). Then the Spanish Inquisition targeted primarily forced converts from Judaism who came under suspicion of either continuing to adhere to their old religion or of having fallen back into it. Jewish conversos still resided in Spain and often practiced Judaism cryptically and were suspected by the "Old Christians" of being Crypto-Jews. The Spanish Inquisition generated much wealth and income for the church and individual inquisitors by confiscating the property of the persecutees or selling them into slavery. The end of the Al-Andalus and the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula went hand in hand with the increase of Spanish-Portugal influence in the world, as exemplified in the Christian conquest of the Americas and their aboriginal Indian population. The Ottoman Empire, the Netherlands, and the New World absorbed many of the Jewish refugees.[8]

Goa inquisition

Religious persecution took place by the Portuguese in Goa, India from 16th to the 17th century. The natives of Goa, most of them Hindus were subjected to severe torture and oppression by the zealous Portuguese rulers and missionaries and forcibly converted to Christianity.[9][10][11][12][13][14]

In 1567, the campaign of destroying temples in Bardez met with success. At the end of it 300 Hindu temples were destroyed. Enacting laws, prohibition was laid from December 4, 1567 on rituals of Hindu marriages, sacred thread wearing and cremation. All the persons above 15 years of age were compelled to listen to Christian preaching, failing which they were punished. In 1583, Hindu temples at Assolna and Cuncolim were destroyed through army action. "The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion. They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshiped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers." wrote Filippo Sassetti, who was in India from 1578 to 1588. An order was issued in June 1684 for suppressing the Konkani language and making it compulsory to speak the Portuguese language. The law provided for dealing toughly with anyone using the local language. Following that law all the non-Christian cultural symbols and the books written in local languages were sought to be destroyed.[15]

Methods such as repressive laws, demolition of temples and mosques, destruction of holy books, fines and the forcible conversion of orphans were used.[16]

Indigenous children

Indigenous peoples colonized by Christians have been subject to forced conversions. Programs to convert children have been common.

North America

The government paid religious societies to provide education to Native American children on reservations. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) founded additional American Indian boarding schools based on the assimilation model of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

Children were usually immersed in European-American culture through appearance changes with haircuts, were forbidden to speak their native languages, and traditional names were replaced by new European-American names. The experience of the schools was often harsh, especially for the younger children who were separated from their families. In numerous ways, they were encouraged or forced to abandon their Native American identities and cultures.[17] The number of Native American children in the boarding schools reached a peak in the 1970s, with an estimated enrollment of 60,000 in 1973. Especially through investigations of the later twentieth century, there have been many documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuse occurring at such schools.[18][19] Since those years, tribal nations have increasingly insisted on community-based schools and have also founded numerous tribally controlled colleges. Community schools have also been supported by the federal government through the BIA and legislation. The largest boarding schools have closed. In some cases, reservations or tribes were too small or poor to support independent schools and still wanted an alternative for their children, especially for high school. By 2007, the number of Native American children in boarding schools had declined to 9,500.


A portrayal entitled The Taking of the Children on the 1999 Great Australian Clock, Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, by artist Chris Cook.

The Stolen Generations (also known as Stolen children) were the children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments. The removals occurred in the period between approximately 1909[20] and 1969,[21][22] although in some places children were still being taken until the 1970s.[23][24][25]

Documentary evidence, such as newspaper articles and reports to parliamentary committees, suggest a range of rationales. Motivations evident include child protection, beliefs that given their catastrophic population decline after white contact that Aboriginal people would die out,[26] and a fear of miscegenation by full-blooded Aboriginal people.[27]

Hindus in India

The Baptist Church of Tripura is alleged to have supplied the NLFT with arms and financial support and to have encouraged the murder of Hindus, particularly infants, as a means to depopulate the region of all Hindus.[28] In 2009, the Assam Times reported that about fifteen armed Hmar militants, members of Manmasi National Christian Army, tried to force Hindu residents of Bhuvan Pahar, Assam to convert to Christianity.[29] A few Christian evangelists in India have been accused of forced conversion of Hindus, and some of them have been for allegedly converting others by force.[30][31]


Forced conversions occurred under the Hasmonean Empire. The Idumaens were forced to convert to Judaism, either by threats of exile, or threats of death, depending on the source.[32][33] In Eusebíus, Christianity, and Judaism Harold W. Attridge claims that “there is reason to think that Josephus’ account of their conversion is substantially accurate.” He also writes, “That these were not isolated instances but that forced conversion was a national policy is clear from the fact that Alexander Jannaeus (ca 80 BCE) demolished the city of Pella in Moab, ‘because the inhabitants would not agree to adopt the national custom of the Jews.’” Josephus, Antiquities. 13.15.4.[34]

