An emotional Fathima Rifqa Bary—whose personal writings reaveal that she wants to be a modern day prophet–said of her parents:
“My parents are Muslim…I don’t know if you know about honor killing…They have to kill me…Because if they love Allah more than me, they have to do it. It’s in the Quran. And you can, like, give them knowledge about it [gestures to someone off camera, who says something unintelligible].”
It seems that Fathima’s understanding of the Quran comes from whomever she pointed to, whom I can only assume is her pastor (or pastor’s underling more likely). A few more dry runs could have perfected the performance. She just had to memorize a few verses to prove her claim:
13:6 If–your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend, which is as your own soul–entice you secretly, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods,” which you have not known–not you, nor your fathers;
13:7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, near to you, or far off from you, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
13:8 You shall not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall your eye pity him, neither shall you spare, neither shall you conceal him:
13:9 But you must surely kill him; your hand must be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
13:10 And you must stone him with stones, that he die; because he has sought to thrust you away from the LORD your God.
Well, that’s pretty damning evidence right there. That sounds a lot like “honor” killing: “If your brother…or your son or your daughter….entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’…You must kill him…you must stone him with stones, that he die.” Well, if that’s in the Quran, then we better ban all Muslim immigration to America!
But before we call Homeland Security, I hope you don’t mind if I check the Quran to verify if those verses exist.
[Flipping through pages of Quran]
Hmmm, can’t seem to find it.
Oh wait, *smacks forehead*, I remember now where those verses are from. Ahh yes, they are from the Bible (Deuteronomy, 13:6-10). There are of course many other Biblical verses in the same vein, such as 2 Chronicles 15:13 which reads: “All who would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman.”
Maybe it’s not such a good idea to randomly quote someone else’s scripture or medieval texts without any context as a proof to demonize a people or to fear monger.
Islamophobes insist that Islam says that apostates must be killed. These ardent critics of the faith are of the view that Islam is for this reason simply incompatible with the Western Judeo-Christian tradition. Their view–which they try to propagate–is that Islam is somehow so inherently different from all other religions that it should be singled out as the one faith that we just absolutely cannot tolerate.
The issue of course is that “Islam” doesn’t “say” anything, since it is not a person. Islam is in fact polyvalent: it has within it different understandings and interpretations of the religion. On this particular issue, Islam itself doesn’t “say” anything. Valerie Hoffman, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Illinois, commented on the issue of apostasy in Islam: “You can’t say Islam says this or Islam says that.” The question of course is “whose Islam” and “which Islam?”
Yes, the majority “classical” and “traditional” opinion codified hundreds of years ago was indeed that apostates from Islam should be killed. However, such views are abundantly present in the Judeo-Christian tradition as well, yet Jews and Christians have over the course of time reanalyzed their canonical texts and come to different understandings today.
Before the Great War, the Ottoman Empire united Muslim lands under one symbolic leadership. (Perhaps an oversimplification but it suffices for our discussion here.) It is interesting to note that the Ottoman government eventually stopped enforcing the punishment for apostasy and finally abolished it altogether in 1844, more than one hundred and sixty years ago:
Punishment for apostasy (in any case, extremely rare) was not in practice enforced in later times and was completely abolished by the [Ottoman] Turks by a decree of the Ottoman government in 1260/1844.
And we read:
The Ottoman Caliphate, the supreme representative of Sunni Islam, formally abolished this penalty…The Shaykh al-Islam, the supreme head of the religious courts and colleges, ratified this major shift in traditional legal doctrine. It was pointed out that there is no verse in the Qur’an that lays down a punishment for apostasy (although chapter 5 verse 54 and chapter 2 verse 217 predict a punishment in the next world). It was also pointed out that the ambiguities in the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) suggest that apostasy is only an offense when combined with the crime of treason…
The debate triggered by the Ottoman reform was continued when al-Azhar University in Cairo, the supreme religious authority in the Arab world, delivered a formal fatwa (religious edict) in 1958, which confirmed the abolition of the classical law in this area.
It should be kept in mind that the Ottomans had embraced change, pushing what came to be known as the Tanzimat reforms, a drive to modernize the Islamic state to be compatible with the contemporary age. They abolished the jizya and dhimmi system; the Hatt-i Humayun of 1856 promised full legal equality for citizens of all religions, and the Nationality Law of 1869 created a common Ottoman citizenship irrespective of religious or ethnic divisions.
The point is that the Islamic state had embraced change and reform of their religious understanding. The debate had begun, but after World War I, the Allies occupied Turkey and Arab lands. They broke up the Ottoman Empire, and carved out mandate states, installing despots into power, something which of course retarded further Muslim intellectual growth.
The modern Muslim world is living with the consequences of these events. Unfortunately, feelings of anti-Westernism have emerged as a backlash to colonialism and subsequent events. Extremists and religious fundamentalists began to define themselves in opposition to the West; the more the West condemned their extreme understandings of Islam, the more “street cred” these fundamentalists garnered. Hey, if the West hates you, and the West is the colonialist, then you must be right! Such was the thought process.
So harsher understandings replaced more tolerant ones, and the punishment for apostates–which had been long abandoned by the Ottoman Empire–was re-instituted in a few Muslim majority countries. As Dr. Tariq Ramadan put it:
The opposition and condemnations by the West supplies, paradoxically, the popular feeling of fidelity to the Islamic teachings; a reasoning that is antithetical, simple and simplistic. The intense opposition of the West is sufficient proof [for them] of the [supposed] authentic Islamic character of the literal application of hudûd (Islamic penal code).
In the context of relationships between countries, we often tend to remember only the conflicts and the wars. We focus on the battles and wars between the Muslim world and the Judeo-Christian West, but on a deeper level, there is another more significant aspect, which is an ideological cultural exchange. Muslims now live in the West; when Western Muslims approach the Islamic texts, they come with a certain background and upbringing which necessarily affects their understanding.
