Apostasy Fire


Intellectual Apostasy, the Real Issue

Another fire to put out. This time an Afghani (formerly a Muslim) speaks of his religious makeover and, for a while, faced the penalty of death because of apostasy rulings found in Islamic sacred law-this according to an Afghani "judge." The story and its permutations have led the network and cable news and print behemoths, received comments from the White House and just about every Rev and collar in America and Europe, and provoked more rabid slurs trained on Islam. In a way, I understand the indignation: if a man wants to change his religion, so let him. This controversy raises some issues that outstrip one person.

As for apostasy laws, they do exist. But Islam is not the only religion in this regard, nor are they alien to secular systems. And you ask: So what? What kind of argument is that? Is this McApologetics? Good questions. I mention this because regrettably analogies of this kind are now a requirement, given the puerile handling of Muslim affairs, the pompous bloviations of media "experts," and a public seemingly sedated by its own sense of perfection. But it also adds perspective in the light of the monster-making process of all things "Islamic." When you believe that the patent to "issues," like violence and extremism, belongs to one folk, then the mind is doomed to delve into fear-fictions that permit legislatures to make all kinds of damned "laws" and wars. So, I make the analogy between apostasy in the early Islamic historical context with the American law of treason or sedition that is punishable by death. 

The apostasy laws in Islamic legal tradition vary greatly and are often said to pertain more to "treason" and "sedition" than a spiritual choice. Back in the day, when Islam was young and enemies abound, those who didn't want to see their idols dethroned in the city of Abraham (Mecca) and those who felt intimidated that God would send a prophet from Ishmael's pedigree (especially in the post-Jesus world) tried to do anything to damage or destroy the small community of believers. They made alliances, attempted to assassinate the Prophet Muhammad (numerous times), waged battle, slandered galore, and other tricks to do the deed. There were hypocrites among "the believers"; they would be Muslim by day and plotting maniacs by night, allying themselves with those who, on their own accord, chose enmity as their reception to Islam and its folk. They would change their "faith" for political expedience and promises in order to do some impolite things to a budding religious community. Their aim was not subtle.

In the aftermath of the passing of the Prophet, some Arab tribes (especially in the eastern half of the Arabian Peninsula) decided to edit out a core tenet of the faith and withhold their charitable requirement, and thus impale the very economic basis of a contiguous people and nation. The battle against them was called the "War of Apostasy." Much has been made of this. It's comparable to a movement to refuse to pay taxes to the Feds while still claiming the right to live in America. Imagine that on a large basis, such that the very economic legs of the nation would not only wobble, but collapse and put an end to the American entity. Do we remember the Civil War and its economic rationale?

It's important to note that apostasy rulings have rarely been used in the heyday of Islamic civilization, a ranging world conglomerate stretching from the western frontiers of China, the Indian subcontinent, to North and Sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Europe, and the western shores of Spain. There's absolutely nothing in the lan or sacred paradigms of Islam that makes a religious choice an anathema to Muslims. Not one reference in the Quran that refers to people leaving the realm of faith suggests the penalty of death. The scripture does, however, state that in the Hereafter these scoffers will not find an easy remedy. The statements of the Prophet with regard to apostasy have been profoundly examined by scholars, most of whom have placed a high premium on context when adjudicating.

I mean, listen: read history by real historians. And if you have the money, fly out to North Africa and the Middle East and look at some of the oldest Christian and Jewish communities on the face of the earth. The relatively few episodes of animosity were a matter of human frailty (pandemic always) and not rooted in the deep soil of the Islamic way of thinking. The recent tensions of the last century in the Muslim world were inspired more by the "political" strains of the Palestinian issue or secular juntas of the Arab east, patterned after European fascist or socialist political systems (the Baath Party of Iraq is an example) than by Islam and its laws. Then compare that with Spanish extermination and expulsion of Muslims and Jews, sanctioned and approved of by Rome. There's more to cite, like the Catholic "response" to the early followers of Martin Luther; the conquerors in the New World, who were given the right to "subdue" the natives in the "name of Christ," which was permissible because the natives were unclean "infidels"; the slaughter of Mormons (heretics according to mainstream Protestant churches) in early American history; and others. 

