Former Muslims United Freedom Pledge Against Punishment for Apostasy a “Red Herring”
by Sheila Musaji
At the end of September, a group called Former Muslims United created a pledge against punishment for apostasy and sent it out to leaders of Muslim organizations across America asking them to sign it.
The “pledge” begins with a long list of partial quotes then states: “Therefore: To support the civil rights of former Muslims, also known as apostates from Islam, I sign “The Muslim Pledge for Religious Freedom and Safety from Harm for Former Muslims”: “I renounce, repudiate and oppose any physical intimidation, or worldly and corporal punishment, of apostates from Islam, in whatever way that punishment may be determined or carried out by myself or any other Muslim including the family of the apostate, community, Mosque leaders, Shariah court or judge, and Muslim government or regime.”
This FMU group has certainly not paid any attention to what has already taken place within the Muslim community, particularly here in the United States. TAM has an extensive resource collection of articles and information about this called Apostasy and Freedom of Faith in Islam, and we have published many articles discussing this subject. Most importantly, Muslims themselves have created such a pledge more than two years ago. This FMU pledge is simply another attempt to create propoganda (planting the idea that American Muslims have not taken a position against punishments for apostasy) and to attempt to make it seem as if only former Muslims can stand for what is right, and frankly to attempt to increase the visibility of the FMU at the expense of the Muslim community. This is shameful behavior (although typical of members of this group who go beyond denouncing Islamic radicalism to denouncing all of Islam) and is simply another example of attempting to marginalize the Muslim community and bolster the false claim that Muslims don’t speak up against injustices, extremism, etc.
Back in March of 2007, Dr. Umar Farooq met with many Muslim scholars, community leaders, etc. and released a statement which we published on The American Muslim site (TAM), and on a website set up by Dr. Farooq at ( http://apostasyandislam.blogspot.com/2007/03/statement-muslims-uphold-faith-of.html ).
Here is the statement that was signed by over 100 individuals back in 2007 and which goes well beyond this FMU pledge (Note: I was number 24 to sign):
”Muslim Academics/Scholars/Imams/Professionals uphold the Freedom of Faith and the Freedom to Change one’s Faith
“ ... Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error ...” [2:256]
This is Islam’s unambiguous affirmation of freedom of faith, which also applies to changing of faith. The Qur’an illuminates before the humanity the two highways [90:10], one of which leads to salvation. Islam is an invitation to the highway toward salvation, but it is based on FREEDOM OF CHOICE.
Apostasy (riddah) is a major issue that affects the understanding of, and perception about, Islam. Historically, Muslim scholars have not factored in the distinction between apostasy (changing one’s faith, which is strictly a sin against God) and treason (strictly a civil offense against an established public order) when it is stated that Islam mandates capital punishment for riddah. That unnuanced perspective about apostasy has fueled negative propaganda against Islam and a negative image of Muslims. In recent years in some notable and well known cases, a fatwa (legal, non-binding opinion) was issued against alleged apostates and, at times, even a bounty was announced on their head.
Many Muslim scholars and academics have argued against the stated historical position as inconsistent with the Qur’an and on the grounds that killing someone for making a considered choice negates the very Islamic value and principle of freedom of choice, affecting Islam’s position on universal human rights.
Freedom of choice in faith is central to Islam. This has been exemplified in the Qur’anic narrative regarding the choice made by Satan in contrast with Adam and Eve, and the broad agreement of Muslim scholars that only faith freely adopted is meritorious before God. Throughout history prophets and the communities of their believers have struggled to secure freedom of faith for themselves. Indeed it is a principle quintessential to both Islam and humanity.
Choosing a path in line with our beliefs about salvation has significant consequences in terms of our afterlife. In this world that freedom is bestowed upon us by God, which, by implication, must include the possibility of changing one’s faith. Freedom of religion is meaningless without the freedom to change one’s religion. Denial of such reciprocal rights is also inconsistent with the principle of justice (adl/qist), as clearly enunciated in the Qur’an [4/an-Nisa/135].
The Qur’an does not specify any worldly punishment or retribution solely for apostasy. Similarly, there is no clear prophetic judgment on apostasy, nor examples that such punishment was meted out (during the time of the Prophet or in the period of the Righteous Caliphate) to someone solely for abandoning Islam as a creed, in contrast with apostasy-cum-treason, involving taking up arms against the Muslim community or the state.
Islam upholds the fundamental principle pertaining to freedom of faith [“Let there be no compulsion in Deen” 2/al-Baqara/256; also see 39/al-Zumar/41]. Thus:
We the undersigned Muslims from diverse backgrounds affirm: The freedom of faith and the freedom of changing one’s faith. In light of the Qur’anic guidance and the Prophetic legacy, the principle of freedom of faith does not lend itself to impose in this world any punishment or retribution solely for apostasy; thus there ought not to be any punishment in the name of Islam or fatwa calling for the same.
In addition, we call upon:
our esteemed scholars (ulama) and jurists (fuqaha), to address this inconsistency between the Islamic principle of freedom of faith and the position mandating punishment for apostasy, and to bring our legacy of Islamic jurisprudence and general Islamic discourse up-to-date for the times with reference to indisputable and categorical Islamic principles.
our fellow Muslims, to be informed of Islam’s position on apostasy and to uphold the principle of choice so that we may exercise tolerance towards those who have left the “straight path” and deal with their subsequent views and actions (even when they are against Islam) within the conext of human rights and civil liberties allowed by law.