Maurice Sartre has written of the "policy of forced Judaization adopted by Hyrcanos, Aristobulus I and Jannaeus”, who offered "the conquered peoples a choice between expulsion or conversion,”[35]

William Horbury has written that “The evidence is best explained by postulating that an existing small Jewish population in Lower Galilee was massively expanded by the forced conversion in c.104 BCE of their Gentile neighbours in the north.”[36]

In 2009 the BBC defended a claim that in 524CE the Yemeni Jewish Himyar tribe, led by King Dhu Nuwashad offered Christian residents of a village in Saudi Arabia the choice between conversion to Judaism or death and that 20,000 Christians had then been massacred stating that "The production team spoke to many historians over 18 months, among them Nigel Groom, who was our consultant, and Professor Abdul Rahman Al-Ansary [former professor of archaeology at the King Saud University in Riyadh]."[37] Inscriptions documented by Yousef himself shows the great pride he expressed after massacring more than 22,000 Christians in Zafar and Najran.[38]


Although Islam explicitly prohibits forced conversion,[39] some cases of it were reported.


Historians point out that forced conversions have occurred during Islamic history.[40][41][42][43][44][45] Noted cases include the conversion of Samaritans to Islam at the hands of the rebel Ibn Firāsa,[46][47]

In 717 A.D., under administration of the Muslim Arabs, heavy taxation has been suggested by some to have moved large numbers of Coptic Christians to convert to Islam in North Africa[48]


Registration of boys for the devşirme. Ottoman miniature painting from the Süleymanname, 1558.

A form of forced conversion became institutionalized during the Ottoman Empire in the practice of devşirme, a human levy in which Christian boys were seized and collected from their families (usually in the Balkans), enslaved, converted to Islam, and then trained as elite military unit within the Ottoman army or for high-ranking service to the sultan.[49] From the mid to late 14th, through early 18th centuries, the devşirmejanissary system enslaved an estimated 500,000 to one million non–Muslim adolescent males.[50] These boys would attain a great education and high social standing after their training and conversion.[51]

There were conversions in the 12th century under the Almohad dynasty of North Africa and Andalusia. Reports from the period describe that, after an initial 7-month grace period, the Almohads killed or forcefully converted Jewish communities in each new city they conquered until "there was no Jew left from Silves to Mahdia."[52] Cases of mass martyrdom of Jews who refused to convert to Islam are also reported.[53] There is dispute amongst scholars as to whether the famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides converted to Islam in order to freely escape from Almohad territory, and then reconverted back to Judaism in either the Levant or in Egypt.[54] Maimonides wrote a book on apostasy wherein he advocated accepting forced conversion rather than suffer martydom, and to then seek refuge afterward at a place where it was safe. The dispute also extended to the allegedly forced conversion of Sabbatai Zevi, an Ottoman Jew from Smyrna. In reality, at the beginning of 1666, the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople ordered Sabbatai, who had many followers and had claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish messiah, to be imprisoned. When Sabbatai was later taken to Adrianople, the Sultan's physician, a former Jew, advised him to convert to Islam. The following day he converted before the Sultan, who happily rewarded Sabbatai by conferring the title (Mahmed) Effendi, and appointing him as his doorkeeper with a high salary. A number of Sabbatai's followers also went over to Islam and about 300 families converted and were known as dönmeh (converts).[55]

In Persia under the Safavid dynasty where Sunnis were converted to Shi'ism[56] and Jews were converted to Islam.[57]


United Nations Refugee Agency and other global human rights groups have published several reports describing forced conversion to Islam in nations with majority Muslim and large regional Muslim populations. Many Hindus in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been forcefully converted to Islam by Islamic extremist groups in the region.[58][59][60] Similarly, Christian women have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan.[61] Many Hindu temples have been destroyed in recent decades in Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh by Islamic extremist groups in the region.[62] There are also several cases of forceful conversion in Europe. For example, some Muslim prisoners in the UK have been forcibly converting people to Islam in prisons.[63] A common theme of conversions by extremist groups is the choice between conversion or death. In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram has demanded Christian women to convert to Islam or die.[64] In Iraq, the Islamic extremist group ISIS has demanded non-Muslims to covert to Islam or face execution.[65] Many Christians in Egypt are forcefully converted to Islam by extremist groups.[66] Many Hindu Temples and Christian Churches have been destroyed in Pakistan and Bangladesh by extremist groups with the intention of making the region purely Islamic.[58][67][68] Some historical and current examples of forced conversion into Islam within the current century are described below.


