Monday, March 27, 2006

Islamic Apostasy

Apostasy: Abandonment of one's religious faith, a political party, one's principles, or a cause.

-The former Chief Justice of Pakistan, SA Rahman, has written that there is no reference to the death penalty in any of the 20 instances of apostasy mentioned in the Qur'an. 6.

-The quotation from Surah An-Nisa', 4:137, shown above, seems to imply that multiple, sequential apostasies are possible. That would not be possible if the person were executed after the first apostasy. Muslims who support the death penalty for apostasy use as their foundation a hadith (a saying attributed to Muhammad [pbuh]) in which he said: "Kill whoever changes his religion." But this is a weak foundation because:

-This hadith was only transmitted from Muhammad (pbuh) by one individual. It was not confirmed by a second person. According to Islamic law, this is insufficient to impose the death penalty.
-The hadith is so generally worded that it would require the death penalty for a Christian or Jew who converted to Islam. This is obviously not the prophet's intent. The hadith is in need of further specification, which has not been documented.
-Many scholars interpret this passage as referring only to instances of high treason. (e.g. declaring war on Islam, Prophet, God etc.)
-There is no record which indicates that Muhammad (pbuh) or any of his companions ever sentenced anyone to death for apostasy.

A number of Islamic scholars from past centuries, Ibrahim al-Naka'I, Sufyan al-Thawri, Shams al-Din al-Sarakhsi, Abul Walid al-Baji and Ibn Taymiyyah, have all held that apostasy is a serious sin, but not one that requires death. In modern times, Mahmud Shaltut, Sheikh of al-Azhar, and Mohammed Sayed Tantawi have concurred.

Examples of apostasy in Egypt, Afghanistan, and North America:

1995 - Egypt: Nasr Abu Zeid, an Arabic literature professor, wrote on the topic of what he felt were needed reforms within Islam. Charges of apostasy were brought against him. The court agreed that Abu Zeid was no longer a Muslim, and ordered him to divorce his wife. He and his wife left Egypt, fearing physical attack. Abu Zeid later appealed his case and won. But he remained abroad. 7

1999? - North America: James A. Beverly, professor of theology and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, ON, Canada writes a monthly column in Faith Today magazine. He said that he met with a former Muslim, who is now a Christian, at some time before 2000-JAN. That individual left Islam, remains living somewhere in North America and has become the target of death threats because of his apostasy. He feels that he has required police protection. 8

2001-Egypt: Lawyer Nabih el-Wahsh had brought a charge of apostasy against the prominent feminist writer Nawal el-Saadawi, aged 70. The charges were based on her comments during a newspaper interview in 2001-MAR. According to Al-Midan weekly, she said that the Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca) was "a vestige of a pagan practice," and that Islamic inheritance law should be abolished. It gives female heirs only half what men receive. 8

Under Islamic law, an apostate cannot be married to a Muslim. Thus, her marriage was at risk of being dissolved by the court. Judge Hassanein el-Wakil dismissed the case against her. He ruled that only Egypt's prosecutor general could file an apostasy case. El-Wahsh lacked the legal status. She told the Associated Press: "I and my husband feel that we have survived this ordeal through our resistance, firmness and refusal to yield to the mentality of the dark ages." 7

2006-MAR-16: Afghanistan: Christian being tried on a capital charge: Abdul Rahman, 41, was born a Muslim but converted to Christianity 16 years ago when he worked for an Christian aid group in Peshawar. He is now on trial on a charge of apostasy and may be executed if found guilty.


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