What we have witnessed in the last couple decades is a growing trend of a return back to early reformist understanding of freedom of religion. These reform-minded Muslims have realized that not only is the modern concept of freedom of religion permissible in their religion–and not only is it wholly compatible with the Quran–but rather it is mandated and obligatory in Islam.
A “soft reformation” is taking place in Islam, as mentioned by Dr. Tariq Ramadan and others. The reformists are challenging traditional interpretations and understandings of the religion, and pushing for a repeal of apostasy laws in specific where they exist. The struggle is on, and change cannot and will not happen overnight; the post-colonial mess that the Muslim world finds itself in only retards intellectual growth but the process has begun.
Enter the Islamophobes
Instead of seeking to help the reform-minded Muslims, the Islamophobes have demonized virtually all Muslims, except of course a few self-hating Muslims who simply repeat whatever the Islamophobes want to hear (for which they are rewarded handsomely).
The main argument used by Islamophobes is that Islam as a religion itself advocates the death penalty for apostates, and therefore it is the religion itself–not the interpretation of it–that is the problem, an unusually obtuse and altogether unhelpful assertion. Furthermore, some of them argue, Muslims must abandon their belief in the inerrant nature of the Quran. In other words, the Islamophobes posit that the only possible way for Muslims to become “civilized” is to view the Quran as any other text, deleting what they dislike from it and adding whatever they wish to it–or as Daniel Pipes puts it: to make it “defunct.”
While, certainly, that may seem like a plausible solution to an outsider, the problem is that for the vast majority of Muslims it is quite simply not a possibility; it is anathema to question the Quran’s veracity. Regardless of the arguments back and forth on the issue, the practical reality is that the Muslim masses cannot countenance such a thing; the Islamophobes know this, and that’s why they set up this formula. In other words, they know that the Muslims cannot do this and therefore it has become for the Islamophobes the “only possible solution” to the problem.
Yet, it is hardly the case that the Muslims can only take one possible route to modernization. Reform-minded Muslims believe that a change in the texts is not required, but only a change in the understanding and interpretation of said texts.
The Quran is an open text, because it generally refrains from specifics. In fact, names are almost never used in it, in order that its verses have not only a specific meaning but also a more general import. For example, a verse may have been revealed to placate the Islamic prophet Muhammad during a particularly difficult time in his struggle; so even though the verse will have a specific reason for revelation (to one particular man in one specific situation), it can also be used in a general context: Muslims will use that same verse when they themselves are going through tough times.
Because of this unique structure of the Quranic text, what one gets out of it depends a lot on the reader, who tends to inject into verses his own background and biases, for better or for worse. Having said that, it seems to the author that an unbiased and neutral reading validates the argument of the reform-minded Muslims: nowhere in the Quran does it clearly and definitively say one must kill apostates. In fact, it seems to say the exact opposite.
If Muslims can understand it in that way, why this continual insistence by the Islamophobes that the Muslims “must” abandon their belief in the inerrant nature of the Quran? (Again, it is in order to set up a situation whereby Muslims simply cannot fulfill the requirements to be accepted into society, which is exactly what the Islamophobes desire.)
But enough jibber jabber; the proof is in the pudding.
Ms. Fathima Rifqa Bary was incorrect: unlike the Bible, the Quran does not at all say to kill apostates if they choose to leave Islam. Rather, it says the exact opposite. The Quran declares emphatically:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth is distinct from error!” (Quran, 2:256)
Almost every Muslim knows this verse by heart. It categorically closes the door to religious compulsion, and is used by reform-minded Muslims to promote freedom of religion and the idea that the people have a right to follow whatever religion they so choose. Because “truth is distinct from error,” people should be able to discern it for themselves without having to be forced.
Tafsir al-Jalalayn, a classical Islamic text, says of this verse: “This was revealed concerning the Ansar who tried to compel their sons to enter into Islam.” Some of their children were Jewish, and the parents wished to force them to become Muslims. In Al-Suyuti‘s classical text Asbab al-Nuzul (Reasons for Revelation), it also says that there was a Muslim father by the name of Husayn bin Salim bin Awf who had two daughters both of whom were Christians. After failing to convince them to convert to Islam of their own free will, he went to the Islamic prophet Muhammad and requested permission to compel them into Islam. It was for this that the verse “Let there be no compulsion in religion” was revealed, to forbid parents from forcibly converting their children to Islam.
The relevance to the Fathima Rifqa Bary case cannot be understated: contrary to Fathima’s claim, the Quran forbids religious compulsion in general. The verse in question was specifically revealed for parents in regard to their children of different faiths. Amazingly, the Quranic verse was revealed to forbid a Muslim father from forcing his Christian daughters into Islam. Sound familiar? Sounds a lot like Mr. Bary and his daughter! So how accurate was Fathima’s claim that the Quran commands parents to force their children into Islam or kill them if they refuse?
Ironically, it is the Bible–the same one that Fathima holds–that has verses in it commanding parents to stone their daughters should they worship gods other than the Christian one. Considering that Fathima espouses a hardliner literalistic Christian fundamentalist mentality, we wonder if she would even contextualize the verse like the Christian mainstream does? (This is not about Christianity vs Islam; this is about extremists vs moderates; Fathima and the Global Revolution Church are not representative of mainstream Christianity, at least not any more than Al-Muhajiroon is of the Islamic mainstream!)