But that was history, and these minority communities in the Muslim east were originally of the Christian and Jewish milieu, although it's well known that there were converts among them (very few) from Muslim ranks. (Personally, I know of Christian Arabs who were once Muslim, who made the choice for their own reasons. And they live well in the Arab world.)

Now back to Afghanistan, a nation smitten in recent history by invasions, revolutions, extremists, and entrenched tribal logic. Anyone who has any awareness of the country will know that, like the so-called "honor killings" of India and Pakistan, this episode of apostasy "ruling" is informed not by Islamic sacred law or paradigms, but by a people poorly confronting their own ignorance and psychological traumas. Just like the destruction of the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, which existed for centuries unmolested by the Muslim authorities that ruled the region (which once contained many centers of high learning, if one can imagine that), this Afghani fellow, a Muslim turned Christian, may be another victim of the contemporary Muslim "funk" and may add to the misunderstanding of Islam and lend further credence to questionable theories of civilizations and their inevitable clashes. (The devil wonders how many in the vocal bleachers were hoping to see this man become a martyr who would then inspire many a troubadour to sing elegies by which the missionaries can do their work.)

Now to preach: I'm not sure how these things happen, but they are damned when they do. There's hardly anything more dangerous than the mixture of religion with simplemindedness, or any people-moving philosophies mixed with the loss of intellectualism and critical thinking. Somehow the spiritual equation has been inversed. Too many folk interpret rigidity and strictness as signs of religious commitment and piety. Spiritual security, however, always leads to flexibility, lenience, and mercy, the qualities that ushered so many into Islam in the first place. A show of religiosity by way of gesture, a stage play of piety, is obnoxious and, on a larger scale, a disaster. One wonders where's the Muslim world clerisy on this underlying issue. Or is there one to speak of, an authentic intelligentsia cleansed of the automatic verbiage of expired "movements"?

Note: There are many academic treatises on the topic of apostasy rulings in Islamic law, and clearly there are ranging opinions among scholars of the classical age and modern. The intransigence of the Afghani "judge" of this controversy is out of step with the very legal tradition he believes he's upholding-a tradition that has survived because of important degrees of plasticity.

 

Ibrahim N. Abusharif is the editor-in-chief of the Starlatch Press, a Chicago-based publishing house. You can visit his blog at http://fromclay.blogspot.com


Related posts from similar topics:


Disclaimer
The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml If you wish to use any copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

  23 Comments   Comment

  1. Jim Milliman from U.S.A.

    Despite all the scholory desertation of how Shirah law should not be literly intereptated, the fact remains that it is. No democracy can long stand for the voice of all people if those running it determine that some people are not worthy of being heard.

  2. j from canada

    This is the best "Islamic" article that I have read in a long time. There is a serious lack of self-examination and introspection in the Muslim world as a whole. It is so heartening to read articles that tell it like it is, rather than resorting to pointing fingers elsewhere. Thank you Mr. Abusharif.

  3. J. Dell from USA

    Yusuf, apparently you don't know how to read. The point the author's making is an analogy. Treason is an offense punishable by death in America and other secular nations, and apostasy in Islam, as interpreted by many scholars of the past and present, is analagous to treason like a threat to a nation. Get some school, please.

  4. Yahya Bergum from USA

    Just when I think I'm getting clever the Merciful shows me a statement of submission like maryah's. Masha'Allah - God has willed it so. He is the First, the Last, the Eternal. He is the Ascendant, the Most High. He is the Lord and Sustainer of the worlds. He is the Light of the heavens and the earth. He is the Source of Life. Creating but not created, neither begetting nor begotten, it is He who gives life to the dead. He is your Guardian and the Best of helpers; how excellent a Guardian and Helper is He! He is the Truth, the Knower of things secret and open, the Revealer, the greatest Judge, and the most Forgiving. He has power over all things. He is the Great, the Incomparable, the One.

    Salaam / Peace

  5. mohammad A Ansari from USA

    agree with the author. But the problem is that there is a law in Afganistan and I am sure that it was not written by illiterate people. How this law came into being and why there has not been an outrage by Muslim intelligensia and ulmas

  6. Yahya Bergum from USA

    My advice to President Karzai is to invite the rebel clerics to the stadium following Friday services. There he could endeavor to explain precisely what evidence the state is lacking in order to convict the convert Abdul Rahman of apostasy.

