Apostasy and Religious Freedom

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Topics: Apostasy Values: Freedom Views: 11714

The issue of apostasy under Islamic Law (shari'ah), brought recently to public attention in the widely publicized case of the conversion of an Afghani citizen, raises troubling questions regarding freedom of religion and interfaith relations.[1] The Afghan State's persecution of an Afgani man who converted to Christianity in 1990 while working for a Christian non-governmental raises in the mind of many the question of the compatibility of Islam with plural democracy and freedom of religion. Although the state court dropped the case under intense outside pressure, the compatibility issue has not been resolved as the judge invoked insanity as the basis for dismissing the case.[2]

The case was presented as an example of conflict between Islam and democratic governance, but in many respects the case is rooted in, and influenced by, the forced secularization of Muslim society, and the absence of free debate under authoritarian regimes that currently dominate much of the Muslim world.[3]

The issue of apostasy, like many other issues stemming from the application of shari'ah in modern society, is rooted more in the sociopolitical conditions of contemporary Muslim societies than in Islamic values and principles. More particularly, it is rooted in the incomplete transition from traditional to modern sociopolitical organization. It is rooted in the decision of many post-colonial Muslim countries to abandon traditional legal codes informed by Islamic law (shari'ah), in favor for European legal codes developed to suit modern European societies. The new laws where enforced by state elites without any public debate, and with little attention for the need to root legal code in public morality.

Islam is the foundation of moral commitments for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, and is increasingly becoming the source of legitimacy for state power and law. Yet the post-colonial state in Muslim societies has done little to encourage debate in the area of Islamic law. The increased interest in adopting legal codes based in Islamic values, leaves the majority of Muslim with outdated legal codes that were intended for societies with markedly different social and political organizations and cultures.

The apostasy controversy highlights the importance of allowing Islamic reformers more say in public debate about political and legal reforms, and demonstrates the extent to which world powers undercut cultural and religious reforms by backing autocratic regimes the crack down on Muslim reformers in the name of combating political Islam. To legitimize their political rule and enlist the support of religious voices, autocratic rulers often align themselves with traditional religious scholars, who embrace a literalist understanding of shari'ah and perpetuate rigid and anti-reform agenda in Muslim societies.

Traditionalist scholars have long embraced classical positions on apostasy that consider the rejection of Islam as a capital crime, punished by death. This uncritical embrace is at the heart of the drama that was played in the case of the Afghani convert to Christianity, and which will more likely be repeated until the debate about shari'ah reform and its relevance to state and civil law is examined and elaborated by authentic Muslim voices.

 Tradition and Traditionalism

At the heart of the apparent conflict between Islamic and democratic traditions is a static and stagnant approach to understanding Islamic law. The conflict stems mainly from a literalist understanding of the revelatory sources, i.e. the Qur'an and Sunnah (the Prophet tradition), and the body of Islamic jurisprudence derived from them through the exercise of juristic reasoning. The latter includes customary traditions ('urf) incorporated by jurists into the body of Islamic Law, as well as the various inferential tools used to derive the rules of Islamic jurisprudence from their sources, such as analogy (qiyas), pubic interest (maslaha mursalah), and community consensus (ijma). With the marginalization of Islamic juristic learning and the restriction of public debate on Islamic Law by the state, and the traditionalist jurists allied with it, a literalist approach of Islamic law has become rampant in many Muslim societies.

Under such climate, the most rigid and literalist interpretations of Islamic sources prevail, while enlightened and reformist views are suppressed and marginalized. The voices of many enlightened contemporary scholars such as those of Rashid al-Ghanoushi, Hassan al-Turabi, Jawdat Said, and others, who reject the literalist interpretation of the Islamic sources are pushed to the side, as these individuals have been persecuted for taking critical positions against the authoritarian regimes that rule their societies.

The Qur'an is Clear on Religious Freedom

There is ample evidence in the Qur'an that individuals should be able to accept or reject a particular faith on the basis of personal conviction, and that no amount of external pressure or compulsion should be permitted: "No compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error." (Quran 2:256) "If it had been the Lord's will, they would have believed - All who are on earth!  Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!" (Quran 10:99)

By emphasizing people's right to freely follow their conviction, the Qur'an reiterates a long standing position, which it traces back to one of the earliest known Prophets, Noah:  "He [Noah] said: O my people! See if I have a clear sign from my Lord, and that he has sent mercy unto me, but that the mercy has been obscured from your sight?  Shall we compel you to accept it when you are averse to it!" (Quran 11:28).

The message of freedom of belief and conviction, and the call to religious tolerance is reiterated time and again through various Prophets, as it is quite apparent in the message of Prophet Shuaib to his people: "And if there is a party among you that believes in the message with which I have been sent, and a party which does not believe, hold yourselves in patience until Allah does decide between us: for He is the best to decide." When Shuaib's people threatened him with expulsion, he protested strongly citing his freedom to choose his faith: "The leaders, the arrogant party among his people, said: O Shuaib! We shall certainly drive you out of our city, and those who believe with you, or else you shall have to return to our ways and religion.  He said: "What! Even though we do not wish to do so." (Quran 7:86-7).