Alas, I digress. Back to the Quran, which says:
“And if your Lord had pleased, surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force men till they become believers?” (Quran, 10:99)
Reform-minded Muslims use the above verse to argue that forcing people into Islam is wrong because God Himself did not do that. They believe that the power to guide and misguide people rests only with God, and nobody can share in that. The next verse is used by reformists to show that Muslims should just worry about what they themselves do, instead of trying to force people into guidance:
“And had God willed, He could have made you all one [religious] community, but He sends astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. But you shall certainly be called to account for what you (yourself) used to do [i.e. not what others used to do].” (Quran, 16:93)
The phrase–“God guides Whom He wills” and that He “misguides Whom He wills”–appears in dozens of Quranic verses. All of these references are commanding believers that they cannot force or will people into the religion, but that only God can do that.
The Quran commands:
“The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe and let him who please disbelieve.” (Quran, 18:29)
And the Quran says:
“Exhort them to believe; your task is only to exhort. You cannot compel them to believe.” (Quran, 88:21-22)
Another verse in the Quran indicates that during the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, there were people who believed and disbelieved–and then believed only to disbelieve once again; in other words, people entered into and out of the religion freely. The Quran says that such people are weak in faith and God will never guide them in this worldly life. The verse reads:
“Those who believe then disbelieve, again believe and again disbelieve, then increase in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them nor guide them to the Way.” (Quran, 4:137)
Reform-minded Muslims use this verse as a proof that there can be no punishment for apostasy. If that had been the case, then those who believe and then disbelieved (i.e. apostates) would have been put to death and therefore no chance would have been given to them to once again believe and disbelieve. Furthermore, the verse says that God will never guide them back to Islam, indicating that the Muslims are to ignore such a person: if God did not guide them to the Way, then why should Muslims?
So there are clear and explicit verses of the Quran that reform-minded Muslims naturally understand to mean that freedom of religion must be extended to all, and that compulsion into Islam is not to be tolerated.
Enter the Hadiths. For those who don’t know, the Hadiths are a body of collection of the prophet Muhammad’s sayings or traditions. In other words, the Quran is considered by Muslims to be the word of God, and the Hadiths are the words of their prophet. Unlike the Quran however, Muslims do not believe that all of the Hadiths are authentic. Rather, many of them are apocryphal and therefore rejected. In other words, if some Islamophobe claims that such-and-such Hadith exists, be aware of the fact that many of them are rejected by Muslims. The Hadiths do not occupy the same rank as the Quran, but are rather a secondary source open to criticism.
In this huge body of collection, we find the Hadith that Islamophobes rely on as their trump card in this debate, which reads as follows: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” At first glance, that seems pretty clear and unambiguous but has the Islamophobe proven his case? Well, let’s take into consideration that the Bible has many seemingly clear and unambiguous verses which call to kill apostates, yet we never assume that Christians today believe this, nor do we insist that Christianity itself demands it.
A Christian–when confronted with those verses in the Bible–would respond by saying something like the following:
“Well, that’s the Old Testament, and Jesus abrogated that part of the law. Back then during Biblical times, the believers were few and there was a real fear that they would be eliminated so punishing apostates was a deterrent. Furthermore, at that time apostasy was akin to high treason.”
And this answer would completely placate the Islamophobes. In other words, verses that seemed unambiguous and clear from a religious book seemed to indicate one thing at face value, but the people who follow that book have a different way of understanding it: they give an explanation that contextualizes the verses.
Let’s be clear here: we’re not trying to bash Christianity at all. What we are saying however is that if we extend the common courtesy to Christians that they can contextualize such verses in the Bible, then why do we not extend the same courtesy to the Muslims when it comes to the Hadiths? Keep in mind also that Muslims believe that their Bible–so to speak–is the Quran and not the Hadiths. In other words, if Christianity’s primary source seems to say that apostates are to be killed, then why do we not accept any explanation from Muslims about their secondary source? (Hint: Islamophobia is the answer!) It is this terrible double standard that bothers Muslims and those who believe in religious tolerance.
So how do reform-minded Muslims contextualize the Hadith in question (i.e. “whoever changes his religion, kill him.”)? First of all, they point out that these are not the words of the Islamic prophet Muhammad to begin with; rather, these are the the words of a man named Ibn Abbas who was paraphrasing the words of the Islamic prophet. The full text of that particular Hadith is as follows:
Some Zanadiqa were brought to Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying: Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire). I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle: Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 9, Book 84, Number 57)
If this was a paraphrase, what were the actual words of the Islamic prophet Muhammad? We find one such Hadith which says:
“The blood of a Muslim, who confesses that there is no God but God and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: (1) In penalty for murder, (2) a married person who commits adultery and (3) the one who reverts from Islam (apostates) and leaves the community.” (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 12, Book ad-Diyat, Number 6878, p.209)
Based on this, reformists say that a person cannot be given capital punishment except for three offenses: (1) murder, (2) adultery, and (3) apostasy combined with “leav[ing] the community.” Such Muslims say that apostasy is not punished except for when it is combined with “leav[ing] the community,” which they say refers to high treason against the Islamic state. What is meant specifically by “leaving the community” is of leaving the community to join the enemy forces. To bolster this claim, reformists point to another similarly narrated Hadith, which reads:
“The blood of a Muslim, who confesses that none has the right to be worshiped but God and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: (1) a married person who commits adultery; he is to be stoned and (2) a man who went out fighting against God and His Messenger; he is to be killed or crucified or exiled from the land and (3) a man who murders another person; he is to be killed on account of it.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 4, Number 4353, p. 126)
In other words, we have the exact same three instances in which a person may be put to death: (1) murder, (2) adultery, and (3) “a man who went out fighting against God and His Messenger.” Reform-minded Muslims reason that since the Islamic prophet restricted capital punishment to three classes of people, the third instance must be referring to the same group. In other words “leav[ing] the community” refers to “a man who went out fighting against God and His Messenger.” Reform-minded Muslims tie these Hadiths to the following Quranic verse:
“The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: this is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.” (Quran, 5:33)
Notice how similar the above verse is to the Hadith mentioned in Sunan Abu Dawud (above). The Hadith mentions the one “who went out fighting against God and His Messenger” whilst the Quran says “those who wage war against God and His Apostle,” and the punishment for such is also the same in both: “killed or crucified or exiled from the land.” Reformists point out that the opinion of the ultraconservative Muslims–that peaceful apostates are to be killed–does not jive with the above, since that would mean that a person is to be killed for other than the three reasons, even though the Islamic prophet limited it to only three reasons, not four.