    It seems that it's not simply his departure from Islam that must be taken into account. My understanding is the state must also establish that the people would be endangered if the accused were to be released.

    The obvious danger in this particular situation is the potential loss of international support in combating what is clearly an international insurgency. Frankly it seems to be the rebel clerics who are threatening to bring harm to the people. As long as they were all gathered at the stadium, the president could take the opportunity to point this out. And who knows? Perhaps the significance of that facility would not be lost on them.

  7. maryah from usa

    Quran 16:125

    "Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful exhortation; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance."

    Another beautiful translation of a Suran Provided by the generous people of Islamicity. That kind of love is what started my reversion to Islam, not the attitude and interpretation of Islam by backwards iterpreters of the Quaran. It is sad that these mistakes are made by governments on which the world media has an eye and focus on. I myself was once a Mormon, but I found my path through this wonderful website. I agree with you Mr. Abushsharif, please keep up the wonderful articles.

  8. Luisa from USA

    I want to start by saying that I am one of the few very much practising Roman Catholics left in this world. I'm also quite glad I read this article. Before reading it I must admit this whole situation seemed a bit disturbing. I heard about it & I rejected the idea of capital punishment for apostacy. However after reading this article I understand the basis of this Islamic ruling. Not that I agree with it, but I can atleast understand it & it helps disperse the misinformed idea I had before. Ignorance is very sad, so I'm glad that there are sites like this one that can clear things up for the public. Thanks again!

  9. Faliku from USA

    Besides its verbosity which obviously makes it a technical read, this is a very interesting article. I am impressed by the comparisons you made in the sixth paragraph. The fact is, every movement has its own zealots. And some of these zealots will sometimes overstep their bounds in trying to uphold the tenets of their movements. Peter tried to stop the arrest of his master by lopping off the ear of one of the Roman soldiers who had come to arrest Jesus. Hadn't Jesus told them to "turn the other cheek?" Do you blame Jesus' teaching for Peter's action? When the Holy Qur'an mentions apostasy (Q47:25), the penalty is not death. But one person that the death penalty is prescribed for in the Holy Qur'an is the hypocrite (Q4:88-89) which, to me, implies that a hypocrite is more dangerous to the survival of an institution than an apostate. Having said that, it is worth noting that if the sunnah of the Prophet (S.A.W.) was to execute apostates, then apostates must be executed where there is a Sharia to that effect. The same applies to adultery. The Qur'an does not command us to put adulterers to death, but the Prophet (S.A.W.) did put adulterers to death. And all Muslims are guided by two things: The Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet. That brings us to the recent development in Afghanistan. If the Sharia in there calls for death to apostates, then apostates are better off outside of Afghanistan. This fellow knew that fully well and that is why since he became a Christian sixteen years ago, he had not gone back to Afghanistan. What carried him back there at this time is best known to only him. Probably he wanted to test the seriousness of the government in Afghanistan in executing the laws on the book. Some laws may sound unreasonable, but one's best bet is to try to change such laws legally and not challenge them. I actually thought the Taliban were out of power in Afghanistan. Assalam Alaikoom.

  10. bashar saleh from KOLKATA, INDIA

    A reasonable view. In certain country, forced conversion is illegal. It is actually the responsibility of the person who is converted. In these days, money power influence the decision.Let us wait for the LAST DAY JUDGEMENT !

  11. Azeez Ola-Ojetola from Qatar

    Alhamdu lillahi Who has made me a Muslim and I beg Him to kill me as a Muslim.

    The article was educative and raises other questions. Did the Prophet (SAWS) not order an Apostate to be killed in an authentic Hadith? Where State security is breached and the live of Muslims is threathened in an Islamic State, I understand that Shariah allows us to execute the muteeneer who is called a convert. This law does not work in a vacuum but in an Islamic State. Make no mistake, this does not negate Qur'an 2:256 that "No compulsion in religion". A non Muslim should NOT be compelled to accept Islam but it amounts to treasonable velony if a Muslim converts to another religion in an Islamic State.