Not only does the Qur'an recognize the individual's right to freedom of conviction, but it also recognizes his/her moral freedom to act on the basis of their conviction: "Say: O my people!  Do whatever you may:  I will do (my part).  But soon will you know on whom an anguish of ignoring shall be visited, and on whom descends an anguish that abide" (Quran 39: 39-40).  "Say:  Everyone acts according to his own disposition:  But your Lord knows best who it is that is best guided on the way." (Quran 17:84).

The principle that the larger community has no right to interfere in one's choices of faith and conviction can be seen, further, in the fact that the Qur'an emphasizes that the individual is accountable for the moral choices he or she makes in this life to their Creator alone: "O you who believe!  Guard your own souls:  If you follow (right) guidance, no hurt can come to you from those who stray.  The goal of you all is God:  It is He that will show you the truth of all that you do." (Quran 5:105). "So if they dispute with you, say:  I have submitted my whole self to God and so have those who follow me.  And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: Do you (also) submit yourselves?  If they do, they are in right guidance.  But if they turn back, your duty is to convey the message; and in God's sight are (all) His servants." (Quran 3:20)

Indeed, one cannot find in the Qur'an any support for the ridda penalty.  The Qur'an makes two references to ridda: "Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can.  And if any of you turn back (commit ridda) from their faith and die in that state of unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life; and in the hereafter they will be companions of the fire and will abide therein." (Quran 2:217). "O you who believe!  If any from among you turn back (commits ridda) from his/her faith, soon will God produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him - humble with the believers mighty against the disbelievers, thriving in the way of God, and never afraid of the reproaches of detractors.  That is the grace of God, he bestows on whom He please; and God encompasses all and he knows all things." (Quran 5:54).

In both cases the Qur'an does not specify any physical punishment here and now, let alone a death penalty.  The Qur'an rather warns those who renounce their faith of disgrace and ill-fate.  To the contrary, the Qur'an provides direct evidence, albeit open to interpretation, that ridda is not punishable by death: "Those who believe then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve and then increase in their disbelief - God will never forgive them nor guide them to the path." (Quran 4:137)  Obviously, a death penalty would not permit repeated conversion from and to Islam.

Faulty Reasoning and Selective Reading

Yet despite of the Qur'anic emphasis on the freedom of conviction and moral autonomy, many classical jurists contend that a person who renounces Islam or converts to another religion commits a crime of ridda (apostasy) punishable by death. However, because the Qur'an is unequivocal in supporting religious freedom, classical jurists relied, in advocating death penalty for ridda (renouncing Islam), on two hadiths (Prophetic statement), and the precedent of the Muslims fighting against Arab apostates under the leadership of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph. Although the two hadiths are reported in Bukhari and are considered authentic, they are both shaky and do not stand to close scrutiny:  "Kill whoever changes his religion", and "Three acts permit the taking of a person's life: a soul for a soul, the adultery of a married man, and renouncing religion while severing ties with the community".

Now both hadith statements cannot stand as credible evidence because they contravene numerous Qur'anic evidence.  According to most established juristic schools, a hadith can limit the application of a general Qur'anic statement, but can never negate it.[4]  In addition, the hadiths even contradict the practices of the Prophet who reportedly pardoned Muslims who committed ridda.  One well-known example is that of Abdullah bin Sa'd who was pardoned after Osman bin Affan pleaded on his behalf.  Ibn Hisham narrated in his Sirah that the Prophet pardoned the people of Quraysh after Muslims entered Makkah victorious in the eighth year of the Islamic calendar.  The Prophet excluded few individuals from this general pardon, whom he ordered to be killed if captured, including Abdullah bin Sa'd. 

Abdullah was one of the few persons appointed by the Prophet to write the revealed texts.  After spending a while with the Muslims in Madina, he renounced Islam and returned to the religion of Quraysh.  He was brought to the court of the Prophet by Osman, who appealed for his pardon.  He was pardoned even though he was still, as the narration indicates, in a state of ridda and was yet to reembrace Islam.[5]  If ridda was indeed a hadd (plural hudud), neither Osman would be able to plea for him, nor the Prophet would pardon him in violation of the shari`a law.  Therefore, I am inclined to the increasingly popular view among contemporary scholars, that ridda does not involve a moral act of conversion, but a military act of rebellion, whose calming justifies the use of force and the return of fire.[6]

Theory of Rights

Islamic law (shari'ah) is essentially a moral code with few legal pronouncements, and the question of which precepts are purely moral and which that have legal implications are determined through the theory of rights.

The widely accepted theory of right among jurists divides rights into three types:[7]

(1)  Rights of God (Huquq Allah) -   These consist of all obligations that one has to discharge simply because they are divine commands, even when the human interests or utilities in undertaking them are not apparent, such as prayers, fasting, hajj, etc.;

(2)  Rights shared by God an his servants (Huquq Allah wa al-'Ibad) - These include acts that are obligatory because they are demanded by God, but they are also intended to protect the public, such as hudud law, jihad, zakat, etc., and

(3)  Rights of God's servants (Huquq al-'Ibad) - These are rights intended to protect individual interests, such as fulfilling promises, paying back debts, honoring contracts.  Still people are accountable for their fulfillment to God.

