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On Apostasy and Islam: 100+ Notable Islamic Voices affirming the Freedom of Faith - Part 4


" ... Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error ..." [2:256]

By Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

April 2, 2007

46.     Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

[Founder and CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA Society) and Imam of Masjid Al-Farah, a mosque in New York City]

On page 31 of What's Right with Islam, Imam Rauf maintains that: “What is right about any religion or societal structure is therefore the extent to which individuals and societies fully manifest the principles of the Abrahamic ethic”. Just prior to this conclusion, he lists a number of failings of the Muslim community in this respect after the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) passed away – namely, the disappearance of the rule of law applied by an independent judiciary; the judgment that apostasy is the equivalent of treason; continuation of the practice of slavery despite the many Quranic verses that sought to eliminate that institution; and, the on-going oppression of women. [What's Right With Islamby Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf -A Critical Commentary]

47.     Dr. Saif Ad-Deen 'Abdul-Fattah

[Professor of political theory at Cairo University, known for his remarkable contribution to the branch of jurisprudence that deals with al-Maqasid (the objectives of Shari`ah)]

"I think that the rule that governs the issue here is Allah's saying [There is no compulsion in religion] (Al-Baqura 2:256). Religion cannot by any means be compared to a trap; whoever is trapped in it can never get out. Muslims are in no need of new hypocrites. From this point, I can assure that those who apostatize are always to be asked to repent. The incidents of apparent apostasy in our history are those of collective apostasy. This kind of collective apostasy is considered as cases of state security and national security, in which the penalty for apostasy is applied to protect the whole state." [Freedom and the Cartoon Crisis: From the Incident to the Approach]

48.     Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni

[President, International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University]

“A Muslim's conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law, contrary to the claims in the case of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan.While there is long-established doctrine that apostasy is punishable by death, that has also long been questioned by Islamic criminal justice scholars, including this writer.” [Leaving Islam Is Not a Capital Crime]

49.     Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Al-Shinqiti

[Director of the Islamic Center of South Plains, Lubbock, Texas]

"What I understand from different hadiths on the issue is that apostasy has two different aspects: one, as an intellectual position, i.e. a Muslim who is no longer convinced of the truth of Islam. The second apostasy is in the meaning of political treason and military rebellion against Muslims. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the person that changed his religion joined the pagan army and fought against Muslims, and that is, in my view, what meant by: 'one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.' Therefore, apostasy as purely an intellectual position has no prescribed punishment in the Islamic law, but if a Muslim committed treason against the Muslim Ummah and joined the enemy fighting against Muslims, then he would deserved the death punishment, especially at times of war. Even in secular laws in some countries the penalty for treason is capital punishment.

This does not mean that apostasy is not a great sin – indeed it is the worst of all sins, and Allah says that He will punish those who committed such a heinous act. But not every sin that is punishable on the Day of Judgment has punishment in this world." [Islamonline Live Fatwa Session]

50.     Dr. Asma Afsaruddin

[Associate Professor of The Classics/Middle East Studies, University of Notre Dame]

"Asma Afsaruddin, who teaches Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame, said that Islam 'threatens punishment in the next world, but that is God's prerogative. The Qur'an has no penalty prescribed for apostasy.' [Afghan Christian averts death for apostasy as Italy grants asylum]

51.     Organization: Muslim American Society [MAS]

"We at MAS Freedom oppose the possible execution of Mr. Abdul Rahman on both humanitarian and religious grounds. To purse such an action would not only be a flagrant violation of the standards of human rights which the Karzai regime claims to embrace, but it also runs contrary to the Holy Quran, which forbids compulsion in religion." [MAS Freedom Foundation Responds to The Issue of Apostasy in Afghanistan]

52.     Dr. Chandra Muzaffar

[A Malaysian political scientist; President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)]

"The Noble Qur'an itself views those who leave Islam --- the murtadd( apostate)-with utmost displeasure. It says, " Those who believe, and then disbelieve, and then( again) disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them, nor will He guide them to the (right) way ( Surah 4:137). But the Qur'an does not prescribe capital punishment or any other form of punishment for the apostate. Neither does the Sunnah. It was only when apostasy was coterminous with rebellion against the nascent state that the Prophet( may peace be upon him) had established in Medina, that the death penalty was imposed. The Righteous Caliphs followed the Prophet's example. The jurists who came after them adopted a different approach. They felt no necessity to differentiate between mere peaceful change of faith and violent rebellions. Consequently, their rulings evolved into mainstream jurisprudence which is what the ulama of today have inherited." [From Fiqh to Qur'an: Resolving Apostasy]

53.     Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

[M.D.; author and scholar; Beliefnet columnist]

“This entire “what to do with apostates” debate has raised an extremely important question in my mind. Despite the overwhelming evidence in the Qur’an against the death penalty for those who choose to leave the fold of Islam, despite the fact that the hadith, when understood correctly, does not contradict the Qur’anic position, it is amazing that some people still cling on to the opinions of scholars on this issue. People continue to retort to me, “All of the 4 imams have upheld death for apostates.” [Are The Scholars The Same As God Himself?]