And even if we say that the Hadiths do not limit capital punishment to only three reasons, argue reformists, the issue is that the two Hadiths (as found in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sunan Abu Dawood) both mention three sins–murder, adultery, and apostasy/waging war. It is abundantly clear then that the third sin (other than murder and adultery) is in reference to the same thing in both narrations, due to the congruency of the two Hadiths–which firmly establishes the linkage so the linking of apostasy to treason is firmly established by the congruency of the two Hadiths. This argument stands alone in itself and is not dependent on limiting capital punishment to three sins.
Reasons for Revelation
At the time that this Hadith was said (i.e. to kill apostates that left the community), the Muslims of the city of Medina were under attack by the Quraish “idolaters” of Mecca (which at that time was predominantly non-Muslim). Many of the Muslims in Medina were emigrants from Mecca, who had converted to Islam. Do you see now why religion and national identity was fused at the hip back then? If you were a Meccan who converted from paganism to Islam, you’d be persecuted or even killed by your former co-religionists. So those who converted to Islam would “leave the community” of Mecca to join Medina.
The Meccans reacted harshly to this new religion of Islam and desired to wipe it off the map. They gathered armies and marched towards the fledgling Islamic city-state. Naturally, since the converts to Islam came from pagan families, such battles between Mecca and Medina would result in brother being pitted against brother, and father against son. Some of the newly converted Muslims naturally felt uncomfortable having to fight their families, and therefore would apostatize to the side of the idolatrous Meccans. Others were simply weak in faith and felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the invaders, so they defected to the pagan army.
More insidiously, there were some in Medina who conspired with the people of Mecca to betray the Muslims in battle. They hatched a plan that they would “convert” to Islam to join the forces of Medina, only to apostatize and abandon the Muslims in the thick of things, in order to destroy the morale of the Muslim army. The Quran says of this:
“A section of the People of the Book say: ‘Believe in the morning what is revealed to those who believe, and reject it at the end of the day, perchance they may themselves turn back.” (Quran, 3:72)
In the classical Tafsir (commentary) entitled Asbab al-Nuzul (Reasons for Revelation) it says of this verse:
…The town of Uraynah conspired with each other, saying: “Pretend to join the religion of Muhammad at the beginning of the day and declare your disbelief in it at the end of the day. Say: ‘We have looked in our Scriptures and consulted our scholars and found that Muhammad is not genuine; it is clear to us now that he is lying and that his religion is false.’ If you do this, his Companions will doubt their religion. They will say: ‘these are people of the Book and they are more knowledgeable than us. They will then abandon their religion and embrace yours.'”
Reformists believe it was in this particular situation that the Hadiths about killing “apostates” who “leave the community” and “wage war against God and His Messenger” were said. “Leaving the community” is a reference to leaving the community of Medina to join the invaders. Therefore, they reason, it was not merely “peaceful apostasy” which is to be punished, but rather high treason, i.e. trying to destroy the Islamic state’s army. It was a specific plot of the unbelievers to convert to Islam in order to mass apostatize and defect to the pagan side to destroy the Muslims.
One can see then how apostasy and defection are linked; back then, there was a pagan army and a Muslim army. If you were pagan, you fought for the pagan army. If you were Muslim, you fought for the Muslim army. If you converted from one to the other, then you’d likely abandon one army and defect to the other. Hence the phrase “the one who reverts from Islam (apostates) and leaves the community.”
Furthermore, the act of assisting in battle the unbelievers against the believers was in itself considered an act of apostasy. This is why reformists believe that back then religious identity was fused with national identity and state loyalty. This is what professor M. Cherif Bassiouni meant when he wrote,
My position on apostasy…[is] that at the time of the Prophet it was not considered as only changing one’s mind but that it was the equivalent of joining the enemy and thus constituting high treason.
Going back to the now famous Hadith (“Whoever changes his religion, kill him”) this was–revealed about the Zanadiqa:
Some Zanadiqa were brought to Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying: Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire). I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle: Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 9, Book 84, Number 57)
The word “Zanadiqa” translates to heretics, and here is referring to a group known as the Saba’iyya. The founder of this group, Ibn Saba, was believed by Muslims to be an enemy of the Islamic state who pretended to convert to Islam in order to instigate civil war and strife. Although his existence is a matter of dispute amongst scholars, his group–the Saba’iyya (Zanadiqa)–did exist. They claimed that the prophet Muhammad’s cousin–a man by the name of Ali ibn Abi Talib–was god incarnate. They instigated revolts against the government and eventually orchestrated the murder of the Caliph (Muslim leader) of the time, a man named Uthman ibn Affan. We read:
Ibn Saba…[whose] activity began during the caliphate of Uthman when he travelled from Hijaz to Syria, stirr[ed] up unrest and rebellion in Egypt, Basrah, and Kufah and incit[ed] to the murder of the caliph by the Egyptian rebels…Ibn Saba was also responsible for the outbreak of fighting between the armies of Ali and Aisha at Basrah. (Shi’ite Heritage: Essays on Classical and Modern Traditions, by Lynda Clarke, pp.9-10)
The Khalif Ali caused the adherents of Abd Allah ibn Saba to be burnt to death…But when Ibn Abbas learned of the occurrence, he said: “I should indeed have put them to death, but certainly not burned them, for the Prophet has forbidden that any one shall be punished by fire, because this is the mode of punishment exclusively to Allah.”