During the Noakhali genocide of Hindus in 1946, several thousand Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam by Muslim mobs.[69][70] In Bangladesh, the International Crimes Tribunal tried and convicted several leaders of the Islamic Razakar militias, as well as Bangladesh Muslim Awami league (Forid Uddin Mausood), of war crimes committed against Hindus during the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities. The charges included forced conversion of Bengali Hindus to Islam.[71] In the 1998 Prankote massacre, 26 Kashmiri Hindus were beheaded by Islamist militants after their denial of converting into Islam. The militants struck when the villagers refused demands from the gunmen to convert to Islam and prove their conversion by eating beef.[72]

In [73][74]



The rise of Taliban insurgency in Pakistan has been an influential and increasing factor in the persecution of and discrimination against religious minorities, such as Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, and other minorities.[75]

The Human Rights Council of Pakistan has reported that cases of forced conversion are increasing.[76][77] A 2014 report says about 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam every year.[78][79][80] [81]

In 2003 a six-year-old Sikh girl was kidnapped by a member of the Afridi tribe in Northwest Frontier Province; he also claimed the girl had converted to Islam and therefore could not be returned to her family.[82]

In May 2007, members of the Christian community of Charsadda in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, close to the border of Afghanistan, reported that they had received letters threatening bombings if they did not convert to Islam, and that the police were not taking their fears seriously.[83] In June 2009, International Christian Concern (ICC) reported the rape and killing of a Christian man in Pakistan, for refusing to convert to Islam.[84]

Rinkle Kumari, a 19 year Pakistani student, Lata Kumari, and Asha Kumari, a Hindu working in a beauty parlor, were allegedly forced to convert from Hinduism to Islam.[85][86] Their cases were appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Pakistan where they said that they wanted to live with their parents and not their 'so called' husbands.[87]


In 2012, over 1000 Catholic children in East Timor, removed from their families, were reported to being held in Indonesia without consent of their parents, forcibly converted to Islam, educated in Islamic schools and naturalized.[88] Other reports claim forced conversion of minority Ahmadiyya sect Muslims to Sunni Islam, with the use of violence.[89][90][91]

In 2005, three Indonesian Christian women were charged with attempting to convert Muslim children to Christianity in 2005. They were sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The punishment was upheld by the Supreme Court of Indonesia upon appeal.[92][93]

In 2001 the Indonesian army evacuated hundreds of Christian refugees from the remote Kesui and Teor islands in Maluku after the refugees stated that they had been forced to convert to Islam. According to reports, some of the men had been circumcised against their will, and a paramilitary group involved in the incident confirmed that circumcisions had taken place while denying any element of coercion.[94]


In 2013, Inter Press Service reported more than 500 Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, over the last two years, with a growing number of cases involving girls between the ages of 13 and 17.[95] In 2012, a 14-year-old Coptic Christian girl was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married in Al Dab'a, Egypt, though Egyptian laws criminalize child marriage and prohibit the conversion of minors.[96]