Imams and religious leaders, to educate and sensitize Muslim masses about notions of fairness and justice inherent in Islam and respond to apostasy in a dignified, constructive and patient manner.
governments of Muslim-majority countries, to address this matter constitutionally as well as legally, and actively engage in a process that eventually discards any law entailing punishment for apostasy.
Islamic organizations, to uphold universal human rights (not inconsistent with Islam) and to defend the rights of ex-Muslims in regard to apostasy.
The Executive Board members of Former Muslims United are: Nonie Darwish, Katrina-Cati Kaiser, Walid Shoebat, Wafa Sultan, Ibn Warraq, Jamal Jivanjee, Kamal Saleem
The Qur’an on freedom of thought, conscience and religion:
[10:99]“If it had been the will of your Lord that all the people of the world should be believers, all the people of the earth would have believed! Would you then compel mankind against their will to believe?”
[2:256] There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in GOD has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.
God Almighty never gave any guardianship role to the Messengers or Muslims over this issue:
[33:40] Muhammad was not the father of any man among you. He was a messenger of GOD and the final prophet. GOD is fully aware of all things.
[4:80] Whoever obeys the messenger is obeying GOD. As for those who turn away, we did not send you as their guardian.
[6:66] Your people have rejected this, even though it is the truth. Say, “I am not a guardian over you.”
[6:104] Enlightenments have come to you from your Lord. As for those who can see, they do so for their own good, and those who turn blind, do so to their own detriment. I am not your guardian.
[18:29]”(O Prophet Muhammad) proclaim: ‘This is the Truth from your Lord. Now let him who will, believe in it, and him who will, deny it.’”
[6:107] Had GOD willed, they would not have worshiped idols. We did not appoint you as their guardian, nor are you their advocate.
[10:108] Proclaim: “O people, the truth has come to you herein from your Lord. Whoever is guided is guided for his own good. And whoever goes astray, goes astray to his own detriment. I am not a guardian over you.”
[11:86] “Whatever GOD provides for you, no matter how small, is far better for you, if you are really believers. I am not a guardian over you.”
[42:48] If they turn away, we did not send you as their guardian. Your sole mission is delivering the message. When we shower the human beings with mercy, they become proud, and when adversity afflicts them, as a consequence of their own deeds, the human beings turn into disbelievers
[4:137] Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe again and again reject faith, and go on increasing in disbelief, God will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person:
[2:178] O you who believe, equivalence is the law decreed for you when dealing with murder - the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the female for the female. If one is pardoned by the victim’s kin, an appreciative response is in order, and an equitable compensation shall be paid. This is an alleviation from your Lord and mercy. Anyone who transgresses beyond this incurs a painful retribution.
[2:191] You may kill those who wage war against you, and you may evict them whence they evicted you. Oppression is worse than murder. ...
[16:126] And if you punish, you shall inflict an equivalent punishment. But if you resort to patience (instead of revenge), it would be better for the patient ones.
[17:33] You shall not kill any person - for GOD has made life sacred - except in the course of justice. If one is killed unjustly, then we give his heir authority to enforce justice. Thus, he shall not exceed the limits in avenging the murder, he will be helped.
Everyone is entitled to these rights and freedoms without distinction:
[2:136] Say, “We believe in GOD, and in what was sent down to us, and in what was sent down to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them. To Him alone we are submitters.”
[49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.
Affirmation of Freedom of Expression and Belief in the Quran, Haris Aziz http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/affirmation_of_freedom_of_expression_and_belief_in_the_quran/
Afghan Convert Controversy: A Counter-Perspective on Apostasy in Islam, Yoginder Sikand http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/afghan_convert_controversy_a_counter_perspective_on_apostasy_in_islam/
Apostasy, Freedom and Da’wah: Full Disclosure in a Business-like Manner, Mohammad Omar Farooq http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/apostasy_freedom_and_dawah_full_disclosure_in_a_business_like_manner/
Apostasy and Religious Freedom, Louay Safi http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/apostasy_and_religious_freedom/
Are The Scholars The Same As God Himself?, Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/are_the_scholars_the_same_as_god_himself/
The Case of the Afghan Apostate, Hasan Zillur Rahim http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_case_of_the_afghan_apostate/
Freedoms of Expression and Belief, Istiaq Ahmed http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/freedoms_of_expression_and_belief/
Intellectual Apostasy, the Real Issue, Ibrahim N. Abusharif http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/intellectual_apostasy_the_real_issue/
Is Killing An Apostate in the Islamic Law?, Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/shariah_is_killing_an_apostate_in_the_islamic_law/
Islam and Freedom of Thought, Akbar Ahmed and Lawrence Rosen http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islam_and_freedom_of_thought/
Islam and Pluralism: A Contemporary Approach, Shah Abdul Halim http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islam_and_pluralism_a_contemporary_approach/
Islam and Punishment for Apostasy, Asghar Ali Engineer http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islam_and_punishment_for_apostasy/
Islam and Religious Freedom, Asghar Ali Engineer http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islam_and_religious_freedom/
Moratorium on Death Penalty, Tariq Ramadan http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/moratorium_on_death_penalty/