Saturday, 1 October 2011
Cattle-driver Mehdi Hasan's article in the Guardian today is a work of concentrated deceit. In it he purports to show that the penalty of death for the "crime" of Muslims abandoning their Islamic faith is alien to the tradition of Islam and not supported by "ordinary" Muslims. This, of course, is in reaction to the case of Youcef Nadarkhani, the Christian who has been sentenced to death for apostasy in Iran.
In 1948, most of the world's Muslim-majority nations signed up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including article 18, "the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" which includes, crucially, the "freedom to change his religion or belief". The then Pakistani foreign minister, Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, wrote: "Belief is a matter of conscience, and conscience cannot be compelled."

Hasan ignores the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, which asserted the supremacy of sharia and acknowledged the legitimacy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights only insofar as it was compatible with sharia.

Hasan goes on to imply that the death penalty for apostasy has little to no support among Muslims.
The irony is that I have yet to come across an ordinary Muslim who agrees that a fellow believer who loses, changes or abandons his or her faith should be hanged.

Is Hasan being super-sly here by narrowing the form of execution down to 'hanging'? The hadith (mentioned below) speak of the shedding of blood in response to apostasy. Of course, in a hanging, no blood would be shed. Stoning and beheading are more traditional Islamic execution methods, in which blood would indeed be shed.

Regardless of the method of execution, there is compelling evidence that a great many Muslims believe apostates should be killed. A 2007 report called Living Apart Together, published by Policy Exchange, found significant support for the death sentence for apostasy among Muslims living in Britain. Support increased the younger the Muslims were. So, on this issue and on many others, each new generation of Muslims in Britain is more extreme than the one before it.
36% of 16-24 year olds believe if a Muslim converts to another religion they should be punished by death, compared to 19% of 55+ year olds.
Source: Living Apart Together (Policy Exchange report)

The Pew Global Attitudes Survey last year also found widespread support among Muslims around the world for punishing apostasy with death.
At least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion. Majorities of Muslims in Jordan and Nigeria also favor these harsh punishments.

Hasan then uses the well-worn Muslim apologist's tactic of saying "It's not in the Koran!".
Nor does the Qur'an say that a Muslim who apostasises be given any penalty. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Islam's holy book in the famous verse: "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). Apostasy is deemed a sin, but the Qur'an repeatedly refers to punishment in the next world, not this one. Take the 137th verse of chapter 4: "Those who believe then disbelieve, again believe and again disbelieve, then increase in disbelief, God will never forgive them nor guide them to the Way" (4:137). This verse, which explicitly allows for disbelief, followed by belief, followed once again by disbelief, suggests any punishment is for God to deliver – not judges in Iran, Saudi Arabia or anywhere else.

This, of course, ignores the fact that there are other sources of authority in Islamic jurisprudence, notably the hadiths, the supposed sayings of Mohammed. There are lots of hadiths and their authenticity is disputed among the various branches of Islam. However, the Sahih al-Bukhari collection of hadiths is regarded as canonical for all Sunni Muslims, who make up 70-80% of the global Muslim population. The al-Bukhari hadiths are unequivocal about whether death is the appropriate penalty for apostasy.
The prophet said ‘Whoever changes his religion, kill him.’
Sahih al-Bukhari 9.84.57.

‘The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: … for murder; a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse; and the one who reverts from Islam …’
Sahih al-Bukhari 9.83.17.

Mehdi Hasan quotes various Muslim figures from around the world disavowing the death penalty for apostasy in Islam, implying that this is a marginal or extreme position.
Another late Iranian ayatollah, and high-profile ally of Khomeini, Murtaza Muttahari, once wrote of the sheer pointlessness of any and all measures to compel belief upon a Muslim (or ex-Muslim!), arguing that it was impossible to force anyone to hold the level of rationally inspired faith required by the religion of Islam.

In fact, there is something very like a supreme legal authority within the Ummah. Called the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, it is affiliated with the OIC (Organisation of the Islam Conference) [now Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation] and issues fatwas on issues of concern to the community of Muslim believers. Mark Durie discusses the Fiqh Academy in the video presentation below. The parts of his speech quoted below establish that the Fiqh Academy is "the global voice of mainstream Islam".
It has experts from 43 of the 57 member states. All its business is conducted in Arabic. Its website is based in Saudi Arabia.

...I want to emphasise that the Fiqh Academy is an extremely distinguished body. I suppose, for an American audience, the easiest analogy would be to say, imagine if the chief justices of all the states of Europe and the United States met together. That's what the Fiqh Academy is like. Each nation has nominated their chief jurist or their most distinguished jurist to this body. So when they gather they are all incredibly learned, very authoritative in their own countries and working at the highest possible level in Islamic law.

...These are not lightweights. These are not extremists. They're not radicals. They are the best of the best in the area of Islamic jurisprudence gathering together regularly to talk about the hardest issues that are facing the Muslim world.

Durie calls the Fiqh Academy "the supreme juristic reference for the Muslim world". That being the case, its rulings should offer us some insight into whether the view that apostasy should be punished by death is one that is marginal within the Islamic community worldwide. Durie discussed this specific point in an article.

One of the subsidiaries of the OIC is the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, which claims to rule on doctrine and issue religious edicts in the name of the OIC for the whole Muslim world. In May 2009 it promulgated a series of fatwas, including rulings on Religious Freedom, Freedom of Expression and Domestic Violence. These affirm support for Islam’s traditional apostasy laws (which require that those who leave Islam should be killed)

So the "supreme juristic reference for the Muslim world" maintains that death is the appropriate punishment for apostasy within Islam. These views are not marginal within the Ummah at all. They are standard. And they have been for more than 1000 years. So Mehdi Hasan is deliberately misleading his readers (the poor "cattle") again.


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