Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Afghan Apostasy Case

I read with much interest about the case of the Afghan man who renounced Islam and is now facing charges for apostasy, which carries a death penalty in Afghanistan. It seems like a clear-cut issue where the Qur'an clearly states that "there is no compulsion in religion".

However, there are scholarly claims that the verse has been abrogated by other verses within the Qur'an. However one should note that the Qur'an is not explicit in this matter. To complicate matters, there are mass-transmitted hadiths that supports the death penalty for those who renounce Islam. The truth is, I'm terribly confused. Personally, I feel that killing those who renounce Islam is an act that is completely outrageous, however much you can attribute it to the Qur'an or the Sunnah.

I seriously doubt our beloved Prophet Muhammad, who is an epitomy of love and mercy would ever condone such an act, much less carry out the act itself. The act of killing an apostate because of his act of renunciation seem so incongruent to the nature of the Prophet of Mercy and the beauty of Islam. I mean, if we propagate this teaching, then the Christians would urge for the killing of Christians who convert to Islam. Where then is the da'wah component?

The matter of hidayah (receiving God's guidance) is in God's hands and not in the hands of man. Nonetheless, I would like to present different views on this matter for everyone to ponder upon. Perhaps some comments would be useful. Please read the first article below.

In Kabul, a Test for Shariah
By ANDREA ELLIOTT, The New York Times

THE news that a man in Afghanistan might face a death sentence for converting to Christianity brought cries of outrage around the world last week. In Washington, the matter of Abdul Rahman commanded attention at the highest levels. President Bush said he was "deeply troubled." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, to urge a "favorable resolution," her spokesman said. In Kabul, the judge in the case said he would resist interference. More quietly, the case struck a chord among Muslim scholars in the West who have been immersed in a debate about the adaptability of Shariah, or Islamic law, to the modern era.

Mr. Rahman, 41, stands accused of apostasy, or ridda, the act of renouncing one's faith. Apostasy is a grave sin in Islam, and according to classical Shariah, it warrants a punishment of execution. But Islamic laws, including those governing the treatment of apostates, were developed as early as the eighth century against a vastly different political and social backdrop.

Progressive Muslim scholars argue that the meaning of those laws has been lost over time: When the laws were created, they say, apostasy was seen as the equivalent of treason. "To be a Muslim was to live in an Islamic state or empire, so the presumption was you were not only becoming the enemy of God but the enemy of the empire," said John L. Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University. Muslim jurists who support the execution of apostates often point to a hadith — a tradition attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century — in which he is recorded as saying that a person who changes religions should be killed.

But while the Koran mentions ridda, it never calls for the execution of apostates. There is no record of the prophet killing an apostate himself. And executions of apostates have been rare in Islamic history. "The common argument is that it clearly contradicts the Koran, which says there should not be compulsion in religion," said Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic law expert and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

What complicates the debate is that Islam has no central doctrinal authority, no Vatican to issue an ultimate decree. And while Shariah is the product of human interpretation, it is also seen as divine law, which prompts many Muslims to argue against change. Still, only a handful of apostasy executions are known to have occurred in Muslim-majority countries in recent decades.

An official of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an advisory body created by Congress, said he knew of only four such cases: one in Sudan in 1985; two in Iran, in 1989 and 1998; and one in Saudi Arabia in 1992. The notion that classical Islamic law calls for the execution of apostates is widely known but often ignored in predominantly Muslim countries. Most have not adopted official laws against apostasy.

IT'S like the issue of slavery," said Bernard Haykel, an Islamic studies professor at New York University. "Slavery exists in Islamic law and most Muslims have decided to ignore it. It's what I call collective amnesia."

Yet apostasy has a deep cultural resonance among Muslims, making a case like Mr. Rahman's an opportunity for religious conservatives with political agendas, Mr. Haykel said. "Islamists will always use cases like this one to gain political mileage and credibility," he said. "They become the champions of Islamic law, of Islam. They can present themselves as authentic Muslims."

The case of Mr. Rahman, whose conversion was reported to the authorities by family members after he sought custody of his children from his parents, has been widely characterized as a test for Afghanistan's American-backed government. Afghanistan's new Constitution, like Iraq's, makes room for both Shariah and secular law, but it is still unclear how successfully they will coexist. The Afghan Constitution states that "no law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam," but it also declares that the state will observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Iraq has more vigorous protections in its Constitution for human rights than Afghanistan, yet still it has a provision that no law should be contrary to Islam," said Tad Stahnke, policy director of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. "It hasn't been tested. But it will."

A recent report by the commission, which examined the constitutions of 44 predominantly Muslim countries, found that most included some protections for religious freedoms. Those protections were most common in countries where no role is provided for Shariah in the constitution. The commission still lists Afghanistan as one of the world's 10 declared Islamic states. But even under the Taliban, which meted out harsh justice to women and others — including execution — there were no known apostasy executions, several experts said.

There you have it. Hang on for another viewpoint coming up...

1 comment:

optics said...


I posted this on another blog's comments section, I thought it would apply to your concern.

I hold to the assertion that this is one of those laws that was very rarely enforced, and generally taken up by today's 'Muslim' Governments to appear to have a religious face.

It's nature and shock appeal has the ability to identify a country with the religion, while allowing them to have the freedom to continue the worst of anti-Islamic policies in other parts of their government.

It was largely un-enforceable traditionally. and it seems largely unenforceable today.

Shaykh GF Haddad wrote about this on SRI some time ago, where he pointed out that the traditional punishment for apostasy is not death.

The traditional understanding of the law is that it is the -public proclamation of that apostasy- which is considered under its jurisdiction.

Muslims have apostates who live with us all the time, and are addressed in the Quran as well, we just call them munafiq's.

Those that are public about their conversion are disruptive, especially in closer, rural areas.

The law may have few historical applications which may be contrary to what I have stated above (mob mentality > Islam (at times)), but I think its a fairly accurate picture.

It is, in essence a law which nudges apostates out of the polity.

Thus the law's mere presence accomplishes something more powerful than it's actual execution can: create a culture where such disruptive voices are encouraged to stay quite or leave.