Thursday, 4 September 2008

Apostasy and Islam: The Freedom to Change Must Be Advocated

Another question which was raised in the media was on apostasy. I don't understand why we dodge this question. Ah, I remember now it is because medieval Islamic Law tells us that apostates should be put to death and Islamists believe that going against medieval Islamic Law is tantamount to blasphemy. Have we really stopped using our brains? This is an ill-informed observation and needs to be challenged.

This article raises some interesting question:

Islam & Apostasy: Can Islam be Liberalized? by Austine Cline
Saturday August 2, 2008

One of the most difficult conflicts between traditional Islam and western Christianity is the radically different attitudes towards people who leave their religion. There was a time when Christians treated apostates horribly, but today apostasy is not greeted with calls for violence. Traditional Islam, in contrast, continues to regard apostates as worthy of execution — not simply in theory, but in practice.

Even many Muslims who live in the West often agree with their fellow Muslims in predominantly Islamic nations that apostasy is a crime which should be punished in some fashion by the state. This is incompatible with liberal Western notions of personal liberty and religious freedom. If Muslims in the West are unable to make a shift in the direction towards personal freedom of conscience, they will remain outsiders and even unwelcome.

There are signs of shifts occurring in Islam, and not just in the West. Egypt’s grand mufti Ali Gomaa announced last year that Muslims should actually be allowed to choose to stop being Muslims. He even dared to quote the Qur'an in support of his conclusion.

In the West, many prominent Muslims would agree with the mufti’s scripturally-based view that leaving Islam is a matter between the believer and God, not for the state. But awkwardly, the main traditions of scholarship and jurisprudence in Islam—both the Shia school and the four main Sunni ones—draw on Hadiths (words and deeds ascribed with varying credibility to Muhammad) to argue in support of death for apostates. And in recent years sentiment in the Muslim world has been hardening. In every big “apostasy” case, the authorities have faced pressure from sections of public opinion, and from Islamist factions, to take the toughest possible stance.

In Malaysia, people who try to desert Islam can face compulsory “re-education”. Under the far harsher regime of Afghanistan, death for apostasy is still on the statute book, despite the country’s American-backed “liberation” from the tyranny of the Taliban. The Western world realised this when Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who had lived in Germany, was sentenced to die after police found him with a Bible. After pressure from Western governments, he was allowed to go to Italy. What especially startled Westerners was the fact that Afghanistan’s parliament, a product of the democracy for which NATO soldiers are dying, tried to bar Mr Rahman’s exit, and that street protests called for his execution.

Source: The Economist

What's truly disturbing is that while some leading Muslim figures are willing to support freedom of conscience in religious matters, there far too many "regular" Muslims who oppose it. Usama Hasan is an influential young British imam who also publicly supported the right of Muslims to cease being Muslims and as a consequence he was not only denounced on Islamist web sites, but his life was threatened as well — and many of those sites are produced by Muslims in the West, not Muslims in the Middle East.

Think about that: there are Muslims who don't merely threaten the lives of apostates, but even the lives of otherwise respected Muslims leaders who dare suggest that apostates be allowed to go their own way unmolested and unharmed. The Islamist impulse is causing many Muslims to degenerate beyond merely wanting to kill those who dare leave their tribe but also wanting to kill those who say it might be wrong to kill those who dare leave their tribe. If you can't tolerate people disagreeing with you, then you share nothing in common with modern, liberal, and free societies.

So at least some Muslim leaders want to liberalize Islam, but too many Muslims in the street don't want to liberalize. Can you liberalize people who don't want it? Unfortunately, there is too much in the history of Muslim communities for them to easily give up the idea that rigorous adherence to Islam must be required. It took a long time for Christians to give this up and it may be even harder for Muslims to progress to the same point. In the long run, though, it will be necessary because a healthy society won't be possible so long as there are mobs threatening violence against anyone who dares not accept their religion anymore.


  1. How ironic that the Muslims who feel most strongly about apostasy are often the very people who would try their hardest to persuade me, as a believing Christian, to abandon mmy faith and revert to Islam. How can a Muslim (as has happened) look me in the eye and tell me I'm going to Hell, when the Holy Qur'an says the opposite:
    "Those who believe, those who are Jews, and the Christians and Sabeans, all who believe in Allah and the Last Day and act righteously, they will have their reward with their Lord."
    Sura 2:62

  2. Amanullah,

    Ramadhan Kareem,

    Ithna Ashari Shias don't actually profess the view that Apostasy carries the Hadd in present day times.

    "Hudood is for the Imam of the Muslims" (Wasa'il ash-Shia, Vol. 18, Section 13, page 7).

    Obviously in such day and age, there is no Infallible Imam present outwardly and so this is not such an issue.