54.     Dr. Maher Hathout

[MPAC's Senior Advisor; Charter Member of the Pacific Council on International Policy; member, Board of Directors of the Interfaith Alliance; retired physician]

“The problem with the argument for punishment for apostasy is that it cannot be applied in any Islamic state without giving rise to the potential for abuse by the state itself. Erroneously equating moral with political power in the determination of law has led to the political repression that we see in Islamic countries today.” [In Pursuit of Justice, p. 157, quoted inStatement on Afghan Christian Convert]

55.     Dr. Riffat Hassan

[Chair, Religious Studies, University of Louisville]

“In the context of the human right to religious freedom, it is necessary to mention that, according to traditional Islam, the punishment for apostasy is death. In other words, a person who is born a Muslim or who becomes a Muslim is to be put to death if he or she later chooses to renounce Islam. There is nothing in the Qur’an which suggests any punishment at all, let alone the punishment of death, for a Muslim who renounces Islam. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the Qur’anic dictum, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2:256), which modern Muslims apply with such magnanimity to non-Muslims does not or should not apply to Muslims also. (I believe that the death penalty was not meant to be a punishment for apostasy alone but for apostasy accompanied by “acts of war” against the Muslims.” [On Human Rights and the Qur’anic Perspective]

56.     Dr. M.E. Asad Subhani

[Head of the faculty of Islamic Studies at the College of Education in Zanzibar, Tanzania]

... argues that the dominant Muslim position on apostasy as deserving death is, in fact, not sanctioned in the primary sources of Islam, the Qur'an and the Hadith, the traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad ... [Book review: Apostasy in Islam]

57.     Imam Ziad Hamdan

[Islamic Society of Milwaukee]

Speaking at the main Friday prayer service, Imam Ziad Hamdan said that conversion is a personal decision and is not subject to the intervention of the state. In doing so, he drew upon his own understanding of the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book, and echoed the opinions of many North American Islamic scholars and of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. ... Hamdan said in an interview Friday that clerics have an obligation to enter into a discussion with the man to point out his errors, but that judgment and punishment are up to God. [Conversion is personal, area Islamic leaders says]

58.     Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah

[Religious Director, Milwaukee Islamic Society; member of Fiqh Council of North America; former President, Islamic Circle of North America; CEO, Universal Heritage Foundation]

That view [of Imam Ziad Hamdan] was reinforced by Zulfiqar Ali Shah, the Milwaukee Islamic society's religious director. He also is a prominent scholar and a member of the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Islamic legal scholars that interprets Muslim religious law. Shah said in an interview that the council and most other scholars in North America hold that an individual has the freedom to choose a faith, or to leave a faith, without earthly punishment.

"Islam does not allow coercing anybody into the Islamic religion," Shah said. "And even if it comes to apostasy, 'Irtidad,' the word which means apostasy in the Qur'an appears 14 times, and all the 14 times the Qur'an does mention that there is punishment in the life hereafter, but it says nothing about this worldly life whatsoever." [Conversion is personal, area Islamic leaders say]

59.     Maulana Inayatullah Asad Subhani

[Scholar; author of many thought-provoking books on Islam; India]

And there is no bigger misconception-strengthened with misinterpretation of Islamic thoughts over the years-other than the belief that Islam doesn't tolerate apostasy. Ulama have tried to strengthen it through their emphasis and several leading Muslim reformists have failed to tackle the issue. This misconception has also presented Islam as a medieval and killer religion. Islam baiters have time and again tried to carry the point by pointing out that Islam orders the killing of a person if he reverts to other religion from Islam.

And there was none who could answer this widely held belief as well as put forth a convincing argument about the misinterpretation of Qur'anic teachings by ulama.

Inayatullah Subhani says that neither Islam forces any person to embrace Islam nor it forces him to remain within its fold. He writes 'apostasy has been mentioned several times in Qur'an. It also describes the bad treatment that will be meted out for committing apostasy, but it never talks of punishment for the crime in this world.' Maulana mentions three ayaat (verses) from Qur'an on apostasy (Al-Baqara 217, Muhammad 25-27 and Al-Maida 54 )and then says that none of these ayaat prescribes any punishment for that though these ayaat pass strictures on the people who commit it. He mentions several other ayaat on the same issue and then concludes that none of these ayat prescribes either death penalty or any other punishment for apostasy in this world. He then adds that had there been some punishment in Islam for apostasy there was no reason as to why the issue was mentioned repeatedly in Qur'an but no punishment was prescribed.

He emphasizes that people who were awarded death penalty for reverting to other religions from Islam during either the time of the Prophet (SAW) or during the reign of his caliphs were not given the punishment for the crime of apostasy but for the fact that they were at war with Muslims and Islamic government. [Book Review: Apostasy doesn't carry death penalty in Islam]

60.     Organization: Islamic Center of Southern California

We believe this trial, as well as apostasy laws in Afghanistan and other so-called Muslim states mandating the killing of apostates, violates two fundamental tenets of Islam.

a. Freedom of religion – The Quran states categorically and unequivocally, “there shall be no coercion in matters of faith.” (2:256). This cornerstone tenet of Islamic faith is violated when an Islamic nation puts on trial individuals for converting away from Islam. Based on this verse, we see that faith is an intimate matter between a person and God. There is no room for a nation, or a pseudo religious clergy, to take on a role that God has reserved for Himself in judging the relationship between a person and the Almighty.

b. Sanctity of human life - one of the paramount goals of Islamic law (Sharia) is the protection of human life. [Statement on Afghan Christian Convert]

URL of Part 3: