Apostasy in the Muslim world

abdulrahmanAn Afghan court dismissed the case against a man facing possible execution for converting from Islam to Christianity, according to various reports. His release date has not been announced but could be very soon.

It is worth noting that Abdul Rahman’s case was not dismissed because of any sudden stated change of heart on whether the penalty for apostasy is death — at least among those who were in a place or position to do him in. It was dismissed on a technicality. An Afghan Supreme Court spokesman said there were problems with the prosecutor’s evidence. With some of Rahman’s next of kin testifying that he was mentally ill, he was deemed unfit for trial.

We began the conversation about media coverage of Rahman’s fate last week. One issue I highlighted was the need for reporters to understand that Rahman was facing death not for being a Christian but for being a Christian who once had been Muslim. In that previous discussion, Muslim reader Maryam, a.k.a. Umm (mother to) Yasmin, commented:

Actually (and I have memories of pointing this out before here) “sharia, or Islamic law” does not stipulate death for apostasy, and it would be nice if GR journos could take their peers to task for mindlessly repeating this mistake. Various scholars, jurists and thinkers (medieval and modern alike) vigourously disagree on the topic.

Radio Free Europe — which is funded by the United States government — made Maryam’s point. In an article about Rahman, it compared penalties for converting from Islam to penalties for committing treason against the United States:

The key issue for Muslim thinkers grappling with Islamic law and modernity revolves not around whether apostasy is a heinous crime, but how to deal with it. Islam Online, a Qatar-based site that attempts to explain Islamic issues, quoted the well-known Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi as acknowledging that there is a difference of opinion on the issue even if most support the death penalty.

“All Muslim jurists agree that the apostate is to be punished,” al-Qaradawi said. “However, they differ regarding the punishment itself. The majority of them go for killing; meaning that an apostate is to be sentenced to death.”

The Christian Science Monitor‘s Rachel Morarjee and Dan Murphy provided more context. They highlight religious tension between Muslims and Christians in Egypt and Pakistan, the killing of Muslims who convert to Christianity by their own family members, attacks against Christian churches for alleged sympathy for America, etc. They point out that Afghanistan is 99 percent Muslim and that the 10,000 Christians who practice there do so in secret:

The issue of religious freedoms is one in which, as in Afghanistan, modern laws are clashing with ancient traditions. Rahman’s case illustrates a glaring contradiction between Afghanistan’s constitution, which upholds the right to freedom of religion on one hand but enshrines the supremacy of sharia law on the other.

Most mainstream schools of Islamic jurisprudence call for converts to be executed. Though the Koran promises only hellfire for apostates and also says “there should be no compunction in religion,” Islamic jurists have typically argued that execution is mandated, citing stories of comments made by the prophet Muhammad.

“The prophet Muhammad said that anyone who rejects Islam for another religion should be executed,” said Mr. Mawlavezada, the judge.

Though some liberal Islamic scholars disagree, pointing out that no such rule exists in the Koran, they have been largely silenced in Afghanistan. Last year, Afghan writer Ali Mohaqeq Nasab spent almost three months in jail last autumn for an article questioning the traditional call for execution.

So Rahman’s case has been dropped. But with so many Muslims viewing conversion from Islam to be a crime punishable by death, his future might be interesting. The issue of how Muslims deal with apostasy is not going away. Let’s hope reporters don’t forget the larger story.

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  • http://www.maryams.net/dervish Maryam

    Actually it reminds me of the Amina Lawal loophole. To satisfy international pressure they found a way out through an interpretation of the possible length of gestation that could encompass the time she was married to her huband. It was a loophole that probably would not have been exercised had there not been an international spotlight on the case (cynical me).

    The problem with both the Lawal and Abdul Rahman cases, as I see it, is that there has not been a genuine indigenous evolution in the practice of interpreting shari`a law since colonisation. Some orientalists argue that interpretation of shari`a stagnated centuries before, but there are many Muslim scholars and academics in Western universities who disagree.

    Unfortunately, we have a problem where Muslim societies who are rejecting the secularism that is being foistered on them, are ill-equipped to deal with modernity naturally and organically. But the Muslim world has gone through massive upheavals before, and Islam transcends temporal challenges.

    BTW, as an active community member here in Australia, we also have to deal with Muslim converts who bear the brunt of their relatives anger at their conversion. I know of (particularly women) thrown out of homes, left destitute, threatened with violence because they dared to convert to Islam. Including, sadly, “Christian” homes. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it’s a problem that doesn’t receive a lot of attention in the MSM.

  • Tom Breen

    Based on the passages cited, I don’t know if the press is being irresponsible by saying that apostasy usually incurs at least the prospect of death. If some form of punishment for apostasy is virtually universally agreed-upon, and “most mainstream schools of Islamic jurisprudence” call for the death penalty, it seems to me like the press has been calling this one right down the middle.

    But Maryam makes a worthwhile point in mentioning that converts to Islam are sometimes treated harshly. However, I’m willing to bet that harsh treatment is mostly or all non-institutional: the major Christian churches don’t prescribe any sort of temporal punishment for apostasy that I’m aware of. It would be worth distinguishing between the institutional responses – those “mainstream schools of Islamic jurisprudence” – and local, non-institutional responses to apostasy. I don’t know what we’d find, or if we’d find a direct correlation between the two, but it’s worth noting.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    Back in the C16 there was an European Jew named Eliano who converted to Catholicism and became a Jesuit. He went to Egypt to link up with the Copts, only to find himself arrested for being an apostate from his birth religion.