As it can be seen, the theory of rights devised by late classical jurists - around the eighth century of Islam - emphasizes that people are ultimately answerable to God in all their dealings.  However, by using the term rights of God to underscore the moral duty of the individual, and his/her accountability before God, classical jurists obscured the fact that rights are invoked to support legal claims and to enforce the interests of the right-holder.  Because the Qur'an makes it abundantly clear that obeying the divine revelation does not advance the interests of God, but only those of the human being, the phrase "rights of God" signifies only the moral obligations of the believers towards God, and by no means should they be taken as a justification of legal claims.[8]

It follows that the rights of God which are exclusively personal should be considered as moral obligations for which people are only answerable to God in the life to come.  As such accepting or rejecting a specific interpretation or a particular religious doctrine, and observing or neglecting fundamental religious practices, including prayer or hajj, should have no legal implications whatever.  A legal theory in congruence with the Qur'anic framework should distinguish between moral and legal obligations, and should confine the latter to public law that promote public interests (constitutional, criminal, etc.) and private law that advances private interests (trade, family, personal, etc.).

Unless the above legal reform is undertaken, there is no way to ensure that takfir (charging one with disbelief) and zandaqa (charging one with heresy) claims would not become a political weapon in the hands of political groups to be used as a means to eliminate rivals and opponents.  Indeed there is ample evidence to show that zandaqa and takfir have been used by the political authorities during the Umayyad  and  Abbasid dynasties to persecute political dissidents.[9]

Reciprocity and Social Peace

The principle of reciprocity, central to all religious and secular ethics, lies at the core of the Islamic concept of justice.  The Qur'an is pervaded with injunctions that encourage Muslims to reciprocate good for good and evil for evil.[10] The principle is, similarly, epitomized in the Golden Rule of the Christian faith, and has been given a secular expression in Kant's categorical imperative: "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law."[11]

In modern society where people of different faiths live side by side, and cooperate under a system of law that recognize their equal dignity, a due attention must be given to the principle of reciprocity as the essence of justice in a multi-religious society. Any attempt by a religious community to place sanctions and apply coercion on its members who choose to convert to another religious group will place a moral obligation on the latter to defend the new comers who choose to join their faith. Muslim would feel morally obligated to defend the right of a Jew and Christian to freely embrace Islam, and would not accept any coercive measure intended to restrict the right of Jews and Christian to convert to Islam. A Christian or a Jew who convert to Islam is no more a Christian or a Jew, but a Muslim and must be respected as such. By the same taken a Muslim who convert to Christianity is no more a Muslim, but a Christian and must be respected as such.

Indeed, there are already signs that the calls by radical voices within Muslim societies to revive apostasy laws have provoked calls by others to restrict conversion to Islam of members of their communities. In December 2004, members of the Coptic community in Egypt cried foul when Coptic women converted to Islam. Coptic leaders accused Muslims of forcing the women to accept Islam, and thousands Christian Copts demonstrated "in various parts of the nation against what they say is the government's failure to protect them against anti-Christian crimes."[12]

Although medieval Christian Europe practiced coercion to force reverse conversions to Christianity, modern societies recognize the freedom of religion of all citizens. Muslim scholars have the obligation to reconsider modern reality and reject any attempt to revive historical claims rooted in classical jurisprudence that are clearly at odd with Qur'anic principles and Islamic spirit, and with modern society and international conventions and practices. It would be a tragedy, for both social peace in Muslim societies and world peace in an increasingly diverse global society, if religious communities embrace practices that limit freedom of religion, and adopt measures that rely on coercion to maintain the integrity of religious communities.

 

Dr. Louay M. Safi serves as the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center, an Indiana based organization dedicated to enhancing leadership awareness and skills among American Muslim leaders, and a founding board member of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. He writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam, American Muslims, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. His commentaries are available at his Blog: http://blog.lsinsight.org


Notes:

  1. Abdul Rahman is an Afghani national who converted to Christianity in 1990 while working as a medical assistance for a Christian non-governmental aid group Peshawar, Pakistan. In 1993, he moved to Germany, and he later unsuccessfully sought asylum in Belgium before returning to Afghanistan in 2002. Abdul Rahman was divorced by his wife over his conversion to Christianity, and in the ensuing custody battle over the couple's two daughters, she and her family raised the issue of his religion as grounds for denying him custody. In February 2006, after a custody dispute concerning Abdul Rahman's daughters, members of his family reported him to the police. He was arrested after police discovered that he possessed a Bible.

  2. See Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 2006 edition, Conversion a thorny issue in Muslim world.

  3. Ibid., see also New York Times, Kabul Judge Rejects Calls to End Trial of Christian Convert, March 24, 2006

  4. See for example al-Shatibi, al-Muafaqat (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Ma'rifah, n.d.), vol. 3, pp. 15-26.

  5. Ibn Hisham, al-Sirah al-Nabawiah (Cairo : Mustafa Halabi Press, 1955/1375), Vol. 2, P. 409.

  6. For an elaborate discussion of this point see Mohamad Hashim Kamali, Freedom of Expression In Islam, (Kuala Lumpur : Ilmiah Publishers, 1998), pp. 87-106.

  7. See for instance Al-Iz bin Abdul Salam (d. 660AH), Qawa'id al-Ahkam (The Basis of Rules), Vol. 1, pp. 113-21; al-Shatibi, Ibid., Vol. 2, pp. 318-20.

