Barnabas Aid - International Headquarters River Street, Pewsey, Wilthire. Phone: +44 1672 565030 Latitude: 51 deg 23 min 18 sec N Longitude: 1 deg 45 min 48 sec W .
The Application of the Apostasy Law in t...

Email:

The Application of the Apostasy Law in the World Today

To

Email address:
Separate multiple addresses with a comma (,). Maximum of 10

From

Your name:
Your email address:
Security test:
Please enter the numbers that appear here in the box below.
refresh captcha
CAPTCHA Image
Security code:

Details provided here will never be used in any other context

The Application of the Apostasy Law in the World Today

FTBcover
This article is an extract from Dr Patrick Sookhdeo's new book Freedom to Believe: Challenging Islam’s Apostasy Law.

Many Muslim states have two totally different legal systems operating in parallel: the Western secular system and the Islamic shari‘a one. The comparative weighting given to each system varies between different states. Most states with a mixed system and a written constitution guarantee freedom of religion and equality of treatment to all citizens, including those belonging to religious minorities, but in practice the authorities usually give Muslims more rights than non-Muslims.

This practice might seem surprising given that most modern Muslim states have ratified international agreements on human rights, but they limit the application of these by subordinating them to Islamic shari‘a. Human rights and the equality of all people before the law are thus conditioned by shari‘a, which discriminates on the basis of religion. Islamists defend this stance by claiming that the Western understanding of human rights is based on a radically secular worldview and that human rights must be applied in culturespecific ways, respecting the deep religiosity of the Muslim world.

Muslims are not allowed to choose another religion and for them to do so is regarded as a grave offence.

In Muslim states religion is not usually a private matter, as in the West, but is under state control to a greater or lesser degree. Freedom of religion is understood in the Islamic way, i.e. as freedom of worship for officially recognised religious minorities within their communities. The individual freedom of choosing a religion is restricted to non-Muslims who choose Islam; Muslims are not allowed to choose another religion and, as shown above, for them to do so is regarded as a grave offence.

The incorporation of shari‘a laws into the state legal system enables official charges to be made within the state courts against those accused of apostasy and/or blasphemy. Apostasy is punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, North Sudan and Yemen, and it is also illegal or punishable in others such as the Comoros, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia and the Maldives. In some countries, such as Morocco, the government regards all citizens as Muslims, so conversion from Islam is simply unrecognised. Official proceedings against those who reject Islam are fairly rare, partly because most keep their conversion a closely guarded secret, and the death penalty is still not often implemented. But increasingly severe punishments for the act of apostasy are being imposed, and it is common for apostates to be deprived of all their civil rights. Their marriages may be dissolved so that they lose their spouses and children, and their right of inheritance may be withdrawn.

A Muslim who leaves his or her faith is often viewed as guilty of treason and liable to the death penalty even if there is no official punishment for apostasy laid down in the constitution or legal system. Various methods can be used to punish or even kill apostates even if there is no applicable law on the statute books, for example, by framing them for other offences, or arresting them for causing public disorder because of the outcry about their conversion. Arrest can be followed by beatings, torture and imprisonment.

Where suitable legal provisions do not yet exist, or where state legal systems are not interested in pursuing apostates, the religious authorities may act on their own initiative to carry out what they see as obligatory shari‘a penalties against those accused of apostasy. Fatwas may be issued either by state shari‘a courts or by individual ‘ulama, demanding the death of the apostate, using the statement “His blood is permissible”. Individual fatwas are not legally binding on the state but can be acted upon by any Muslim, and many would argue that an assassin is obeying shari‘a and must not be prosecuted. The Civil Codes of several states, including Egypt, Algeria, Syria and Kuwait, allow the use of religious fatwas based on shari‘a.

A Muslim who leaves his or her faith is often viewed as guilty of treason and liable to the death penalty even if there is no official punishment for apostasy laid down in the constitution or legal system.

If neither the state authorities nor the religious authorities act, converts may still suffer enormous social pressure and severe harassment, as their conversion is seen as a betrayal of Islam that brings great shame on family and community. Among the Muslim masses, apostasy is an emotive subject that easily provokes negative responses; it can also be manipulated by those who see themselves as defenders of traditional Islam or by those who could benefit from the downfall of accused people.

