THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A Dutch-Iranian launched a campaign on Tuesday for Muslims to have the right to renounce their faith, a view which has triggered three physical attacks on the 22-year-old.
Ehsan Jami's group has stirred intense interest in the Netherlands, which has one million Muslims, and has reignited a highly emotive debate about Islam.
"There are five sharia schools in Islam which say if you leave Islam you must be killed," Jami, 22, told Reuters in an interview while bodyguards stood watch at the door.
Apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment in some Muslim countries and deplored throughout the Islamic world.
Jami's "Committee for Ex-Muslims" wants imams and Muslims to recognise fellow Muslims' right to leave their faith and to respect freedom of religion.
Jami and leaders of the German and British committees for ex-Muslims signed a declaration of tolerance on Tuesday and warned of the danger and controlling instinct of what he called political Islam.
"This is a significant step, because apostasy is a crime which is punishable by death in some Muslim countries and because even simply questioning anything to do with Islam is forbidden as the faith is considered divinely ordained," said Maryam Namazie of the British ex-Muslim group.
Mina Ahadi of the German group said it was significant all three leaders were of Iranian background because they had witnessed first hand the repressions of political Islam.
Jami's blunt criticism of Islam, which he likens to fascism and Nazism, has offended many Dutch Muslims, and earned comparisons to the rhetoric of Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders whose party holds nine of 150 seats in parliament.
News of an attack on Jami in August by suspected Islamists caused an outcry. A filmmaker critical of Islam was murdered in an Amsterdam street in 2004 and several high-profile lawmakers are guarded after death threats.
On Monday a separate group of "Ex-Muslims" said they disagreed with Jami's methods and he had succeeded only in polarising communities.
"We defend the right to be able to walk away from any religion, including Islam. But they are using that right as a cover to categorically insult Muslims and to stigmatise them as 'violent' and 'terrorists'," said former Muslim Behnam Taebi in a statement.
Prominent Dutch imams have also taken issue with Jami's reading of the Koran and invited him to hold talks.
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