  8. The Qur'an repeatedly points out that people's neglect of its commandments has no consequences onto the Divine whatsoever - be it good on evil - but only onto themselves: See for example, verses: (2 Baqarah 57), (7 al-A'raf 160), (3 Al-Imran 176-77), and (47 Muhammad 32).

  9. The execution of Ghaylan al-Dimanshqi by the order of Caliph Abdul Malik bin Marwan, and Ahmed bin Nasir by the order of Caliph al-Wathiq after being accused of heresy are cases in point.

  10. See for example (2:194) and (55:60).

  11. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 84.

  12. Aaron Klein, Christians protest kidnapping, forced conversion Wife of Coptic priest allegedly taken by Muslim extremists in Egypt
    (WorldNetDaily.com, December 6, 2004)


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  37 Comments   Comment

  1. Ahmad Anwar Mohd Sulaiman from Malaysia

    I think the best way, if you are a Muslim, Louay Safi, if you wish to really the truth about what you have written, the only way is to go to Kaabah, make an Umrah and the pray in front of the Kaabah and ask Allah to give you the true guidence.

    What I have read from you, that you are very knowledgeble person. I am from malaysia. we have International Islamic Universities. Most of the lecturer who teach Islamic, whether Usul Fiqh or Usulddin are very much welcome to debate to a person like you. But I think the best way is to go to mekah and perform Umrah. if you dare ask Allah to about the matter since you dont want to use all the hadith to elaborate the matter.

  2. Hudd from Canada

    Pathetic! The guy wanted a free ticket to the West. How better than converting to Christianity could he have done it? Bully for him! The death punishment on him was hilarious. But what can you expect from a primitive society like that of Karzai? It is not on us humans to punish anybody of disloyalty to God. Things are taken care of as they were in the time of prophet Muhammad,pbuh,God is the Judge and the Ruler of the Worlds. No crime will pass unpanished in that terrible day. Why should anybody worry? You worry about crimes against humanity, because being a human you are targeted as such. Let that that belongs to God be God's business and that which belongs to man be man's business!

    Peace out!

  3. Jim Milliman from U.S.A.

    a scholary disertation on the Quran and Shriah law. However, no recconition of the fact that Islam is presently controled by corrupt few that will not listen to the masses who are taking a much more accepting view of other societies and religions.

  4. Louay Safi from usa

    On Rejecting Early Scholarship

    It is not my position that one should reject or doubt the knowledge of early scholars. I do believe that traditions are essential for developing any healthy community, and those who follow no traditions are unlikely to develop in knowledge and social conditions beyond the natural life of a Bedouin community.

    In fact, I believe that one reason why contemporary Islamic learning has not progressed is because of the idea widely accepted that the best way to reform Islamic learning is to discard early Muslim scholarship and go directly to the Qur'an and Hadiths. The result has been "scholars" who lack any deep understanding of important debates and important scholarly tools that were developed by early Muslim scholars.

    My position is that these scholars were human, and hence susceptible to human limitation, including the fact that they were influence by the social conditions of their times. We should learn from them, but when we discover that they have taken a position in contradiction of established Qur'nic principles, we should not hesitate to take the right position ourselves.

    on Reinterpreting Islam to Please the West

    One need here to distinguish between pleasing western society in violation of Islam, as opposed to pleasing western society in the sense of accepting western traditions that are either neutral or positive.

    "'Urf" or social customs have been an essential part of the fiqh rulings. In many ways Islamic principles have been adopted to social practices in different part of the world. One need to travel through Africa and Asia to see how Islamic practices takes on local colors: marriage, administration of justice, organization of the work place, etc. western society has developed many good practices and traditions and one should learn from them.

    I have been critical of Western excesses, be it sexual promiscuity or the ongoing effort to undermine traditional marriage or aggresive foreign poli

  5. Louay Safi from USA

    Let me first thank all individual who contributed to this discussion. Debate is always healthy, for it allows for reevaluation of one's understanding, and provides an opportunity to clear misunderstanding.

    I don't wish to respond to every critical point raised with regard to my article, but would like to clarify three positions that were wrongly inferred from my argument.

    Hadith Authority:

    It is not my position that the hadith should be rejected whenever we don't like its content, or when another religious community critical of Muslim beliefs and practices demand that Muslim should do so. Far from it. I do believe that many aspects of the Islamic revelation would be incomprehensible if it is not informed by the prophetic tradition.

    My argument is that 2 hadiths cannot tromp a fundamental Qur'anic principle that has been repeated in various forms, and that was traced back to the earliest prophet: Faith is based in personal conviction, and conviction is personal choice and moral responsibility.

    It is well establish Islamic jurisprudential position, supported even by scholars of hadith (muhaddithun) that a hadith cannot be followed if it contradicts established Qur'anic principles or a habitually none fact. The term "shakey" (mutarib) does not mean that the hadith is weak (da'if), for the first pertain to the content of the hadith, while the latter to its chain of narrators. Therefore a hadith can be authentic (sahih) and mutarib at the same time. Classical scholars dealt with shaky hadiths by contextualizing them, i.e. by rejecting the textual or apparent meaning (al-ma'na al-zahir), and understanding them within a broader textual or social context.