Many employers will dismiss converts from their jobs. Some relatives will try to have an apostate officially declared insane, as the insane are not held accountable for their actions. Families exert pressure by coercive measures such as threats and violence, or by tearful pleading, urging converts to return to Islam. Some try to “wash away” the shame of apostasy by casting offenders out of the family, driving them out of the country or even killing them: a number of converts in several countries, including Egypt and Pakistan, have been murdered by enraged family members and friends. Mobs can be easily incited to launch frenzied attacks against offenders, their families and their communities, or individual Muslims zealous for their religion and its honour may take it on themselves to assassinate alleged apostates, believing that they are doing a holy service to God and to Islam. The perpetrators are rarely prosecuted by the authorities and frequently go unpunished. Some Muslim states worry about the unwelcome attention given by the Western media to cases of apostasy, so they prefer to let such cases be handled unofficially by the community.

Converts may suffer enormous social pressure and severe harassment, as their conversion is seen as a betrayal of Islam that brings great shame on family and community

As we have seen, the term “apostate” (murtadd) usually refers to a Muslim who has officially converted to another faith, thus becoming a kafir. But others, who claim to be good Muslims, can also be accused of unbelief, blasphemy and heresy as well as of apostasy, for various other reasons including scepticism, atheism, ascribing partners or associates to God and not fully implementing shari‘a. In some contemporary Muslim states traditional definitions of apostasy, blasphemy and heresy have been broadened to include anyone who disagrees with what the authorities, religious and/ or governmental, consider to be orthodox Islam. The shari‘a laws on apostasy and blasphemy are increasingly being used by some states arbitrarily to detain citizens who are viewed with disfavour by the authorities (or by militant Muslims), and to suppress any idea, person or group that contradicts the established regime. In many cases multiple charges of apostasy, blasphemy, unbelief, heresy and insulting Islam and Muhammad are brought against those accused, thus giving the judges greater flexibility in deciding under which category to define the crime and ensuring that the defendants are convicted of something. A feature of accusations of apostasy and blasphemy is the way they are often uncritically accepted as true by members of the police and of the criminal justice system, who require little or no evidence. The result is that Muslims themselves are increasingly in danger of suffering what is, in effect, murder by other Muslims. Even if members of Muslim minorities are not executed for holding views that the government considers heretical, they may suffer discrimination, harassment and imprisonment.

Amending the Apostasy Law?

For most contemporary Muslims across the spectrum of beliefs and ideologies, apostasy still carries shocking and dreadful associations as a most abhorrent sin. Even for modernists and secularists it can carry negative connotations of betrayal of one’s community and rejection of one’s heritage. This attitude explains why so few Muslim voices are ever raised in defence of those accused of apostasy. But there have been Muslim calls for a reform of the harsh apostasy law and for Islamic leaders to proclaim that it is permissible for Muslims to choose other faiths, just as non-Muslims are allowed to choose Islam.

Some modernist Islamic scholars argue from the Qur’an and from the historical context of the hadith that an apostate should not be put to death unless he (or she) is also a danger to the Islamic state. Thus they differ from the traditionalists in asserting the possibility of apostasy without rebellion. The definition of “danger to the Islamic state” is important, however. Sheikh Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, says that an apostate “should be left alone as long as he does not pose a threat or belittle Islam”. It is hard to imagine how those who have left Islam could say anything about their conversion without in some sense being critical of Islam. Muslims would then, by Tantawi’s logic, be “forced to take action”.

In July 2007, the Egyptian Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, stated in an interview on a Forum operated by The Washington Post and Newsweek that Muslims should not be punished for converting from Islam as long as they did not undermine the foundations of society. Muslims were free to change their religion, which was a matter between an individual and God; those who commit the sin of apostasy should not receive a punishment in this world, but will be punished by God on Judgement Day. Following a furore in the Egyptian media, Ali Gomaa denied he had made any such statement. Dar al-Iftaa, Egypt’s highest body for delivering shari‘a verdicts on Islam, alleged that he had in fact said that “Islam forbids Muslims from renouncing their faith … if a Muslim did they would be committing a mortal sin … apostasy is a kind of subversion and a sort of crime that requires punishment.” The deputy head of the Egyptian Supreme Court did admit, however, that the punishment for apostasy was “controversial”, and asserted that there was nothing in any Qur’anic text about it. This case highlights the use of double talk by some Muslim leaders when speaking to western audiences and indicates that majority Muslim public opinion in most countries still supports the apostasy law and is not ready for its reform.