Egypt's largest newspaper

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  96. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "Refworld - 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom - Egypt". Refworld. Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  97. ^ Gamal Nkrumah. "Al-Ahram Weekly - Egypt - Coptic swan song". Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  98. ^ "Egypt". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  99. ^ The Disappearance, Forced Conversions, and Forced Marriages of Coptic Christian Women in Egypt (November 2009)
  100. ^ Heba Saleh (BBC News, Cairo), 'Conversion' sparks Copt protest. BBC News Online December 9, 2004.
  101. ^ a b "'"BBC NEWS - Middle East - Iraq's Mandaeans 'face extinction. Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  102. ^ a b "Christian Minorities in the Islamic Middle East : Rosie Malek-Yonan on the Assyrians". Radio National. Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  103. ^ The assault on Assyrian Christians
  104. ^ a b "Told to Convert or Die, 21 Assyrian Families Seek Shelter in Baghdad Churches". Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  105. ^ "Maluku refugees allege forced circumcision". BBC News. 2001-01-31. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  106. ^ "BBC NEWS - Middle East - 'Conversion' sparks Copt protest". Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  107. ^ " - Kidnapped Fox journalists released - Aug 27, 2006". Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  108. ^ The assault on Assyrian Christians – International Herald Tribune
  109. ^ United Nations Office of Human Rights Commission, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE HASHEMITE KINGDOM OF JORDAN (2008)
  110. ^ "Saudi Arabia: Website Editor Facing Death Penalty - Human Rights Watch". Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  111. ^ O'Loughlin, Ed (16 August 2014). "Devil in the detail as Yazidis look to Kurds in withstanding Islamic radicals’ advance".  
  112. ^ Maldavian faces death for "failure to believe", June 2010
  113. ^ Maldivian renounces Islam, gets attacked by Zakir Naik audience, Haveeru Daily, May 30, 2010
  114. ^ Atheist kills himself to escape "100 percent Muslim" nation, International Humanist and Ethical Union (15 July 2010)
  115. ^ "Al Shabaab Reportedly Beheads 4 Christians, Rips Gold Teeth From Locals' Mouths". FOX News. August 12, 2009. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 
  116. ^ "Police protect girls forced to convert to Islam". Daily Mail. 22 February 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2013. 
  117. ^ Cowan, Mark (Jun 6, 2007). "'"Police guard girl 'forced to become Muslim. Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 19 August 2013. 
  118. ^ "Where is the Hindu Forum’s evidence?". Pickled Politics. 2007-03-13. Retrieved 2014-06-06. 
  119. ^ [6]
  120. ^ Sian, Katy P. (6 July 2011). "‘Forced’ conversions in the British Sikh diaspora". South Asian Popular Culture.  
  121. ^ Katy P. Sian (4 April 2013). Unsettling Sikh and Muslim Conflict: Mistaken Identities, Forced Conversions, and Postcolonial Formations. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 55–71.  
  122. ^ a b the word revert is used in this context; not convert; see Older than the Church: Christianity and Caste in The God of Small Things India by A Sekhar;Washington post article
  123. ^ "We killed Swami Laxmananda: Christian Maoist leader – Attack". 2008-10-06. Retrieved 2012-11-13. 
  124. ^ "Indian Agra Muslim fear conversions to Hinduism". BBC News. Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  125. ^ " » Cardinal protests against forced conversions to Hinduism". Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  126. ^ Religion and the State in Russia and China: Suppression, Survival, and Revival, by Christopher Marsh, page 47. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011.
  127. ^ Inside Central Asia: A Political and Cultural History, by Dilip Hiro. Penguin, 2009.
  128. ^ Latreille, A. FRENCH REVOLUTION, New Catholic Encyclopedia v. 5, pp. 972–973 (Second Ed. 2002 Thompson/Gale) ISBN 0-7876-4004-2
  129. ^ Spielvogel (2005):549.
  130. ^ Tallet (1991):1
  131. ^ McGrath (2006):45.
  132. ^ a b McGrath (2006):46.
  133. ^ a b c Soberanes Fernandez, Jose Luis, Mexico and the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, pp. 437-438 nn. 7-8, BYU Law Review, June 2002
  134. ^ Haas, Ernst B., Nationalism, Liberalism, and Progress: The dismal fate of new nations, Cornell Univ. Press 2000
  135. ^ Cronon, E. David "American Catholics and Mexican Anticlericalism, 1933-1936," ,pp. 205-208, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XLV, Sept. 1948
  136. ^ a b c
  138. ^ a b Joes, Anthony James Resisting Rebellion: The History And Politics of Counterinsurgency p. 70, (2006 University Press of Kentucky) ISBN 0-8131-9170-X
  139. ^ Tuck, Jim THE CRISTERO REBELLION – PART 1 Mexico Connect 1996
  140. ^ David A. Shirk (2005). Mexico's New Politics.  
  141. ^ Denslow, William R. 10,000 Famous Freemasons p. 171 (2004 Kessinger Publishing)ISBN 1-4179-7578-4
  142. ^ Fox, Vicente and Rob Allyn Revolution of Hope p. 17, Viking, 2007
  143. ^ Calles, Plutarco Elías The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001–05 Columbia University Press.
  144. ^ The Cristeros: 20th century Mexico's Catholic uprising, from The Angelus, January 2002 , Volume XXV, Number 1 by Olivier LELIBRE, The Angelus
  145. ^ a b Van Hove, Brian Blood Drenched Altars 1996 EWTN
  146. ^ a b c d Van Hove, Brian Blood-Drenched Altars Faith & Reason 1994
  147. ^ Scheina, Robert L. Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791–1899 p. 33 (2003 Brassey's) ISBN 1-57488-452-2
  148. ^ Ruiz, Ramón Eduardo Triumphs and Tragedy: A History of the Mexican People p.393 (1993 W. W. Norton & Company) ISBN 0-393-31066-3


