Sunday, July 01, 2007

Apostacy in Islam: through the eyes of a former apostate


Dr. T. O. Shanavas Opinion

A Few years ago, during question-answer session in the Islamic Center of Greater Center, a member inquired about the punishment for apostasy in Islam. It is an unfortunate common belief among many Muslims that Shariah prescribes death for the apostate!I was once an apostate and openly declared I did not believe in Islam and rejected even the existence of God. Thank God! I was then living in a country, India, where people did not execute apostates. I thank God for giving me a chance to repent and return to the fold of Islam. I, being an apostate once, became free from the cultural and ethnic Islam to study true Islam with an open mind. "Islamic scholars" and imams do not anymore control my mind and beliefs unless their decrees (fatawa) are (1) in conformity with the Qur'an, (2) the hadiths that they quote do not contradict the Qur'an. Many Muslims today practice an ironic form of idolatry (in Islamic terminology, shirk, the one sin Allah does not forgive). We, Muslims, criticize other religions for not being truly monotheistic, yet so many of us are guilty of another, more subtle form of shirk: we worship our scholars instead of Allah! We commit the sin for which other people are condemned by God in the Qur'an: "They have taken as lords besides Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only one God. Be He glorified from all that they ascribe as partner unto Him!” [9:31] Now, most classical commentators of the Qur'an agree that the grave transgression alluded to here is not the literal worship of the learned people. According to Tirmidhi, the Holy Prophet was asked to explain this verse by Adi ibn Hatim, a convert (or apostate) from Christianity, and he confirmed that the sin was the people, "considering lawful what their priest declared lawful, even though it was forbidden by Allah." (Al-Jami, 44:9;IJ). I believe that many Muslims are reluctant to speak up because many "Islamic" cultures today encourage docility and teach to unquestioningly accept the decisions of "qualified" scholars. This is a new phenomenon; in the time of Muhammad (s), ideas were only supported after they had been proven to be in harmony with the Qur'an. Scholars could not just pull rank, as they were expected to be able to argue their cases. In fact, in a famous incident of Islamic history, a humble woman of Medina publicly corrected the Caliph. One day, Hazrat Umar (RA) was announcing a change in the rule mahr, when the woman in the crowd suddenly stopped him in his track by loudly quoting a verse of the Qur'an which contradicted his proposal. He had to relent, saying, "The women of Medina know the Qur'an better than Umar." So, it is time for Muslims to question the imams and scholars if they deviate from the Qur'an and hadiths that do not contradict the Qur'an. We must not only be satisfied by the answer of the scholars, but we must verify the source of their references. Remember, if Hazrath Umar (RA) can make a mistake, ordinary scholars and ordinary people like us also can make greater mistakes. The Qur'an and the sayings of the Prophet (s) require Muslims to think critically. Pagans are repeatedly berated for not questioning, for not using reason, even being compared to dumb animals on several occasions! "When it is said unto them: 'Follow that which Allah has revealed:' they say: 'Nay! We shall follow the ways of our fathers.' What! Even though their fathers were void of wisdom and guidance?....Deaf, dumb, blind, therefore they have no sense.” [2:170-171] "He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book.....” [3:7] "Will they not then ponder on the Qur'an? If it had been from other than Allah they would have found herein much incongruity.” [4:83] So, the principle established here is that (1) Muslims are required to think critically and not blindly accept the authority of their scholars, and (2) that the clear message of the Qur'an is to be preferred to any isolated law interpretation which contradicts the Qur'an's clear spirit. The Qur'an teaches that human beings are individually responsible. So, I believe that Allah would not forgive my sins on the Day of Judgment even if my sins were the result of following the advice of a certain Imam. I would not be able to hide behind any Imam or behind his fatwa even if coming from the most respected and revered Imam of any time. Therefore, views expressed here are my opinions based on the references given. I do not claim to be a scholar, but there are sometimes cases where the violation of the Qur'an is so self-evident that all Muslims can see them. I believe that inhuman law of apostasy has nothing to do with Islam of the Prophet (s) and it is an interpolation into Islam by fanatics among us and the selfish rulers. There are many reasons for me to believe that execution for apostasy is a manufactured law rather than divine law. Holy Prophet (s) spent his entire life fighting in defense of fundamental human rights that everybody should be free to choose his religion; no one must be physically forced to change religion. Prophet (s) struggled with the Meccan establishment to have the freedom to invite non-believers to Islam. This was consistent with the practices of all other Prophets. The Qur'an states: "...There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is here forth distinct from error...”[2:256] In the light of the above verse, a person has to be insane to belief that Islam prescribes execution for apostasy. The Qur'an further states: " Say (Muhammad it is) truth from Lord of all. Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, LET him disbelieve.” [18:29] In no uncertain terms, Allah commands Prophet to allow people to believe and disbelieve. If the Shariah recommends to kill an apostate, this law cannot be Islamic because it contradicts the above two verses. The Qur'an further states: "And so, O Prophet, exhort them, thy task is ONLY to exhort; thou canst NOT compel them to believe.” [88:21-22] "Thy duty is to make the message reach them; it is OUR PART to call them to account." [13:40] "Call thou (all mankind) unto thy Sustainer's path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in MOST KINDLY MANNER...” [16:125] While the Qur'an commands the Prophet (s) not to compel people to believe in Islam and invite people with the most kind manner and words, fanatics among us threaten people with death mercilessly to keep them in the Muslim Ummah as hypocrites as if the dishonest hypocrites are better than honest apostates. It is a most heinous crime against Islam and Prophet (s) to manufacture inhuman law of execution of apostate. If the Qur'anic verses tell the Prophet not to compel people to believe in Islam (88:22) and the responsibility to call disbelievers to account rests with God only (1:40), the law of execution of apostates is of human origin. Initial reluctance of the people