  • MT

    Maryam: Do you agree that apostasy in Islam requires punishment? If not, is the mainstream interpretation noted by “the well-known Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi” wrong?

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Batholomew — Eliano did much more than just convert.

  • Pingback: CaNN :: We started it.

  • GJ Klaver. Amsterdam the Netherlands

    “his future might be interesting” ??


    The poor man probably has to flee to another country. IF those barbarics don’t get him first.

    You find that INTERESTING?

    Oh, right.
    Islam is the religion of ‘peace’, huh.

  • http://hotmail Joe Sebastian

    Mariyam is just appeasing the Abdul Rehman incident,by telling that even Christians too ill-treat or dispise a person,converted to Islam,which is far from truth. Christians will leave it to God to judge,and will not take revenge in killing,or forsaking the convert.If what Maryam says is to be true,Boxer Mohamed Ali,singer Cat Stevens,and so many converts to Islam will not be walking so free in Christian countries. Pointing others for their drawbacks will not change the situation to their favour,as the whole world knows about which religion wants to kill, and which religion wants to forgive.

  • Michael

    I tried to post on this subject but was censored for what I guess was mentioning the F word and God in the same sentence.

    I would appreciate if my post from yesterday could be reposted with the controversial sentence left out.

    Thank you for considering it.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    We are not automatically notified if a comment is awaiting moderation — but you are right. There were two comments of yours that were not posted.

    Both were one sentence long and both included the F word and one included another derogatory term for homosexuals, which you accused us of all being.

    So if were were to repost without the controversial sentence, there would be nothing to post. I will not be approving either comment of yours.

    In the future, please refrain from the f word — and derogatory words for homosexuals.

    Thank you! But feel free to post comments relevant to the discussion.

  • andy chamberlain


    Posting a comment when you feel very strongly about something is a bit of an art; I find that my feelings can cloud my judgement, so here are the things I try to remember when I add something here:

    1. Decide what you really want to say before you start your post and then keep to that point.

    2. Ask yourself the question – if someone challenged me on what I had written, could I defend myself with integrity?

    3. In any critical comments target the issue and the argument not the person who made them.

    4. Good spelling and grammar will help you to delvier your view clearly.

    5. And of course, any bad language is discourteous to others and actually deflects from the point you are making.

    Happy posting!


  • andy chamberlain

    Okay I need to take my own advice!

    Like spelling the word “deliver” correctly in the point about spelling and grammar!

    yours with some embarrassment…

  • Michael

    ?I never used any words derogatory to homosexuals? and I never would. I did use the F word.

    Is it not possible to repost my thread?

  • Michael

    I feel it necessary, with this totally bizarre, imaginational response by our friend Mollie to explain what I did say in the post.

    I did not and never would use any language derogatory towards homosexuals. I did use the F word in one sentence.

    But, I did not use it in a hurtful, vulger or off-hand manner. I used it to make a point about the fundamentalist, ideologue, judgmental God / archetype that so many people love and act with violence in the name of – weather that violence be physical or psychological. The Muslim courts in Afghanistan threatening to kill a man for being Christian is a great example of the irrational, potentially destructive behavior belief in a God like this can inspire.

    However, fundamentalist Christian parents in this country have waged war and ravaged their children’s minds with their rigid, unbending beliefs in the same sort of God. Oftentimes, these fundamentalist “cement” philosophies destroy the very things that proud Christian parents cherish – their own families, social relationships and communities. Communion.

    It is time for us as a people to start to expand our understanding of God. Let God out of our “belief and expectation” boxes and dig deeper into ourselves and Reality.

    Beliefs change – always. Know yourself and you will know permanence, peace, heaven here and now, and God in a totally different and infinitally more beautfiul way than you could ever imagine before.

    There is only one. Commune.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Dear Michael,

    Another reader dropped the F bomb about the same time you did, and it was that person who also used stupidly vile language about gays.

    I’m sorry about this site’s confusion on who posted what comments.

    To answer the question you’ve posed more than once, I’m afraid there’s no way to repost your comment without the sentence that prompted its deletion. WordPress does not save the text of deleted comments, and neither do we.

    You are welcome to continue commenting on our site, and I recommend consulting our Permapost “Civility in this space” as a guide to our standards.

  • Michael

    Thanks for your honest response. I appreciate you looking to see if my post could be put up again.

    I thought I had found an interesting space when I stumbled onto this website, but after reading Mollie’s response to my post, I could only laugh and be somewhat disapointted in the absurdity of it all.

    Now, reading your response (Doug) to my recent post, I feel more confident that I can express myself on this blog, but we shall see what happens. I have a guy on the atheist blog calling me a homosexual because I love Christ.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    I just wanted to apologize for wrongly accusing you of the slur. I didn’t realize that two people’s comments were being screened for the F word. I should have been much more careful and I’m sorry. Anyway, I hope you continue to give us your feedback and I hope you forgive me for the wrong accusation.


  • Michael

    yes, of course, I forgive you. thank you.