Help us: Share this article

Email:

The Application of the Apostasy Law in the World Today

To

Email address:
Separate multiple addresses with a comma (,). Maximum of 10

From

Your name:
Your email address:
Security test:
Please enter the numbers that appear here in the box below.
refresh captcha
CAPTCHA Image
Security code:

Details provided here will never be used in any other context

christian, persecution, charity, church, persecuted, sookhdeo, Islam

Other articles

Follow Barnabas

or

receive news & appeal emails as they are published

From Twitter

From Twitter_icon
  • Young Christian man killed by Muslim co-worker in Pakistan for refusing to convert to Islam http://ow.ly/w1Uum 20 hours ago

  • Christians driven out of Maaloula by Islamist rebels long to return after its recapture by the Syrian army http://ow.ly/vTrgN Thu, Apr 2014 16:37

  • Islamic parties make unexpected gains in Indonesian elections http://ow.ly/vR60m Wed, Apr 2014 16:46

  • Former counter-terrorism chief to lead inquiry into alleged Islamist takeover of Birmingham schools http://ow.ly/vOn9I Tue, Apr 2014 17:01

Daily prayer

Daily prayer_icon
  • Pray for Barnabas Aid partners in South Sudan who have been supporting Christians forced from their homes by violence. Conflict between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar in December and January displaced around 860,000 people. Churches were burned down and a number of pastors killed, while many people lost their belongings and were left destitute. Give thanks that churches in and around the capital, Juba, were able to provide food and other essentials to many families with help from Barnabas. Pray that they may continue to be salt and light in their country at this unstable time (Matthew 5:13-16), and that it will soon be safe for displaced Christians to return home. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 11 hours ago

  • Pray for the residents of a mainly Christian village in Borno state, Northern Nigeria, in the aftermath of a horrific attack by Boko Haram militants on 15 February. Ask for God’s comfort for the relatives and friends of the 106 people in Izghe who were gunned down and slaughtered in their houses or in the open as they tried to flee. Pray for strength for the numerous residents who were wounded or whose properties were looted and torched. Pray too for the many Christians who fled into the neighbouring state after the attack, and ask that the Christian community in the North of Nigeria will be preserved in the face of Islamist violence. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Violent attacks by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram continue unabated in Northern Nigeria. On one horrendous day of violence on 26 January, at least 138 people were killed. A church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state was targeted; the attackers locked the congregation inside and then detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of people who tried to escape. They then went on a four-hour rampage in the village. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state was burned to the ground. Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state, and Christians are among its main targets. Pray that the Nigerian authorities will succeed in containing its insurgency. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks on this Easter Day for the living hope that You have given us and all Your people through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). We pray that the prospect of an enduring inheritance and future salvation will encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters to persevere in their faith, whatever may happen to them. We pray that we too may be sustained by this hope in the sufferings that we experience for the sake of Christ. We ask that the joy and resurrection power of the Lord will give strength and peace to persecuted believers today and every day. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Give thanks for the Christ-like responses of Christian leaders in CAR to the crisis that threatens them and their churches. They have distanced themselves from the anti-balaka militias, saying that these should not be labelled as Christian and that they hold no mandate from the churches. The leaders have also condemned the violence in the country, whatever its origin, and have called on Christians to pursue forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Churches are hiding, defending and caring for thousands of Muslims endangered by the anti-balaka, and one of CAR’s most senior church leaders has invited the president of the country’s Islamic community to move into his church compound. Pray that this powerful witness to the grace and love of Christ will help to bring peace to the shattered country. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Apr 2014 00:00

© Barnabas Aid 1997 - 2014 All rights reserved.
Barnabas Aid is a registered trade mark