In other words, the Zanadiqa being referred to here were not “peaceful apostates” who simply changed their mind, but rather they were guilty of high treason, causing a civil war, instigating a rebellion in Egypt, and ultimately killing the Caliph. Indeed, they were similar to the group of people who had pretended to convert to Islam in order to apostatize during the thick of things (i.e. in the battle between Medina and Mecca). The bottom line then is that even the Hadith that the Islamophobes rely upon can be used as a proof that only those apostates who wage war against the state are to be killed.
The Traditional Opinion
Yes, it is true that the majority “classical” and traditional opinion of Islamic jurists was that apostasy–even “peaceful apostasy”–should be punished by death. This belief was enshrined into Islamic jurisprudence in the medieval era, and therefore many “classical” Islamic texts do indeed say this. It is for this reason that Alan Kornman of ACT for America–a fervently Islamophobic group–was waving around a copy of Reliance of the Traveler, a fourteenth century manual of Islamic jurisprudence, which does say that apostates should be killed. Is it possible to point out the obvious? The text was written hundreds of years ago in the medieval era. The absurdity of using it as some sort of proof against contemporary Muslims is absurd. Muslims do not consider this book to be religiously binding upon them. The words of the classical scholars are not considered a part of the Islamic canon. Only the Quran and some of the Hadiths are said to have any divine origin.
Contemporary Muslims believe that they are free to agree or disagree with the words of classical scholars. There is no equivalent to the pope in Islam. Yes, they do respect the classical scholars, and do view them as some of the greatest scholars of all time, but that does not mean that they agree with them on all issues. As for “classical texts” like the Reliance of the Traveler, yes many moderate Muslims consider such treatises to be a good source of attaining their Islamic knowledge, but they don’t believe that they must accept every single sentence or dot therein! As the famous Islamic saying goes: they take the good in it, and leave the rest!
Even within the classical Islamic texts, one can find great disagreement therein. For example, there are classical texts which refute some of the views expressed in the Reliance of the Traveler. If that is the case–that Islamic scholars of that time disagreed with some views within that text and others–why shouldn’t contemporary Islamic scholars–and Muslims in general–disagree with some of its views? Is this really so hard to comprehend? I don’t think so.
We understand it perfectly well with classical Christian texts. Let’s look at the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the most influential Christian scholars in history. The Vatican considers him as “the model teacher” for those pursuing priesthood.
The Summa Theologica, a book written by St. Thomas Aquinas, is considered one of the best summaries of Catholic doctrine to this day, and continues to be relied upon. In other words, here we have a text that is certainly more central to the Catholic faith than theReliance of the Traveler is to Muslims. Well, let’s take a look-see into what the Summa Theologica says about apostasy; the first part talks about how Jews are apostates and thus worse than regular disbelievers, and the second part talks about how apostates ought to be compelled by the sword to Christianity:
Question 10: Unbelief in General
… It is written (2 Peter 2:21): “It had been better for them not to have known the way of justice, than after they have known it, to turn back.” Now the heathens have not known the way of justice, whereas heretics and Jews have abandoned it after knowing it in some way. Therefore theirs is the graver sin…He who resists the faith after accepting it, sins more grievously against faith, than he who resists it without having accepted it…[The Jews] accepted the figure of that faith in the Old Law, which they corrupt by their false interpretations, [so] their unbelief is a more grievous sin than that of the heathens, because the latter have not accepted the Gospel faith in any way at all…
Article 8. Whether unbelievers ought to be compelled to the faith?
…I answer that, Among unbelievers there are some who have never received the faith, such as the heathens and the Jews: and these are by no means to be compelled to the faith…On the other hand, there are unbelievers who at some time have accepted the faith, and professed it, such as heretics and all apostates: such should be submitted even to bodily compulsion, that they may fulfil what they have promised, and hold what they, at one time, received…
For, Augustine says “…When a man’s crime [apostasy] is so publicly known, and so hateful to all, that he has no defenders, or none such as might cause a schism, the severity of discipline should not slacken”…Those Jews who have in no way received the faith, ought not by no means to be compelled to the faith: if, however, they have received it, they ought to be compelled to keep it…Christ at first compelled Paul and afterwards taught Him…the rites of other unbelievers, which are neither truthful nor profitable are by no means to be tolerated…
Do we then think it is justified to wave around this seven hundred year old text in the air as a proof that Christians believe that apostates should be killed? Or that “since the Jews are the slaves of the Church, she can dispose of their possessions” and the “the rites of other unbelievers, which are neither truthful nor profitable are by no means to be tolerated?” No sensible person can say so. Rather, Catholics are free to read the book, taking what they like and disagreeing with whatever they dislike.
So why then can’t these people understand the same thing for the Reliance of the Traveler, which says the exact same thing about apostasy as does the Summa Theologica? Muslims use it in a similar manner to learn about traditional Islamic jurisprudence just as Catholics use the Summa Theologica to learn traditional Catholic doctrine, taking the good and leaving the rest. In fact, the Muslim translator of the book, Nuh Keller, did not even translate parts of the book into English which he deemed totally irrelevant to the modern day and age, which shows that Muslims do not consider whatever is in the text as religiously binding. It doesn’t mean that Muslims must abandon the book in its entirety, just as Catholics don’t need to abandon the Summa Theologica altogether.
The Four Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence
A critic of Islam argued back:
Yes there may be moderate Muslims but at this moment in time there is no moderate Islam, as defined by the [four] main schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
First, it is absurd to say that there is no moderate Islam; moderate Islam is what the vast majority of Muslims follow, and how they define it. As for the argument that “all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence demand the death penalty for apostasy,” isn’t this simply restating the obvious? Contemporary Muslims already admit that the traditional and classical opinion of Islamic jurists was that apostates were to be killed (which by the way was also amongst the “traditional and classical opinions” in Judaism and Christianity as well).
