Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 14 October 2009
Encouraging Change from Within
Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who chose to leave Islam and follow Christ, was threatened with a death sentence by an Afghan judge and prosecutor in 2006. After international protests, a pretext was found to dismiss the case and he was able to flee Afghanistan.
In May 2009 a Jordanian Muslim convert to Christianity was threatened by his father that if he did not publicly return to Islam within seven days, the father would shoot him dead.
Muslims who choose to abandon Islam are in danger of death. This is true whether they embrace another faith or whether they only reject Islam. Death can be by judicial execution as almost happened to Abdul Rahman, and as really did happen to Iranian pastor Hossein Soodmand, who was hanged in 1990. Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Sudan also have the death penalty for apostasy. More often the death of a convert is “unofficial”, either murdered by family or community, or illegally beaten and tortured to death while in detention.
Sign the Petition today
Please keep gathering signatures for our petition to abolish the Islamic apostasy law with its death sentence for those who leave Islam.
If they are not killed, apostates may face a whole range of persecution, some of it from the authorities, some of it from relatives and community. Women as well as men are at risk, and so are children. Strange as it may seem, many people who consider themselves Muslims are also at risk of death or other penalties for being “apostates”. This is because mainstream Islamic scholars condemn liberals as not true Muslims. Thus Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, an elderly Muslim religious scholar in Sudan, was executed for apostasy in 1985 after he had published a leaflet calling for sharia to be reformed to make it more humane. Whole sects, such as the Ahmadiyyas and the Bahais, are also condemned as apostates.
The punishment and persecution of converts is based on sharia (Islamic law), and it is only from within the Islamic community that reform of sharia can be achieved. So any change to the treatment of converts in Muslim countries – or elsewhere – must be brought about by Muslims themselves.
This issue has been debated for centuries among Muslim scholars. Although most Muslims do not dispute the classic teaching, the issue remains highly contentious in Islam, and the debate continues today.
In April 2009, a conference hosted by the International Islamic Fiqh Academy was held in the United Arab Emirates to consider a range of global issues, including whether apostates should face the death penalty under sharia. At the conference, some scholars called for a review of the death penalty, including Egyptian government minister Mahmoud Zaqzouq, who said “Religious freedom is a right that should be guaranteed to every human being”. Others were adamant in their refusal to endorse a gentler approach towards apostates. A committee of six religious scholars was appointed to study whether apostates should face the death penalty.
At this time of intense debate among Muslims, we as Christians can seek to encourage changes to the apostasy law through prayer and action. We invite you to write to Muslim leaders and organisations, requesting that they support the calls for the abolition of the Islamic apostasy law so that Muslims have complete freedom to leave their Islamic faith without risk of any punishment. BARNABAS AID July/August 009 7 When you write:
■ Be polite.
■ Emphasise that under Article 18 of the United Nation’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Muslims have a human right to choose another faith.
■ Emphasise that you are not attacking Islam in general or individual Muslims.
■ Ask the recipient to do all they can to call for a reform of sharia law so as to bring an end to the death sentence and all other penalties for apostates from Islam.
■ Your letter does not need to be long.
In the UK write to: Mr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary General, The Muslim Council of Britain, PO Box 57330, London E1 2WJ
Mr Maajid Nawaz, Director, The Quilliam Foundation, PO Box 60380, London WC1A 9AZ
For other Western countries, please write to appropriate Muslim organisations within your own country, or feel free to write to the British organisations detailed above.