of Arabia to accept Islam disturbed Prophet (s). Then the following verse was revealed: "And had your Lord willed, whoever in the earth would have believed all together, will you then coerce people to become believers?” [10:99] According to the above verse, even God will not coerce people to become Muslims or remain as Muslim once a person accepts Islam. So, Muslims must condemn the law of apostasy and save innocent Muslims becoming intolerant and violent by the heinous indoctrination by fanatics among us because Allah says: "Who can be more wicked than the one who invent a lie against God,...” [6:93] So, religious belief is a personal matter. It is God alone --not the state or religious authorities--who know what is in the heart of the people. If the highest human authority, Prophet (s), cannot call anyone to account for belief or disbelief, no sane person can believe that religious scholars and the state have the authority to execute people for their personal belief. The Qur'an states: "A section of the People of the Book say: 'Believe in the morning what is revealed to the believers, Bur reject it at the end of the day; perchance they may (themselves) turn back." [3:72] A section of People of the Book used a tactic to create doubt among the Muslims in the hope that some of them might thereby be beguiled into repudiating Islam. How could it be possible for non-Muslims to have enacted this plan to entice Muslims to believe one day and reject next, if death was the penalty for apostasy? This tactic of a group of People of the Book mentioned in the Qur’an exposes apostasy law of the Muslim fanatics as un-Islamic. In spite of the deceptive behavior, the above verse cautions Muslims that “perchance they may themselves turn back” truly to Islam. The Qur’an does not rule to kill the apostates. Abdullah b.Ubayy b.Salul was the leader of the munafiqun (hypocrites). But Prophet (s) took no action against him. Prophet prayed for him and stayed at the grave until he was buried. Those fanatics among us must explain the reason for Prophet (s) not executing the known hypocrites like Abdullah b.Ubayy. Ubbay lived until death plotting to destroy Islam and Prophet knew it. He was not executed for apostasy. This suggests that apostasy law is not a divine law but interpolation by fanatics among us. Another verse states: "Those who believe, then reject Faith, then believe (again) and again reject Faith, go on increasing in Unbelief--God will not forgive them nor guide them on the Way.” [4:137] An apostate cannot enjoy the repeated luxury of believing and disbelieving if punishment is death. A dead man has no further chance of again believing and disbelieving. Furthermore, if taken at face value, this verse indicates that God will only withdraw His guidance after repeated rejections. It does not tell Prophet (s) to kill these apostates. So, what right do these religious authorities and imams have to deprive a person of access to the divine guidance after the first? The Qur'an states: "How shall God guide those who reject Faith after they accepted it and bore witness that the apostle was true and that clear signs had come unto them? But God guides not a people unjust. Of such the reward is that on them (rests) the curse of the God, of His Angels, and of all mankind;--In that will they dwell; nor will their penalty be lightened, nor respite be their lot;--except for those that repent (even) after that, make amends; For verily God is oft-forgiving, most merciful.” [3:86-89] It is obvious from these verses that no punishment is to be inflicted by one man or another for apostasy. By no stretch of the imagination can the phrase, "curse of Allah," be interpreted to be a license to murder anyone who he considers to be an apostate. If any such commandment was prescribed it would have been clearly defined as all other punishments are in the Holy Qur'an. The fact is that the Qur'an even mentions that apostates can be forgiven if they amend and repent. How could they repent if apostates are killed? By forced repentance? Then, does not Qur'an state that there is no compulsion in religion? The one verse that states that there is no compulsion in religion should be enough for a fair minded person to realize that Islam does not teach death to apostates. Finally, can any one hadith suggesting to kill the apostate invalidate all the Qur'anic verses quoted earlier? We, Muslims, blame the West for anti-Muslim reporting. What do you expect from the West if we provide the sticks to beat us up? Will Muslims object the persecution of the new Muslim convert for his/her apostasy by his/her erstwhile co-religionists? If we believe that it is injustice to kill a new Muslim by non-Muslims for his/her apostasy from his/her former faith, you must give the same just treatment to Muslims who become Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, etc. Let Allah call to account those people who left Islam. I, like many Muslims, am still bitter over smear jobs done on my religion by Western media over the Gulf war, and the Rushdie affair. So, the last thing that I want is to see Islam slandered all over again because of the barbaric and un-Islamic apostasy law. Ask yourselves: what kind of religion kills people for simple choice of faith, a change of heart? Not a religion of love and peace, not a religion worthy of respect! Perpetuation of the law to kill apostates can only increase or create doubts in the heart of the Muslims and potential Muslims, as people everywhere are already bombarded by negative images of Islam. My message to those Muslims who, like me, yearn to project true compassionate face of Islam is that Dawa will never be successful in the West as long as crazy nonsense of law of apostasy is unchallenged by Muslims. If Muhammad Ali, Cat Stevens, and Murad Hoffman were harassed by a reactionary Christian group, the Muslims will be up in arms! We must be consistent in our attitude and compassionate to those Muslims who want to leave Muslim community. "Believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil....” [9:71] Therefore, let us protect the rights of all people to have freedom to believe and disbelieve. In closing, Islam is only vulnerable when Muslims abandon its clear teaching of reason, religious freedom, tolerance, and peace.

Blogger comment:
1- The verses are very clear and unequivocal about the freedom of worship in Quran.
2- The hypocrites who were the worst of apostate since they declare their Islam and fight Islam and spread rumors and suspicion were not killed though they were the worst enemies of Islam.
3- If there is hadith that does contradict the Quran its narration should be questioned even if in Bukhari and Muslim.
4- God promised us at certain time in history all the world will convert to Islam. We have all reasoning to make our case to the world to convert people to Islam including this great article.

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