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Apostasy In Islam - Sharia Vs Islam

By Rehman Faiz

28 March, 2006

The Abdul Rahman case is considered to be a test for Afghanistan's path towards secularism and democracy, the system strongly promised by president Hamid Karzai, apparently a secular and broad minded leader. Abdul Rahman was detained two weeks ago when his relatives reported to the police about his conversion to Christianity which is forbidden under Islamic Sharia law. Supreme Court Judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada has persisted that Abdul Rahman, is in police custody and that he could face the death penalty if he refused to become a Muslim again. It is important to note here that the strict Sharia law was introduced and implemented by Taliban, who confronted strict criticism by the secular states especially by the West governments and if sentenced to death, the man will be the first to be punished for conversion since the dismissal of the Taliban regime.

Over the last few years, the experts have continuously been expressing their concerns over the superficial way of modernization in Afghanistan even four years after the fall of the Taliban while the corruption and cronyism remained one of the major part of the country's administrative system with ever increasing production of narcotics currently reaching to an extent of $2.8 billion.

The current case has verified various concerns and apprehensions by the secular circles on the developments in Afghanistan, triggering alarms in Germany, the US, Italy and all NATO countries with their peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan. German politicians has started a serious debate this week to define the role of Germany, a country which is sincerely involved in Afghanistan's postwar reconstruction and peacekeeping with 2,700 soldiers deployed there, with a reformist agenda in Afghanistan but without any genuine breakthrough by the religious conservatives in Afghanistan. The similar debates and dialogues have been started within the parliaments and governments' circles of the developed countries identifying that if Afghanistan went ahead with the death sentence it would show that the country has serious flaws in its way towards democracy and secularism.

Sharia Law has been an issue of major concerns by the secular circles and the civil society organizations during the past many years. According to these circles a strict and harsh religious law is impractical since there is no boundary between civil and criminal matters in this law. The Sharia law has been criticized due to its clash with the known and recognized global standards of human rights especially its clauses relating to blasphemy, Hudood, Qisas or Diyat issues. These clauses have harshly been used in many of the Muslim countries mostly to set personal scores against minorities, and to badly violate the minorities' and women's rights.

The accretion of discriminatory religious legislation in many Muslim countries has fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance, which contributes to acts of violence directed against Muslim and non Muslim minorities groups like Hindus, Christians Ahmadis, Zikris, and Shias. Even if the Government does not encourage sectarian violence, there are instances in which the Governments failed to intervene in cases of societal violence directed at minority religious groups. In this regard it is considered that the separation of religion from the state is crucial in order to grantee equal and just rights for all.

It is important here to have a look at the genesis of the Sharia Law in the Islamic tradition and its position in the basic tenets of Islam. Sharia is the Arabic word for Islamic law, also known as the Law of Allah , and governs both public and private lives of those living in an Islamic state. Sharia covers not only religious rituals, but many aspects of day-to-day life, politics, economics, banking, business or contract law, and social issues.

Although it is considered that the Sharia law has been inspired by the Quran yet in fact it has been developed and evolved through medieval Islamic periods with the will and efforts of the then Islamic rulers. The Sharia as it developed in the first few centuries of Islam incorporated many pre-Islamic Middle-Eastern indigenous and tribal customs and traditions. Therefore Sharia law is a reflection of human efforts made some 1000 years back to establish legislative systems for the then regimes by taking help from the Quran as well as the legal principles from other traditions. Thereby it refers the social and economic conditions at the time of the Abbasids and became out of touch with later social, economic, technological, cultural and moral developments.

The efforts to apply the Sharia law in today's world, mainly consisted of the religious tenets of a millennium's back society, just reveals the failure of the Islamic clergy in getting benefit out of the productive theme of 'Ijtehad' (the way of improvement according to the contemporary social needs). The failure of Islamic clergy in bridging up the Sharia law between the contemporary global needs and the basic Islamic ideology is evident by the examples given below.

The basic Islamic ideology in the Quran ensures freedom of religion: "Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in God, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve". 2:62] "Let there be no compulsion in religion" [2:256] similarly there is no death penalty for apostasy even: "Surely (as for) those who believe then disbelieve, again believe and again disbelieve, then increase in disbelief, Allah will not forgive them nor guide them in the (right) path" [4:137].

It is important to note here that the Quran authorizes death penalty for murder and other horrendous crimes, not for apostasy: "You shall not kill any person - for GOD has made life sacred - except in the course of justice. If one is killed unjustly, then we give his heir authority to enforce justice" [17:33]. Another Quranic verse states: "For this reason did We prescribe to the children of Israel that whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men" [5:32]. Similarly one can find numerous inconsistencies between the basic Islamic principles and the proposed Shariah law. For instance, Shariah sanctions stoning to death for both the adulterer and adulteress, while the Quran prescribes 100 lashes as punishment for adultery.

These few examples highlight the failure of the modern Islamic clergy in re-modifying the Islamic scripture to address the newer challenges in the fields of science, economy, sociology and politics as modified by the clerics of many religions including Christianity. If we compare Islamic and Christian theology during the medieval times we can find numerous similarities between the two traditions on the subjects of state, theology, sociology and economy. However, we find both religious traditions expediting through the opposite directions especially since the early 20th century. The clerics of Christianity seem successful in incorporating the newer issues like global peace, human rights, charity and human assistance, economy, polity and sociology. However, there seems to be a be an overall lack of initiative as far as the Islamic clergy is concerned.

The Muslim clerics seems tackling the only issue of the modern age: the post-colonial and post-imperial fallout. The critical challenge produced by the modern issues is the way to assess the contemporary Muslim clerics in directing Muslims towards a profound, vivid and practical way to lead peaceful, interactive and coordinated lives with other inhabitants of the global village.

Rehman Faiz lives in Lahore - Pakistan
E-mail address: [email protected]









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