  6. Maoul-Ayene from United Kingdom

    Assalamou Aleikoum

    Brothers & Sisters

    What an IRONNY? Are not they(The Afgan people), who well co-operated with "CHRISTIAN NATIONS" into the killing of THOUSANDS of THOUSANDS of their fellow Muslim Brothers and Sisters? Have they forgotten that so soon? Or do they think Allah has forgiven them about that, whilst they are still committing that crime?!!! Now here are they, putting shame on Muslims again by this appalling act. Have they seen anywhere in Al-Qur'an, where Allah said to kill someone because that person rejected the faith in HIM the MOST MERCIFUL?

    The poor guy has all the RIGHTS in this world to becoming whatever he wishes, and nobody should stand in his way in doing that. I would advice my good Brothers and Sisters in that honorable land of the Afghans, to repent from the grave error they nearly ventured in and be grateful to Allah(swt), for bringing those "Christian Nations", to save them from offending themselves a second time.

    O! Muslims, let us seek wisdom and understanding from Allah (swt)and take reference from the Noble Qur'an, when dealing with our daily transactions. The world has changed but Al-Qur'an will never do so, and its principles are compatible to the affairs of any generation that will come across it. Certain Shar'ia Laws are formed through a consencus of some scholars, therefore are not free from human errors. These Shar'ia Laws should be subjected to scrutiny and changes if necessery. It is the likeness of a river, flowing from one source(Al-Qur'an), whilst moving in land, its grows into different small creeks that changes according to the land scape, benefitting all living creatures. The source of Shar'ia Laws(Al-Qur'an)is one, but its boddy vary according to time and space.

    The man has wronged himself. He has committed a pitiful act, for whatever circumstance brought him in doing so. I feel sorry for him

    Allah(swt),Most Merciful, guide us onto the Right Path. And help us maintain faith under any circumstance. Amin

  7. Sirius from Finland

    It seems that consensus here is that apostates of islam deserve to be executed. And that "no compulsion of religion" seems to apply to non-muslims only. Fine. I don't resist somebody to convert to islam, it's one's choice. I just think it's fair to check before shahadah(?) the converter knows what he/she is getting into. So everyone should be informed in addition of these standart peace-harmony etc. things, that he/she could be killed if coming to second thoughts. That, choosing islam is in reality a oneway ticket.

  8. Jamil Mujahid

    Those who seek Islamic reform only remove them self

    from the teaching of Prophet Muhammad(s.a.s)and their motive is to

    remove the aren of politics from Islamic teaching.

  9. aida from usa

    As salaamu 'alaykum,

    By the way, the reason why we have so many sects with their different ideologies within Islam is because we choose to follow our own reasoning and wish to interpret the Qur'an how we see fit, and not how and only how Rasulullaah saws and the first muslims explained and understood it.Keep in mind that there is only ONE WAY to Allaah, and that is the way of Rasulullaah and his companions, whom Allaah ordered us to follow.

    If we say that the ahaadith regarding apostasy are contrary to the verses in Qur'an, then surely we can pray however we choose to, for there is no detailed explanation of the prayer in the Qur'an, the women can cover how they choose to cover, for details of covering are to be found in ahaadith and not the Qur'an, same with wudhoo, we do not have to respond with Jerhamukullaah after the one who sneezed said Alhamdulillaah and so forth and so on.Remember what Allaah says about the People of the Book and why they went astray.So hopefully we will open our hearts and realize that we can not understand the Qur'an simply by our own reasoning, we have to learn it and apply it as those before us, who were much better then us.

    reference to ahaadith:

    (All by Bukhari):vol.9,book 83,317.

    vol.4,book 52,chapter 149,

    #260,p.160-161

    vol.9,book 84,chapter 2,

    p.42-43.

    vol.9,book 84,chapter 2,

    #57,p.45.

    And many more.

    We all need to apply ourselves and research that which is not clear to us,Alhamdulillaah Allaah gave us our brains to use them, however to say that we can draw a correct answer solely by relying upon our intelects and that therefore we do not need scholars is absurd.That would mean that as a woman i do not have any guidelines on how to cover, I can cover however i please since Allaah did not give me a detailed description.

    Bottom line-Sunnah supports the Qur'an-it doesn't contradict it.

  10. FARKHOD from USA

    As a normal Muslim (not moderate or conservative or else) I can not agree. Apostasy has nothing to deal with freedom of choosing religion. "There is no compulsion into religion" i.e. accepting Islam is an exercise of free will. Under the condition of death penalty for apostasy it makes it solely up to the 100% conviction of the man's mind and soul as to whether accept Islam or not. Accepting Islam should be not for the sake of seeking better life, wealth, position, better treatment or anything else other then pleasing Allah. If a man is in the state of such spiritual conviction that he/she accepts Islam knowing the consequences for apostasy - that is a true Iman.

    This ayat prohibits forcing anyone to convert to Islam. It does not say anything about those who are already Muslims.

    I am not against open debate within Islam. But thing to debate must not be against Islamic law. The only point I see here that may be subject to debate is how much time should be given to a former Muslim to accept Islam again since as you pointed out Qu'ran warranted second chance. opinions here may vary from couple of days to rest of his/her life.