Since the four schools of thought were defined and codified hundreds of years ago, doesn’t it already go without saying that the four schools of jurisprudence would take the traditional and classical opinion on the matter? Stated another way: as the four schools were codified hundreds of years ago, is it any surprise that they should follow the old way of looking at the matter as opposed to the new? So what exactly is the critic trying to say? It is simply restating and repackaging the obvious attack in attempt to give an air of authority to it.
His statement also betrays a superficial understanding of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The four schools are not defined by their final rulings or verdicts, but rather based on their methodology (Usul). Within a school itself, all sorts of conflicting opinions can be found, since a school is defined not by a ruling but by the methodology one uses to arrive at such a ruling. In other words, contemporary Muslims can still follow the same methodology and arrive at different conclusions, without betraying the school of thought itself. Many followers of the four schools have done so with regard to the issue of apostasy.
So the fact that a person follows a school of jurisprudence does not at all mean that he must commit himself to one particular ruling. Furthermore, many Muslims do not follow a school of jurisprudence at all, with still others claiming that it is wrong to follow the four schools whatsoever. Bottom line: there are diverse opinions on this matter, and to pigeonhole Muslims into a particular belief is wrong. It is just wrong to speak on behalf of Muslims; let them speak for themselves!
Contemporary Muslims argue that their rejection of an opinion held by the classical scholars does not amount to rejection of the scholars themselves, nor of the schools of thought they founded. Rather, they insist that respectful disagreement is not only permitted but mandated in Islam. Furthermore, the new opinion of contemporary Muslims is simply a reflection of changed circumstances which have allowed Muslims to properly understand the issue. Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq says:
Undeniably, the traditional position of Muslim scholars and jurists has been that apostasy [riddah] is punishable by death. The longstanding problem of the traditional position, as held by Classical jurists or scholars, can be explained and excused as not being able to see apostasy, an issue of pure freedom of faith and conscience, separate from treason against the community or the state. However, the accumulated experience over the history in terms of abuse of this position about apostasy even against Muslims as well as the changed context of a globally-connected, pluralistic society should help us appreciate the contemporary challenges in light of the Qur’anic norms and the Prophetic legacy. In this context, while the classical misunderstanding about this issue of apostasy is excusable, the position of some of the well-known contemporary scholars is not.
Whilst ultraconservative scholars tenaciously cling to medieval opinions, moderate Muslim scholars are increasingly adopting the opinion that absolute freedom of religion is mandated in Islam. Hundreds of Islamic clerics have accepted this view as correct. Representatives from all the major Western Muslim organizations have spoken out against the death penalty for apostates.
Indeed, Islam is witnessing a “soft revolution” nowadays, and a reformation is taking place. It seems almost every other day another major Islamic scholar announces that he has studied the issue and come to the conclusion that there should be no punishment for apostasy.
The conservative Muslims (and in turn the Islamophobes) insist that there is an Ijma (consensus) on the view that apostates are to be killed. This is an Islamic legal term which connotes a sort of authoritativeness to a ruling, almost like a papal decree. However, this is a hotly contested topic, and this article here explains why it is inappropriate to use Ijma as a proof.
Imam al-Shawkani argued:
“The one who claims that ijma constitutes proof is not correct, for such [a claim] constitutes mere conjecture (zann) on the part of an individual from the community of Muslims. No believer can worship God on the basis of this.”
Refuting Robert Spencer’s Drivel
Robert Spencer of JihadWatch argues that Fathima Rifqa Bary was correct for claiming that the Quran mandates death for apostasy. We have already outlined the numerous verses in the Quran that state the contrary. But let us now deal with Spencer’s “proof.” He claims that the following verse is “direct proof” that apostates are to be killed:
“And if any of you turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein.” (Quran, 2:217)
Sorry, Spencer, but I don’t see how that’s “direct proof,” especially in light of the explicit verses in the Quran that I have cited above which clearly and unambiguously forbid compulsion in religion. In fact, contemporary Islamic scholars use this verse (the one Spencer just used) as a proof that there is no worldly punishment for apostasy, only a heavenly one. For example, Dr. Jamal Badawi says:
There is no single verse in the Qur’an that prescribes an earthly punishment for apostasy. Verses about apostasy in the Qur’an speak only about God’s punishment of the apostate in the Hereafter [such as] “…But if any of you should turn away from his/her faith and die as a denier [of the truth] – these it is whose works will bear no fruit in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.” ([Quran] Al-Baqarah 2:217)
…The silence of the Qur’an on any prescribed mandatory capital for apostasy is quite revealing. More revealing is the fact that there is overwhelming evidence in the Qur’an of freedom of conscious, belief, and worship.
Of course, Spencer quotes an Islamic scholar who lived hundreds of years ago as a proof. Sorry, but that’s not a proof to Muslims, nor is it binding. Whilst moderate Muslims respect Imam al-Qurtubi like Catholics respect St. Thomas Aquinas, they don’t believe his words are divine and simply disagree with them. That is in actuality the bulk of Spencer’s argument, since the verse itself is not at all “direct proof” of anything!
Then Spencer uses verse 4:89 as a “proof:”
“If they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever you find them.” (Quran, 4:89)
But he does not quote what comes right before and after it, thereby removing the context of the verse. The Quran says:
“Why should you be divided into two parties about the Hypocrites? …If they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever you find them; Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty of peace, or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If God had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: Therefore if they withdraw from you and fight you not, and instead send you guarantees of peace, then God Has opened no way for you to war against them…Therefore if they do not withdraw from you, and do not offer you peace and restrain their hands, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them; and against these We have given you a clear authority (to war against).” (Quran, 4:89-91)
This verse is talking about a group of apostates who are pretending to be Muslims (and are thus Hypocrites), so that they can turn renegade during war and destroy the Muslim army from the inside. In actuality, this verse shows the mercy of Islam, in the sense that the Islamic prophet was forbidden to make war against these people until they picked up arms against the Muslims; if, however, they did not pick up arms and instead sent guarantees of peace, then Muslims were forbidden from fighting them. This verse can be used as a proof for the reformist position, namely that peaceful apostates cannot be killed, but those who wage war against the Islamic state (i.e. high treason) should be.
