Laws – An Injury
To Islam By Muslims
By Mirza A. Beg
30 March, 2006
Rahman, an Afghan Muslim who had converted to Christianity about decade
ago, was arrested in Afghanistan for the crime (not sin) of Apostasy
under the new Afghan law based on the fossilized medievalist interpretation
of the Islamic Laws called Sharia. To add insult to injury, he was quickly
freed by being declared mentally incompetent by a judge under the Western
pressure on the Afghan government. It brings to mind Mikado, a century
old comic Opera by Gilbert and Sullivan. About a decade ago a similar
situation arose in Pakistan under the blasphemy laws, about a decade
ago. The real incompetence resides in the system and the Muslims who
do not condemn such laws that are an insult to Islam and to sound reason.
Fortunately many Muslim scholars
in pluralistic democracies have written about the need for a serious
evaluation and interpretation (Ijtehad) of the Sharia laws, by modern
scholarship. But the politically moribund governments with vested interests
in the Muslim countries with few exceptions are a major impediment to
the reform. [See an excellent article on Ijtehad by Muqtedar Khan (
The canonical base of Sharia
(the Islamic Law) are Quran (the word of God), followed by the Sunnah
(practice of the Prophet), which is different in nuance from Hadeeth,
the collection of Prophet's Sayings. They were collected about two hundred
years after his death. Many of them are known to be weak and even spurious.
They sound even worse when taken out of historical context, as they
often are, and this is a case in point.
The Quran has many references
to apostasy. It does not call for a temporal punishment; it specifically
reserves the judgment for God. On the contrary there are many verses
that clearly prohibit compulsion in religion, such as the following
compiled by the Council of American Islamic Relations:
1) 'If it had been the will
of your Lord that all the people of the world should be believers, all
the people of the earth would have believed! Would you then compel mankind
against their will to believe?' (10:99)
2) '(O Prophet) proclaim: 'This is the Truth from your Lord. Now let
him who will, believe in it, and him who will, deny it.'' (18:29)
3) 'If they turn away from thee (O Muhammad) they should know that We
have not sent you to be their keeper. Your only duty is to convey My
There are many more such
verses. Verse (4:137) is particularly interesting, "Those who believe,
then disbelieve, and then again believe and disbelieve, and then increase
in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them."
Many Quranic verses are situational
as a guide to the Prophet for specific situations. Obviously verse (4:137)
tells him to leave the punishment to God. There were times when people
were condemned to death feigning to be Muslims to commit treason against
the nascent Islamic state, not for simply following their conscience.
Muslims insist that Islam
is a religion of peace and ignore the travesties committed in the name
of Islam. Then they are surprised that others do not understand.
It is true that whatever
we consider good or evil occurs in all societies. Muslims often site
Christian-on-Christian violence in Northern Ireland, and violence on
untouchables in India, persecution of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya
and many others. They decry the persecution of Muslims in imperialistic
wars of the past and the current hegemonic wars. All this is true and
should be condemned, but Muslims should condemn even more strongly the
Muslim-on-Muslim genocide in Darfur, the internecine Shia–Sunni
violence in many Muslim countries. I did not hear many Muslims condemning
the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha statues in 2001 by the Taliban government
or the persecution of Christians in West Timor in 1990s.
Sure there are people interested
in Muslims trying to destroy each other. A good example is US involvement
in the Iran-Iraq war, in support of Saddam Husain in the1980s, and the
possibilities of connivance of others in creating a civil war in Iraq.
Given all this we still are not willing or inclined towards introspection.
It comes easy and satisfying to blame others for obvious injuries, but
to ignore the horrible deficiencies within, and let them fester is much
The mass understanding and
fossilized interpretation of Sharia appears to lead us in that direction.
Those who talk of Sharia with temporal authority and are often listened
to, and are effective in inciting violence, as in the case of the Danish
cartoon controversy. Those who find currents and possibilities in Sharia
towards accommodation and peace are usually read by some on the fringes,
but do not have a following.
The problem is education
as has been called for, ad nauseam. The sad part is that when education
means only literacy, it has a very bad record. When people were illiterate
they were more tolerant, they knew that they did not know. With literacy
most tend to read and listen to the self-serving and self-satisfying
propaganda that leads to the rise of fascistic tendencies such as Hindutva
in India and religious intolerance, dubbed as fundamentalism in Islam,
Christianity and Judaism. This malaise even infects the secularists
Muslims often criticize the
west with a long litany of legitimate grievances from Crusades, to the
Spanish inquisition, to modern use of weapons of mass destruction. The
crudest and the loudest rise to become the standard bearers of the two
sides. In effect it is a clash of the uncivilized in which the civilization
is being pulled down. If we were to show half as much concern and anger
at the way Muslims treat other Muslims-- such as Shia-Sunni riots, and
the killing of more than 100,000 Muslims by other Muslims in Darfur
(it is a very long list indeed) -- we would not be facing such situations.
Those who improve with introspection and self examination are the trend
setters rather than abject followers or reactionaries.
It is important and valid
to oppose all the encroachments by others on the Muslim lands and Islam,
but it is suicidal to use it as an excuse to cover the festering wound
intolerance. The more grievous fault is lies within.
Mirza A. Beg can be contacted