    All four schools of thoughts are in agreement in this case. Prophet (SAW) would never ordered death or anything else that would contradict Qu'ran.

    Now about Qu'ran stating "accepting, rejecting, then accepting and rejecting again". And the fact that Prophet (SAW) pardonned one man.

    You should well know that before death penalty is ordered a man is given a chance to accept Islam again (that's why Qu'ran repeats "accept and reject and then accepting again and rejecting after accepting again"). That's how Allah gives chance to accept Islam again after ejecting once. And you perhaps also should know that the man pardonned by Prophet has then accepted Islam. So there is no contradiction at all in two Hadiths you mentioned and Qu'ran.

    And Allah knows the best.

  11. Lala from USA

    Salamz,

    I really like this article and I completely agree with Dr. Safi . If someone wants to convert to a different religion. i mean, sure, try to stop this from happening but I dont think I want any hypocrites as part of the Muslim ummah. It is between him and Allah. Besides, who are we to judge this man? What if he comes back to Islam later. Allah swt accepts repectance at any time so what if he comes back to Islam later. Allah is Ghafur- ArRahim. For the learned brothers and sisters who quote the hadith about the permission of killing if one coverts, what may i ask is the majority scholars view on the Quranic ayah "there is no compulsion in religion?"

  12. aida from usa

    As salaamu 'alaykum,

    The reason I am against this article is because it is contrary to the Sunnah of Rasululullaah saws and our rightly guided predecessors, may Allaah be pleased with them all.If we read the Qur'an to find proofs which may support our own ideas and desires, we will surely find it. However, the Qur'an is to be approached and understood as it was understood by the Prophet saws and his companions, for they were there as it was revealed and they were the ones under the guidance of our Prophet saws.The Sunnah DOES support the death penalty for apostasy and as Muslims we should not be ashamed of this fact trying to please those who find fault with our religion.Surely the Prophet saws was the most guided of all mankind and if we are honest we won't try and hide the fact that he in fact ordered those who apostated to be executed, and if we do deny this, we are in fact saying that his understanding and acting upon God's Law is faulty.Just like there is death penalty for zinaa there is death penalty for apostasy and this is nothing new, it goes further back in time than the time of Muhammad saws.It has nothing to do with "traditional" or "modern" Islam, as there is no such thing as either one, it is simply Islam that was, is and will be inshaa'Allaah until the Day of Judgement.It is perfect for our time as it was perfect for times of those before us. Again, we can not pick and choose, surely there are things we like less and there are those we have no problem submitting to, nevertheless God's Wisdom is much greater than our own and Muhammad saws always and only acted in accordance to the Law of The Almighty.There is nothing "literal" or "metaphorical" about Islam,those alive at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an would simply say:"We hear and we obey", as the Qur'an affirms it, and we should strive to do the same.

  13. J from canada

    Ismael, So any Muslim who uses his/her own reasoning rather than following others is an apologetic to the US? I thought that was the point of Islam, that we didn't need intermediaries in our relationship with God? So now it's not "Islamic" for people to read the Quran for themselves and follow it, they have to rely on "Scholars" who have a very culturally-based interpretation of Islam to tell them what to do and how to live?

    I think it's hypocritical to accuse others of racism when it exists so rampantly in the "Muslim" world. Every time an ignorant "Muslim" stereotypes "Westerners", "Christians", "Jews" and others it's racism as well. Why don't you try to improve the Ummah, and do something about that? The next time you hear a brother or sister making unfair blanket comments such as "Americans are racist" or "Christians are bad" why don't you tell them that you are against racism, and that they shouldn't say things like that. Racism and prejudice is not allowed in Islam. Or maybe I should check with a scholar first instead of just relying on the Quran.

    I disagree that Dr. Safi is "not proud" of his religion. In fact, I think it is his pride in Islam that has prompted him to try to take back the image of Islam from the ignorant and backwards people who have been allowed to become the voice of Islam. How is it that people can ignore all of the beautiful exhortations in the Quran about how to live in peace and submit to God, but find the passages that they can twist in order to justify their own evil.

    By the way, the passage you mentioned about Christians and Jews is generally considered (by non-racists) to mean the behaviour that was displayed by Christians and Jews at the time - not ALL Christians and Jews though-out history. Since Muslim behaviour is no better right now, and Muslims seem to be making all of the same mistakes that they accuse others of, don't be so sure that it doesn't include you.

  14. ismael from USA

    Dr. Safi is obviously one of the newly emerging sects of the Quraniyoon, those who wish to not use the hadeeth in understanding the religion. He is also someone not proud of his religion. Many immigrant muslims in the United States are so afraid of being forced back to their countries that they try to explain away Islam so that Americans will accept them. I am an American, many Americans are racist bigots and they will never accept you. Read the verse Dr. Safi about what Allah says "The Christians and Jews will never accept you until they get you to believe as they believe." Fear Allah Dr. Safi.

  15. N Ameen from USA

    Saif Khan:

    So Mr. Khan...

    You know for sure, that Dr. Safi is destanined for hell. These are very serious claims to make, Mr. Khan. Only the Lord of the Heavens and Earth knows who is destained for hell.

    I would sincerely urge you to respect yourself.