See also

A truce was negotiated with the assistance of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow.[145] Calles, however, did not abide by the terms of the truce – in violation of its terms, he had approximately 500 Cristero leaders and 5,000 other Cristeros shot, frequently in their homes in front of their spouses and children.[145] Particularly offensive to Catholics after the supposed truce was Calles' insistence on a complete state monopoly on education, suppressing all Catholic education and introducing "socialist" education in its place: "We must enter and take possession of the mind of childhood, the mind of youth.".[146] The persecution continued as Calles maintained control under his Maximato and did not relent until 1940, when President Manuel Ávila Camacho, a believing Catholic, took office.[146] This attempt to indoctrinate the youth in atheism was begun in 1934 by amending Article 3 to the Mexican Constitution to eradicate religion by mandating "socialist education", which "in addition to removing all religious doctrine" would "combat fanaticism and prejudices", "build[ing] in the youth a rational and exact concept of the universe and of social life".[133] In 1946 this "socialist education" was removed from the constitution and the document returned to the less egregious generalized secular education. The effects of the war on the Church were profound. Between 1926 and 1934 at least 40 priests were killed.[146] Where there were 4,500 priests operating within the country before the rebellion, in 1934 there were only 334 priests licensed by the government to serve fifteen million people, the rest having been eliminated by emigration, expulsion, and assassination.[146][147] By 1935, 17 states had no priest at all.[148]

Due to the strict enforcement of anti-clerical laws, people in strongly Catholic areas, especially the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Colima and Michoacán, began to oppose him, and this opposition led to the Cristero War from 1926 to 1929, which was characterized by brutal atrocities on both sides. Some Cristeros applied terrorist tactics, while the Mexican government persecuted the clergy, killing suspected Cristeros and supporters and often retaliating against innocent individuals.[143] On May 28, 1926, Calles was awarded a medal of merit from the head of Mexico's Scottish rite of Freemasonry for his actions against the Catholics.[144]

Cristeros hanged in Jalisco.

On June 14, 1926, President Calles enacted anticlerical legislation known formally as The Law Reforming the Penal Code and unofficially as the Calles Law.[138] His anti-Catholic actions included outlawing religious orders, depriving the Church of property rights and depriving the clergy of civil liberties, including their right to a trial by jury (in cases involving anti-clerical laws) and the right to vote.[138][139] Catholic antipathy towards Calles was enhanced because of his vocal atheism.[140] He was also a Freemason.[141] Regarding this period, recent President Vicente Fox stated, "After 1917, Mexico was led by anti-Catholic Freemasons who tried to evoke the anticlerical spirit of popular indigenous President Benito Juárez of the 1880s. But the military dictators of the 1920s were a more savage lot than Juarez." [142]

The Constitution of 1917 also closed and forbade the existence of monastic orders (article 5), forbade any religious activity outside of church buildings (now owned by the government), and mandated that such religious activity would be overseen by the government (article 24).[136]

All religions had their properties expropriated, and these became part of government wealth. There was a forced expulsion of foreign clergy and the seizure of Church properties.[136] Article 27 prohibited any future acquisition of such property by the churches, and prohibited religious corporations and ministers from establishing or directing primary schools.[136] This second prohibition was sometimes interpreted to mean that the Church could not give religious instruction to children within the churches on Sundays, seen as destroying the ability of Catholics to be educated in their own religion.[137]

Articles 3, 5, 24, 27, and 130 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 as originally enacted were anticlerical and enormously restricted religious freedoms.[133] At first the anticlerical provisions were only sporadically enforced, but when President Plutarco Elías Calles took office, he enforced the provisions strictly.[133] Calles’ Mexico has been characterized as an atheist state[134] and his program as being one to eradicate religion in Mexico.[135]

Revolutionary Mexico

Unlike later establishments of anti-theism by communist regimes, the French Revolutionary experiment was short (7 months), incomplete and inconsistent.[131] Although brief, the French experiment was particularly notable for the influence upon atheists Ludwig Feuerbach, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx.[132] Using the ideas of Feuerbach, Marx and Freud, communist regimes later treated religious believers as subversives or abnormal, sometimes relegating them to psychiatric hospitals and reeducation.[132]

During the French Revolution, a campaign of dechristianization happened which included removal and destruction of religious objects from places of worship and the transformation of churches into "Temples of the Goddess of Reason", culminating in a celebration of Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral.[128][129][130]

