The case of an Afghan who faces the death penalty for converting to Christianity has aroused much debate outside Afghanistan, particularly in the Western countries that supported the country's move to democracy. Both Western governments and their publics equate democracy with freedom of choice, including the freedom to choose one's religion. But, while democracy is taking root in Afghanistan, the country's constitution is not a truly secular document.
Abdul Rahman, the man now on trial in Kabul for having abandoned the religion of his birth for Christianity, will be invited to reconvert to Islam, Judge Ansarullah Mawlawizadah told the BBC on March 20. And, if Abdul Rahman agrees, "we will forgive him," Mawlawizadah said, "because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance."
If he does not, he will be judged according to Islamic law. And under the Hanafi school of jurisprudence adhered to by Afghanistan's Sunni majority and privileged by the Afghan Constitution, apostasy -- the rejection of Islam in favor of another religion -- is a crime punishable by death.
That is a possibility that has prompted open criticism from abroad, with critics questioning how anyone in a democratic state can be executed for their beliefs.
Other international reactions have been cautiously optimistic.
The Contradictions And Ambiguities Of The Afghan Constitution
They have some reason to be optimistic. But so too do advocates of the death penalty, because, on this and other issues of religious freedom, Afghanistan's Constitution is inherently contradictory.
Islam is central to the constitution. Indeed, the document begins with the statement: "With firm faith in God Almighty