    The problem with the present day Muslims is that we look at all religious issues with American eyes and Western binocular. Invasion of another country and killing innocent souls is not a problem provided it was approved or executed by the West.

    Muslims should be wary of those who call themselves Christian Peace Activists and their likes. Their paln is to cause chaos in a Muslim country and enter there with their undisclosed intention of of "winning souls for Christ".

    Allahu aalam.

    Honoured to be a Slave of Allah

  12. Nabeel from usa

    I agree. No compulsion in religion. It was left to Allah SWT, the punishment. It is in the Quraan that, whoever seek/comes in to day of judjment with (other than Islam as a deen, it will not be accepted of him). 3:85. Allah SWT is capable of giving the person witj authority the right of judgment, however it was left to him.

    State of intellect in a society has an impact on traditionalist or opennizm.

  13. Khan from USA

    There is no compulsion in Islam : anyone can convert to ISLAM ,this person is equal to a muslim or anyone can leave Islam( that person is so unfortunate). May Allah forgive such people and give Hidayah to them to come back to Islam with more non-muslims.

    Quran's Chapter 109(Al Kafirun i.e.,those who reject faith). I never heard or read (in Quran or Hadith) that such unfortunate person must be punished or harmed in anyway.

    I do not know what happened to our so called muslim leaders, Scholars, Mullahs, and religious Imams etc. What happened to their knowledge and guide to such matters in in the light of Islam.

    Is this a conspiracy to exploit Islam or WHAT?. Media is referring to holy books and non muslims are taking advantage of such false propaganda.

    ALLAH bless us and I pray that we understand the Quran and Hadith better in right way and follow wisely. AAMEEN. Please refer/read the Quran Chapter-1(verses 5-7), Chapter-2(verses 1-20)& Chapter-109(verses 1-6).

  14. Omar Rakeeb from usa

    You don't have to be a scholar to figure this one out.The media always tries to make something out of nothing when it concerns Islam.

    Anyone who reads the Quraan and has a basic understanding knows the following.

    Allah makes Muslims.

    No compulsion in religion.

    We are Muslims because we believe in our hearts,and Allah Knows this.

    What if this man says "okay I stay a Muslim,is he doing it to please Allah or for other reasons.

    The essence of sura Al Kafiroon"You will not believe what I believe nor will I believe what you believe,to you your way and to me mine,

    Allah is the judge,let us all strive to live in peace,this is what Islam stands for.

  15. A Muslim from USA

    Nowadays christians quote Quran to teach Muslim what Islam is and sadly some Muslim jump on their band wagon. Sure Quran says there is not compulsion in religion. Quran also says to obey Muhammad and those who do not obey Muhammad are not Muslim. Source of law in Islam is not just Quran but hadith also. Without hadith you do not know even how to pray. Allah in Quran directly orders people to obey Muhammad(PBUH). And Muhammad's orders are clear. Kill the apostates. Unfortunately, Muslims care more what the enemies of Islam think about them than what God thinks of him. No wonder why Muslims are in such state of affairs. You ..Muslims like to obey the West then look for your reward from the West, not foolishly from Allah who's law you are violating. Allah knows best the wisdom behind this seemingly uncomfortable ruling, not you and not the West you are so eager to apease. God save us ..

  16. Munthasir from India

    ..Is he giving political opinion or religious opinion ? No wonder muslim community is in shambles, bcoz every ahamed and Mohammed can provide fatwa...

    What is the need to justify capital punishment on apostasy ? Even though there are strong possibilities law of apostasy has been practiced only during the reign of caliphate , does that make those laws go into oblivion ?

    Merely taking 'no compulsion in religion' aayah, out of context to say islam never limited jumping from religion to religion is way too short sighted. It may do good, if islamicity published Yamin Zakaria's 'One religion Apostate is another religion's martyr'.

    All these explanations by Mr.Ibrahim that apostact is not punishable by act only seems sensible in the absence of calipate. If caliph is among us, he has right to order capital punishment for apostacy even though the apostate hasnt carried out sedition or treason.

    Painting such a blue picture by comparing apostacy to sedition and treason is definately incomplete.

    Salaam

  17. Hasan from USA

    Yes, I am for it. However, someone must ask him why he converted to Christianity.

