While surfing the Internet, I decided to visit one of the popular sites aimed at the youth of our community. I went to the forum and had a look at the different categories, which included a ‘special guests’ section. The special guests included a number of popular speakers with a wide following in our community and the questions posed to them were mainly of a jurisprudential nature such as “are Chess and other board games haram?” and “is Music haram?”. The guests’ responses to such questions were quotations and edicts from the Maraji’, which made me wonder what added value these ‘special guests’ were providing. I would have thought that with their intellectual ability, Islamic scholarship coupled with their Western upbringing, they would have been able to offer a new thinking or different perspective to such questions rather than regurgitating what has been established for the past 900 years or so. However, this is not what I want to address in this blog. I was greatly concerned when I read one of the special guest’s response to a well thought-out question posed by a young man, who judging by his username, is 21 years old:
Does the killing of an apostate contradict these verses:
There is no compulsion in religion [2:256]
Say: (It is) the truth from the Lord of you (all). Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve [18:29]
Surely (as for) those who believe then disbelieve, again believe and again disbelieve, then increase in disbelief, Allah will not forgive them nor guide them in the (right) path. [4:137]
With regards to the last verse, how could they believe, then disbelieve, and then believe, if they are killed as apostates?
The guest responds in a somewhat long fashion, essentially saying that this is what the shar’ia stipulates and therefore must be done. He also equates apostasy to treason, and since treason is punishable by death in many countries, the same case applies to apostasy. Treason, according to the Cambridge dictionary is defined as “(the crime of) showing no loyalty to your country, especially by helping its enemies or attempting to defeat its government”. How can one then infer based on this definition that irtidad equates to treason? A government, nation-state, are modern social constructs. Islam is a system of beliefs which people ascribe to and transcends governments, states and countries. Islam as a system of belief and a state are completely different things, so how is it possible to commit treason against a system of beliefs? The notion is ludicrous. And even if we make an assumption that there exists an Islamic state and an Islamic government (whatever that may mean?), why must we assume that the apostate’s opposition to Islam is of a political nature? Is it hard to believe that one may undergo a certain experience, bereavement, set-back, or an intellectual difference with the theological principles of Islam which my make him or her lose their faith without taking a political stance against the ruling government?
Our guest, who argues strongly for the death penalty for an apostate and a person who committed treason, will also argue strongly against the murder of Muhammad Baqir Sadr in 1979 or many of the opposition figures which Saddam killed in his brutal reign of Iraq. It can be argued that Baqir Sadr and the opposition figures were committing treason against the state? They were seeking to bring down the regime and assisted the enemy (Iran) to defeat the government. Since they committed treason, their murder was justified, according to the logic of our guest. To think this way is completely abhorrent in Islam. No man or woman should be killed for what they believe in. A life is sacred.
It is true that high treason is considered to be the most serious of offences and is met with death in many countries. However, this does not mean the punishment is correct and our guest cannot use it as a justification to espouse death to apostasy. In the UK, the last treason trial was that of William Joyce, who was executed in 1946. Since the 1998 Criminal Justice Bill became law, the maximum sentence for high treason in the UK has been life imprisonment. Killing a person because they simply differ with you in his their religious belief is offensive to our modern human sensibilities, especially in the 21st century when a great deal of emphasis is placed on universal human rights.
Back to our ‘special guest’. In his argument advocating the death of an apostate, he did not put forward a single Qur’anic verse to support the argument for killing an apostate, because it simply does not exist. The freedom to convert to another faith after accepting Islam, even to convert back to polytheism or atheism, is left to man’s essential free choice. It is very logical: if freedom of belief is guaranteed and secured against enforcement, the individual’s right to change his or her religion is protected. However, it is also expected in a religious text like the Qur’an that such an act will be subject to punishment in the life after. There is no immediate worldly penalty mentioned for such an act in the Qur’an. Such a penalty as prosecution or execution was later introduced by jurists and institutionalised as part of the faith.
Islam is a religion of freedom. I believe in it and follow it wholeheartedly because my heart and mind have accepted it. We should teach our youth to love this beautiful religion, which espouses tolerance, peace and love and not hatred and bloodshed. Our youth are getting brainwashed these people. They look up to them and follow them. These people have a HUGE responsibility on their shoulders, as one day they will face the ultimate Power who will question them on their actions and their words. I hope and pray they use their power and influence in the community in the most fruitful way.