Under the state atheism of the Soviet Union, there was a "government-sponsored program of forced conversion to atheism."[126][127]


Indian Christians have alleged that "radical Hindu groups" in Orissa, India have forced Christian converts from Hinduism to "revert"[122] to Hinduism. These "religious riots" were largely between two tribal groups in Orissa, one of which was predominantly Hindu and another predominantly Christian, over the assassination of a Hindu leader named Swami Lakshmanananda by Christian Maoists operating as terrorist groups in India (see Naxalite).[123] In the aftermath of the violence, American Christian evangelical groups have claimed that Hindu groups are "forcibly reverting" Christians converts from Hinduism back to Hinduism.[122] It has also been alleged that radical Hind groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad have converted poor Muslims and Christians to Hinduism against their will and through allurements.[124][125]


An academic paper by Katy Sian published in the journal South Asian Popular Culture in 2011 explored the question of how "'forced' conversion narratives" arose around the Sikh diaspora in the United Kingdom.[120] Sian, who reports that claims of conversion through courtship on campuses are widespread in the UK, indicates that rather than relying on actual evidence they primarily rest on the word of "a friend of a friend" or on personal anecdote. According to Sian, the narrative is similar to accusations of "white slavery" lodged against the Jewish community and foreigners to the UK and the US, with the former having ties to anti-semitism that mirror the Islamophobia betrayed by the modern narrative. Sian expanded on these views in 2013's Mistaken Identities, Forced Conversions, and Postcolonial Formations.[121]

In response to these news stories, an open letter to Sir Ian Blair, signed by ten Hindu academics, argued that claims that Hindu and Sikh girls were being forcefully converted were "part of an arsenal of myths propagated by right-wing Hindu supremacist organisations in India".[118] The Muslim Council of Britain issued a press release pointing out there is a lack of evidence of any forced conversions and suggested it is an underhand attempt to smear the British Muslim population.[119]

According to the Daily Mail, in 2007, commissioner of police Sir Ian Blair stated the police were targeting extremist members of the Muslim community who were allegedly forcing vulnerable girls to convert to Islam in response to claims made by the Hindu Forum.[116] In 2007 a Sikh girl's family claimed that she had been forcibly converted to Islam, and they received a police guard after being attacked by an armed gang, although the "Police said no one was injured in the incident".[117]

United Kingdom

In August 2009, ICC reported that four Christians working to help orphans in Somalia were beheaded by Islamist extremists when they refused to convert to Islam.[115]


A Maldivian man, Mohammed Nazim,[112] was assaulted in 2010 after he attended a conference on religion and, during the question and answer session, asked questions on Islam, while confessing that he was born to Muslim parents, has read a translation of Qur'an, but does not believe in religion, that he is atheist. The conference gathering of about 11,000 demanded that the atheist be attacked and killed. Maldives' constitution stipulates Maldives citizens must be Muslims. The Maldivian man was arrested, given a chance to return to Islam or face criminal charges with death penalty. In prison, he agreed to return to Islam.[113][114]


The Yazidi people of northern Iraq, who follow an ethnoreligious syncretic faith, have been threatened with forced conversion by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who consider their practices to be Satanism.[111]

In several Middle East countries, force of law has been used to prevent and punish apostasy and religious conversions. For example, in 2008, sharia courts of Jordan have used Islamic law to judge religious conversion. People who convert from Islam to other religions lose their civil and property rights, their marriages are annulled, and their Muslims relatives gain custody of their children.[109] In Saudi Arabia, on December 17, 2012, the Jeddah District Court, hearing charges against Raif Badawi for the crime of apostasy (leaving Islamic faith), demanded that the defendant "repent to God" in the court. Badawi refused. The judge then referred the sentence of death penalty to a higher court.[110]

There have been numerous reports of Islamic attempts to forcibly convert religious minorities in [104][108] In March 2007 the BBC reported that people in the Mandaean religious minority in Iraq alleged that they were being targeted by Islamist insurgents, who offered them the choice of conversion or death.[101]

In 2006 two journalists of the Fox News Network had been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. After conversion they were made to read statements on videotape proclaiming that they had converted, after which they were released by their captors.[107]

Other notables among these have been the cases of Iraq's [104] who have faced coercion to convert to Islam.[105][106]

In 2004 Coptic Christians in Egypt occupied the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo for several days, angry at the disappearance of a priest's wife in a village in the Nile delta, who, they alleged, had been forced to convert to Islam. The BBC reported that allegations of forced conversions of Copts to Islam surface every year in Egypt.[100]


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