    "Sometimes the wolf comes in sheep's clothing."

  16. Bruce from US

    God in His infinite wisdom did not create robots. Who of us has the right to take away what God himself refrained from doing?

  17. Uzma Khan

    islamic sharia cannot be understood only from the Quran.Many things are understood from the Hadith too.We should look for suitable hadiths regarding apostasy to better understand this issue

  18. Janette Hashemi from Australia

    Dr. Louay M. Safi is not alone in opposing the death penalty for apostacy. Prof. Mohammad Hashim Kamali - IIU, Malaysia; Prof. Abdullah Saeed - Uni. Melbourne, Australia; and Chandra Muzaffar, Malaysia also write "apostacy is not a punishable offence".

  19. j from canada

    Dr. Safi claims that the recent apostasy case in Afghanistan is "rooted in the decision of many post-colonial Muslim countries to abandon traditional legal codes informed by Islamic law, in favor for European legal codes developed to suit modern European societies". That is completely ridiculous and unfair in that it - predictably - places the blame on the west. In fact, many of the laws developed to suit "modern European societies" were developed to protect minority rights and allow a diverse group of people to live as one, with equal rights.

    He also states that these laws "were enforced by state elites without any public debate, and with little attention for the need to root legal code in public morality." Was there public debate in developing the traditional pre-Colonial laws in Muslim countries? I very much think not. Further, what is public morality? Is it telling women what to wear when they leave the house? Is it ensuring that men and women who are out in public together are married? What is the theory behind it, and how should it be enforced? How is it related to the topic at hand, i.e. apostasy in "Muslim" counties?

    I think it is far more appropriate to say that the recent apostasy case is rooted in the CULTURAL development and application of Sharia. Cultural traditions have taken priority over actual Islam. Most Islamic scholars view non-Muslims the same as Israel views non-Jews - as secondary citizens. Laws should be developed to include everyone in society. By basing modern law on the historical cultural interpretations of a homogenous society, you end up with an embarrassing mess like this case.

  20. J. Dell from USA

    Saif Khan, ... You speak of Hell as if you know it firshand. Then you make false accusations about money and people being on the take. Do you realize the enormity of such a stupid comment? Your so .. backwards, your mind automatically goes to such nonesense when challenged. ... Get a life.

  21. Afroze AbdulHai from USA

    Asalamualaikum! Jazakallah for the insightful article.We see that the Muslim community in the US and many other countries stands up for the rights of Muslims everywhere.Why then are no voices heard when such issues rise? I did not see any single statement from ISNA or CAIR regarding the Afghan convert case.Most of my friends from other faiths think that Islam is an extreme and intolerant religion-where as the Quran proves the opposite

  22. Sirius from Finland

    I think there are natural reasons to religious freedom. Could you believe God to accept somehow forced faith? Forced faith ain't faith at all, it's bluffing. And you can't bluff God. Only basis for real faith is that it's 100% voluntarily chosen. Other ways lead more or less to a shameful theatre and hypocrisy.

  23. Fauzer Uvais from Australia

    br. muhammad - usa, please consider:

    - I belive, religious freedom IS an islamic value in itself that doesen't need fitting in with anything.

    - Reliability of hadiths -is not exactly guranteed, is it?

    - Christian criticism - We have a duty to expell invention and distortion from our beautiful religion first and foremost. If we are murdering individuals in the name of God if God views it as un just murder (and it looks like murder to many muslims and non muslims), how comfortable should we be with ourselves?

    -only radicals make changes in history - well, fair point to an extent. i guess prophet mohammed (pbuh) and other prophets were radical to come out and proclaim there is only one God. DO WE NEED TO RADICALLY DISTORT IT.

  24. Fauzer Uvais from Australia

    Saif Khan needs think a bit - it is not not up to any of us to pronounce hell fire on anyone AT ALL - very naughty.

    I do agree with the author. Persoanlly, my understanding and iman does not allow me to hate or denounce non muslims or the ones who renounce islam - how do we know that Allah wouldn't guide such people to better ways than us??

    iman is between God and an individual, the job of other muslims is to be the best example we possibly can be, by adhearing to true islamic values (as opposed to invented punishments and concoted traditionalism, idealism, and all other forms of distortion of islam) and hopefully God may choose us to be the onese to attract non muslims (and apostates) to start believing in Allah.

    you can't make people believe by blowing them up (or murder by any other means for that matter).

    Ihdinas sirat al musthakeem.

  25. Yahya Bergum from USA

    The Qur'an always seems to include limits for harsh remedies. If you don't see similar limits in the body of similar hadith then what might that suggest to the Muslim possibly concerning the context of the hadith? And no I don't think it means the hadith could never again apply. But it seems such measures are permitted when the Muslim community is under siege. So if the community employs such measures during a time when it is dominant then might it not be at risk of exceeding the limits? Perhaps even oppressively so?

    When permission is given to kill apostates it seems the community is (literally within the hadith) freed of a special burden to endure even members who seem striving to undermine it. It is seemingly for the sake of unity that the Muslim community endures such members in the first place. An apostate's confession basically seems necessary because it seems ill advised for the Muslim to insist a Muslim isn't a Muslim whatever would be the reason for doing so.