    Then ask him if he is familiar with the Jewish burial ceremony based also on NUMBERS chapter 19 in the Old Testament?

    Why? because the Gospels account of Jesus' burial violates NUMBERS chapter 19 and the Jewish burial laws.

    Hint: The TWO Marys of the Gospels are not supposed to show up at the site again before the SEVEN Days of purification. Also they had touched the Grave site previously and ointments and spices were already applied to Jesus' body ( according to JOHN 19:40 ).

    My point is that the Gospel writers have ignored and skipped over the regulation stated in the Book of NUMBERS chapter 19.

    Christianity is based on the "Resurrection" of Jesus. If this is discredited then Christianity has no basis to stand on.

    We must challenge his faith intellectually! Use the episode as a format to expose the falsehood in Christianity.

    Hasan

  18. Ernie Geefay from USA

    I would be interested in hearing your views on the man who faces execution in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity.

    Do you agree with the law

    and why?

    That Muslim scholars should differ so widely on this matter points to the fallacy of trying to depend on a book like the Koran or the Bible for guidance on important issues of the day.

    Without the writers here to interpret what they wrote over 1000 years ago we are only left to guess what we would like them to have meant. And that leads to conflicting interpretations today.

    It's not surprising that Clerics and Scholars should read the same book and come to exactly opposite views on whether or not apostasy should be punished in this life by the death sentence. Not surprising the Osama Bin Ladin should read the same Koran and come to the conclusion that Allah permits the killing of innocents while other Muslims condemn him .

    The Bible and Koran may be good guides to modern living but one should not rely on them for guidance on all matters, especially 1000 years later when science and technology are changing the way things are done so drastically beyond anything the writers of the Koran and the Bible could have imagined. Matters like birth control, stem cell research, genetically engineered foods, cloning...are issues unforseen by the original writers of these ancient scriptures.

    Suffice it to say that relying solely on the written text for guidance in life only leads to scholars coming to their own conclusions based on their personal preferences. When God speaks , men hear what they want to hear.

  19. Eugene S. Jones from United states

    I am in full agreement. The Holy Quran states that there is no compulsion in religion. Apostacy in the case of religion can be equated to being a traitor in time of a war. At present that type of condition does not exist.

  20. Adam Ibrahim Muhammad from Nigeria

    People who like to pick on Islam reports "A man is being kill for changing his religion from Islam to Christianity"

    I can equally make the same argument under the treason law in the West (for example US) and say ...they kill a whole family for selling some papers to the russians. What do u say to this?

    There is no where in the Quran or even the traditions of the prophet Muhammad (SAW) where it says kill the one who changes his religion of Islam! No where!. But we find cases of people executed for committin serious crimes that goes against the ISLAMIC STATE (note the emphasis) or causes death or serious harm to others in the community ( and this is the law derived by Saudi authority in passing death sentences to drug traffickers for example).

    So therefore if you change ur religion and mind ur business who cares? but u can't change ur religion and now use that as an avenue to sabotage state security in this regards u become a traitor and thereby deserve the death penalty. You are not being kill for simply changing your faith but for the actions u perpetrate after the conversion, period.

    Another point of note here, is that Afghanistan is not (at least currently) an Islamic State!

  21. Yahya Bergum from USA

    Ah! So then the execution of converts is permissible when it is in the interests of state security to do so. I hope I'm not being too harsh here. But to me that makes a certain amount of sense.

    However it seems a number of clerics in Afghanistan are threatening to incite "their followers" (perhaps something is being lost in translation here) to tear the man to pieces, in defiance of the state's authority. The obvious outcome would be that it would cost the state important international support in fighting the sort of people the clerics have apparently been referring to as rebels.

    So what does that suggest with respect to the security of the state? Just out of curiosity, were not the Jewish infidels at the Battle of the Trench held accountable to the law in accordance with their own religion?

    Allah Hafiz

  22. F. Soliman from usa

    Alhamdullillah. There is no compulsion in Religion.

  23. Bruce

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Abusharif. Religion without freedom from compulsion is just a sham. I also agree that rigidity and strictness masquerading as commitment and piety demonstrates shallowness of thought and insincerity. This is true regardless of which religion one might consider. Let us judge a religion by those imbued with its Spirit, not those mired in its trappings.