Voice for Muslim women terrorised by their families
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INTELLIGENT and attractive, 20-year-old Sabatina James should have a bright future to look forward to - but instead she lives in fear with round-the-clock police protection because of threats to her life.
Now she has decided to tell the world about the death threat that hangs over her, not from an abusive spouse or a local thug, but from her family and much of the Muslim community of Linz in Austria.
She has published a book entitled, Sabatina: From Islam To Christianity - A Death Sentence, in which she describes her father's death threats, which he made under the Muslim laws of Sharia.
James comes from a Muslim family but attempted to convert to Christianity, a decision which met with extreme hostility from her parents - the kind of hostility that made the headlines in the UK last week when Muslim father Abdalla Yones was jailed for life for the murder of his daughter Heshu. He stabbed her 11 times after she struck up a relationship with a Christian.
The book has made James a figurehead for persecuted women in Austria and Germany, but has also forced her to live under constant police protection at her home in the Austrian capital Vienna. She said: "The fear is still there. The fear that my parents could murder me under the laws of Sharia."
She also told how she learned of her father's plan to get her grandfather from Pakistan to carry out her death sentence. He told her: "Your grandfather is already an old man and will die soon. It wouldn't bother him to spend time in an Austrian jail."
James moved to Austria aged 10 with her mother Fatima, her brothers Hassan and Adnan and her younger sister Aisha, after her father got a job on a construction site in a small rural village. The family seemed to settle into their new life, except for her mother, who flatly rejected the "immoral Austrian culture".
However, their new lives changed dramatically four years later when they moved to the cosmopolitan city of Linz. There James began to develop an independent streak and wished to look and behave more like her western classmates.
"For this she was beaten up at home to such an extent that social services had to intervene," said James' publisher Josef Kleindienst.
At 16, James took part in a family holiday back to Pakistan where she was told she was to marry her cousin, Salman. When she refused, her family sent her to a Koran school to learn how to become a "decent Muslim".
Only when she agreed to marry once her education was complete was she allowed back to Austria.
But after her return her previous feelings returned and after conversing with a classmate about God she began to read the Bible for the first time.
James said: "I was amazed at the differences between the Bible and the Koran. The Bible spoke of love and forgiveness, but only Mohammed's severity was conveyed in the Koran.
"The turning point for me was the Bible's attitude towards women. There were no commandments that said women were put on this earth to serve men."
Of her future she said: "I don't know what will happen to me. All I can do is wait and hope that one day Christians and Muslims will understand each other better."
Austrian author, Guenther Ahmed Rusznak who converted from Islam to Catholicism and tried to arbitrate between Sabatina and her father, said what made the threat worse was that a large part of Austria's Muslim community agreed. He said: "Ninety-nine per cent of the Islamic Community here in Linz condemn this girl, calling her a whore. This is ghastly."