Spencer quotes Tafsir al-Jalalayn as a proof, yet doesn’t realize that the text itself negates his view. Tafsir al-Jalalayn says of the very next verse (4:90):
[Those who come to you] refraining from fighting either you or them, then do not interfere with them, neither taking them as captives nor slaying them…If they stay away from you and do not fight you, and offer you peace, reconciliation, that is, [if] they submit, then God does not allow you any way against them, [He does not allow you] a means to take them captive or to slay them.
Christianity was militarized after Jesus died, by latter day thinkers. A similar thing happened with Islam. The Quranic text prohibits military aggression, allowing war only in self-defense; it also gives absolute freedom of religion. Latter day thinkers within Islam had such a hard time dealing with these issues that they simply decided to “abrogate” the peaceful and tolerant verses in order to make Islam “more compatible” with the warlike times. For example, the author of Tafsir al-Jalalayn had such a hard time reconciling verse 4:90 with the view–that apostates are to be killed–that he rationalized that: “this statement and what follows was abrogated.”
This has importance here: Spencer uses the verse (4:90) as a proof that apostasy is mandated in the Quran, yet the classical scholar he quoted as a proof was so “frustrated” by this same verse–since it seemed to imply freedom of religion–that he was forced to abrogate it. In other words, even those Muslim scholars who believe that apostates are to be killed had to get rid of this Quranic verse in order to make their claim, so how can Spencer now use the verse as a proof?
For those of you who don’t know what abrogation means, it means that a verse was rescinded and basically no longer counts. Translation: the verse still appears in the Quran but it has no legal import to it. Contemporary moderate Muslim scholars reject such a haphazard abrogation of Quranic verses. For example, a Muslim cleric by the name of Shabir Ally says:
[Question:] Now this idea of abrogation altogether seems odd. You have a book–you say it’s from God–and you say ‘well, He didn’t really mean this.’ How does one justify this?
[Answer:] Well, Imam al-Tabari is in a way the father of tafsirs. And his tafsir is the monumental one that came to be used widely in later tafsirs…and he said very clearly that if a verse is to be agrogated, you have to have some definitive information from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself which says that this verse is abrogated, otherwise how would you know if a certain verse is abrogated? You shouldn’t claim that a verse is abrogated without this type of definitive information.
Dr. Jamal Badawi says:
While some scholars have claimed that hundreds of verses of the Qur’an were abrogated, the majority of scholars reject that claim.
Interestingly, the ultraconservative Muslim scholars are inconsistent in their own understanding of the Quran. For example, the ultraconservative Saudi scholar Ibn Baz affirmed the idea that abrogation is to be used only as a last resort when understanding two seemingly “contradictory” verses of the Quran; Ibn Baz stated:
Whenever it is possible to show agreement or reconciliation between various narrations, in a manner which is suitable, without stretching their meanings, it becomes obligatory to do so. Making Reconciliation (al-Jam) between the texts takes precedence over the other two methods of resolving apparent contradiction between proofs–the two other methods being Outweighing (al-Tarjih) and Abrogation (al-Naskh). This is what has been agreed upon in the Science of Usul al-Fiqh.
The above might be very confusing to the layperson, so to summarize: he is basically saying that when two texts seem to contradict each other, then one should first try to reconcile them (al-Jam) before one claims that one is abrogated by the other (al-Naskh). In other words, when we have one text saying “Let there be no compulsion in religion” and another saying “Whoever changes his religion, kill him,” there seems to be an apparent contradiction between the two. One way to resolve these two texts would be to say that the latter abrogated the former (and this is the argument of Bin Baz and other ultraconservative scholars). Ibn Baz is quoted by an ultraconservative Saudi website as saying:
[Question:] Some friends say that whoever does not enter Islam, that is his choice and he should not be forced to become Muslim, quoting as evidence the verses in which Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning)…“There is no compulsion in religion” [al-Baqarah 2:256] What is your opinion concerning that?
[Answer:] …Ayat al-Sayf (the verse of the sword)…and similar verses abrogate the verses which say that there is no compulsion to become Muslim.
Oddly however Bin Baz does not follow his own rule that Reconciliation of texts takes precedence over Abrogation! Reform-minded Muslims reconcile the texts by simply contextualizing the second narration, which indicates that peaceful apostates are not to be killed but those apostates who “wage war” (i.e. high treason) are.
The way in which Ibn Baz, other ultraconservatives, and some classical scholars abrogated the peaceful verses without direct proof of that must be rejected, argue reform-minded Muslims. As Ibn Al-Hassar, a classical Islamic scholar himself, stated:
It is not acceptable, in the matter of Abrogation, to accept statements of the interpreters of the Quran, not even the ijtihad (reasoning) of those engaging in ijtihad without authentic reports or clear evidence…What is acceptable in that matter is the [explicit] narration [of the Prophet] and history [Sunna/Sira] not opinion or ijtihad.
Therefore, reform-minded Muslims reject any classical or contemporary scholar’s opinion that such-and-such verse was abrogated, unless the claimant brings unequivocal proof of that, such as a direct statement from the Islamic prophet to that effect. But in the absence of that, such arguments are rejected; otherwise, every single verse in the Quran could be abrogated by mere desire! Therefore, when Islamophobes try to build their whole case on Tafsirs (commentaries) written hundreds of years ago, be extremely wary! A Tafsir is not a proof in and of itself; it is simply one man’s interpretation of the Quran open to criticism.
