Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 03 July 2007
The Application of the Apostasy Law in the World Today
The Application of the Apostas...
"We always remind those who want to convert to Islam that they enter through a door but there is no way out".
Since modernization first emerged in the Muslim world following Western imperialism and its imposition of secular laws and education systems, there have been tensions between Muslim conservatives and liberal intellectuals. In contemporary Muslim societies it is Islamic fundamentalists (Islamists) who defend Islamic political culture against western incursions and who most vehemently oppose westernisation. While liberals try to modernize Islam, Islamists want to Islamise modernity, calling for a return to Islam's source texts and early political model, as well as demanding full implementation of Shari'ah in the state. Early reformers tried to reconcile Islam with modernity using the flexible principles of reason and the public good to reinterpret Shari'ah along modern lines. Contemporary liberals argue that Shari'ah laws are human interpretations of the eternally fixed principles of Islam, so they can be changed to fit modern contexts. It is only the basic principles that are immutable.
Islamists see Shari'ah itself as divinely inspired and unchangeable, valid for all times and places, and they attack the liberal position. In recent decades, as Islamists gained in strength, the arguments have shifted from the sphere of literary and media polemics to that of violence and legal prosecutions. Islamists now charge their opponents with apostasy (irtidad), blasphemy andunbelief (kufr), and heresy (ilhad) - all of which are crimes under Shari'ah that incur the death penalty.
Muslims and apostasy
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 carries 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. Among the Muslim masses apostasy, like jihad, is still a popular notion that is bound to raise emotions and outbursts of violence and which can therefore be manipulated by those who see themselves as defenders of traditional Islam or by those who could benefit from the downfall of the accused. Theologically, in Islam this is one of the few sins God cannot forgive as it refuses Him and His mercy.
In Islamic jurisprudence and tradition apostasy (irtidad) has always been linked to the concepts of unbelief, blasphemy and heresy (all combined under the term kufr), which are sometimes used interchangeably. In a sense kufr is the category while apostasy, blasphemy and heresy are its sub-categories. Legally, blasphemy is a ta'zir offence (where the judge has flexibility in determining the punishment),while apostasy is normally considered a hadd offence (where the punishment is seen as fixed by God). All are regarded as severe crimes, but there is unanimous consensus that apostasy is punishable by death under Shari'ah hudud laws. In practice the death penalty is not often implemented, but depriving the apostates of all their civil rights is commonly practised. While apostasy, blasphemy and heresy are distinct terms in English, in Arabic kafir is often used to generally describe an apostate, a blasphemer or a heretic, and all three are closely linked in the minds of Muslims as interchangeable categories, which is why they are often combined in prosecutions in spite of the different categories of Shari'ah criminal law they fall under.
While apostate (murtadd) usually refers to a Muslim who has officially converted to another faith, thus becoming a kafir, others who claim to be good Muslims can be accused of unbelief, blasphemy and heresy as well as of apostasy for various other causes, including scepticism, atheism, ascribing partners or associates to God, and not fully implementing Shari'ah. Some authorities list 300 different acts that could make a person a kafir,thus leaving the door wide open for denouncing other Muslims as infidels liable to the death penalty in a process known as takfir.In many cases multiple charges of apostasy, blasphemy, unbelief, heresy and of insulting Islam and Muhammad are brought against the accused, thus giving the judges greater flexibility in deciding under which category to define the crime and to help ensure that the accused does get convicted for 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, with little or no evidence required.