    When the community is forbidden to kill someone working to undermine it, who suddenly proclaims "there is no god but God" even when he seems doing so only to avoid being killed by a Muslim, suddenly it seems the Muslim shoulders a special burden for the sake of unity. That is, rather than simply treating him as a non-Muslim who is threatening the community (depending on the context it seems).

    If defending the community from Christians is the general idea then treating Christians like murderers merely for what they believe seems a poor way of doing so. That is to say at least if the meek being treated like murders are crying to their Lord for deliverance. On the other hand if you are convinced the Qur'an taken alone is likely to mislead the Muslim in cases where human life is concerned then my advice is to do as you please.

  26. Saif Khan from Pakistan

    We cann't expect any reasonable and just opinion from a Bush backed Imam. He challenged Muslim scholors by his abusive language and attacks. If he wants to provide a reason to Bush and Rice he is more than welcome to do so. But he must apologize with muslim Ummah for abusive words like literalist, traditionalist, rigid etc. He is using this language since he got the shelter of Imam Bush. We know the enemies of Islam who are within us. Those who write these articles can easily get ca$h rewards so easily from their masters. Be prepared for hell fire.

    Thnx

  27. james steward from USA

    Does not the answer lie in Sura Baqarah ayat:256 ?

  28. Bonita Johnson from USA

    I like this refreshing article that shows a balanced view of religious compassion for all faiths. Currently there is too much bickering between Muslims and Christians in the religious war to win the souls of millions. There are far more similarities between both religions than differences, so let's cut out all the finger pointing and exercise some civility. Besides, Allah/God created all of you and will judge your souls accordingly.

  29. Omar Rakeeb from usa

    Well written,full of pertinent facts,from Quraan and Hadith.Too bad,it will not be aired on the major news networks.

    omar

  30. morais from singapore

    please refer to Q;9:29,9:123,9:5,8:65,3:85,5:10,47:4

  31. rashid_s from Western Australia

    What a long winded refutal of death penalty in Quran! But not a word of afirmation as to where the .."Sharia", of such LAWS come from!

    The 'scholars' should have the strength of their conviction to tell the whole truth and not just half of it:

    Levicticus 24:16 " moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congrigation shall certainly stone him..." Refer also to Deuteronomy 13:5 and 13:6-10.

    That is where the "Sharia Scholars" and their .. believers got their ancient laws, such as stoning for adultary also, that the Christians themselves have discarded and are now happy to see the Muslim face the music for practicing it.

  32. bifid from usa

    -Some Qur'an verses have been used inappropriately (out of context);

    -Contradicting Qur'an and Sunnah literally without explaining what is the opinion of scholar about it (salaf and khalaf scholar) and/or what is the context

    -judging others as wrong (traditionalists) and at the same time stating themselves as the true one

  33. HAMID from USA

    We have to look in to Holy Quran for answers to today's questions. This article has make good references in explaining WHY.

  34. muhammad from USA

    This article has some truth to it. But if some one asks me about this article a month from now. This is what i will remember.

    - Muslims desperate to make islamic values fit into western values.

    - hadith is not a reliable source.

    - muslims trying to save the face of islam because they cannot stand up to the cristian criticism.

    - Moderation is better than radicalism. But history teaches us onlt radicals make change(good or bad).

  35. John from U. S. A.

    As a teacher in a public school in which over 50 different languages are spoken; in which Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism are practiced (plus their various sects), I encourage my students to ask questions and ask more questions to seek the truth. The Great Prophet Jesus blessed the "Doubting Thomas." He did so because Thomas had the courage to disbelieve until he could see for himself. Hence, the label "doubting Thomas" has been mis-interpreted over the ages. Here was a man of courage who received encouragement from Jesus to question his faith. And yes, Jesus did say, "Blessed are those who believe but have not seen." This does not condemn Thomas. These words recognize the inner struggles of individuals, which are seen by God as the natural condition of man.

    War is easier than Peace. War is the unbalanced core of humanity. Peace is the striving of men and women to balance within the soul emotion and reason with the infinite depth of God's love. John:20, 24-29 (NRSV)

    Peace,

  36. Abu Aasiya from USA

    Asalaamu Alaikum

    It might have been good to include how this law has been applied by the earlier generations and the context in doing so. It is my understanding that apostasy was in fact punished by death, but not for the mere fact of conversion, but for fighting Islam after conversion. And Allah knows best. Like the woman who confessed to adultery in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him)...on paper the punishment is death, but how was this applied?

    Another point to consider is that nearly every country on earth has laws regarding treason, and nearly all countries punish treason with death. So this begs the rhetorical question: Is one's nation more important than God? (Of course not).

    From the Bible (Book of Deuteronomy - Old Testament): Chapter 13: If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying "Let us go and serve other gods," which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers...you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God.

    Certainly Afghanistan is not a model for shari'ah, but that the world media condemns Islam on one country's application or interpretation of the apostasy law is hypocrisy if one considers the above Biblical verses and the world's treason laws.

    Please do not misunderstand me. I am not taking one position or the other, simply because I do not know. But we should be wise, calm, patient, and not emotional in our discussions on this matter. The world needs to hear about Tawheed, not the specifics of one law or the other.

    Allah knows best.

    Wasalaam.