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Apostasy Laws – An Injury
To Islam By Muslims

By Mirza A. Beg

30 March, 2006

Abdul 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 message.' (42:48)

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 worse.

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 and atheists.

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 at [email protected]









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