Reform-minded Muslim scholars argue that their understanding of the Quran’s view on this matter is more accurate and truer to the text, since they take into consideration all of the verses instead of simply doing away with whatever verses they cannot reconcile to their preconceived view. Meanwhile, the ultraconservatives are forced to abrogate verses of the Quran without any proof for that, such as the verse that forbids compulsion in religion. Certainly, it is unacceptable to just abrogate verses that one does not agree with!
In other words, neither the ultraconservative Muslims nor the Islamophobes can make their case, i.e. that the Quran says to kill apostates, without having to get rid of certain Quranic verses, those that are abundantly clear that religious compulsion is forbidden. This in actuality shows the strength of the reformist view, namely that if one looks at the Quran as a whole, it mandates religious freedom.
Hypocrites Worse than Disbelievers
In the Quran, it is clear that the worst of mankind are the Hypocrites, a group of people who pretended to be Muslims but were really disbelievers in their hearts. They were a group that sought to destroy Islam from the inside. Reformists point out that forcing people into Islam–be they disbelievers or apostates–would create a legion of Hypocrites within the ranks of the Muslims, something far more dangerous than people simply peacefully following whatever religion they want. Dr. Jamal Badawi argues:
The fear of such assumed [capital] punishment [for apostasy] may lead many to hypocrisy; by pretending to remain Muslims just to save their lives. In the final analysis, hypocrisy is a greater danger to the community than apostasy in itself. Hypocrites may implode the Muslim community from within.
Reform-minded Muslims also point out the fact that there was a Bedouin who apostatized in the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad, leaving the Islamic city-state of Medina; he abandoned both his religious and national identity (as the two were fused back then). Instead of punishing the man, the prophet Muhammad simply replied by saying: “Medina is like a pair of bellows (i.e. a furnace): it expels its impurities and brightens and clears its good.” (Sahih al-Bukhari,Vol.9, No.316, pp.241) Reformists use this narration as a proof that someone leaving the religion is–in a way–a good thing: it purifies the religion from those weak in faith who could become Hypocrites. Is it not better to have a few strong believers rather than many weak Hypocrites?
Dr. Jamal Badawi notes that this incident involving the Bedouin took place after the Islamic city-state of Medina was up and running, so the Islamophobes cannot claim that this was before some mass abrogation of verses:
This incident took place in Madinah when Muslims were living in an independent Islamic “state,” where the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had full authority to implement Shari`ah law.
If indeed the “revealed” prescribed punishment for apostasy is death, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would have been the first to carry out the punishment. In fact, he did not even prescribe any punishment at all against that Bedouin, nor did he send any one to arrest him as an “apostate,” imprison, or ask him to recant or even reconsider his decision as later jurists prescribed. Nor is there any solid ground to claim that this and other similar hadiths were “abrogated.” In fact, these Hadiths are in conformity with the Qur’an and consistent with its central value of freedom of conscious and rejection of any compulsion in matters of faith (Al-Baqarah 2:256).
Some conservative Muslims argue that the death penalty for apostasy makes “perfect sense,” since “people choose to enter Islam knowing that it is a lifetime decision punishable by death” and therefore “it serves to ensure that their intention is strong” and “dissuades those weak in faith from entering it.”
Reform-minded Muslims argue that this argument is weak from many angles. It is negated by the fact that the conservative Muslims do not differentiate in this matter between converts to Islam and those born into the religion: in fact, some of the classical scholars opined that born Muslims who apostatize (murtad fitri) are more liable to punishment than those who had converted to Islam (murtad milli). The question reform-minded Muslims ask is: does a born Muslim get the chance to enter the religion knowing that he will be killed if he ever leaves it? The answer is of course no; one simply grows up following the religion of one’s parents; therefore, the justification that “apostates knew what they were getting into” falls flat on its face.
Reform-minded Muslims also say that it is quite simply common sense that people change their minds. This is quite obvious: one day a person thinks Islam is the religion for him, but maybe ten years down the line he doesn’t.
Additionally, reform-minded Muslims argue that killing an apostate robs him of the chance to repent later in life. There are for example many youth who leave religion only to come back to it in their elderly years when they become fearful of death and what follows that. A person who apostates today could become Islam’s best follower some day in the future.
Lastly, reform-minded Muslims point out that the Quranic principle is that God has granted humans free will: they have the right to accept Islam or reject it. Nobody can force them to do so. Why would God command Muslims to force people into Islam when it is He Himself Who gave people the ability to leave the religion?
An Important Clarification
Even if Fathima’s parents held the “traditional view,” this does not mean that they were going to kill her. In fact, the traditional view–as espoused by the classical scholars and now championed by the ultraconservatives–has always been that corporal punishments–such as killing of apostates–must be done by the government and not individuals.
Vigilante justice has always been strictly forbidden, and in fact severely punished. The second Caliph of Islam was in fact killed, and his son ended up killing the murderer, vigilante style. Even though his case seemed just, the Muslim authorities punished him for murder, due to it being vigilante justice outside the court system.
We can read this from ultraconservative Islamic websites themselves, which quote classical scholars; for example, the Saudi based Islam-QA strictly forbids “honor killing” on the grounds that it is vigilante justice:
There is no dispute among the scholars that qisaas (retaliatory punishments) such as execution cannot be carried out except by those in authority who are obliged to carry out the qisaas and carry out hadd punishments etc, because Allaah has addressed the command regarding qisaas to all the Muslims, and it is not possible for all the Muslims to get together to carry out the qisaas, which is why they appointed a leader who may represent them in carrying out the qisaas and hadd punishments.
Tafseer al-Qurtubi, 2/245, 246.
No one should carry out the hadd punishments without the permission of the ruler. If there is no ruler who rules according to sharee’ah then it is not permissible for the ordinary people to carry out the hadd [corporal] punishments. Whoever does that is sinning, because carrying out the hadd punishments requires examining the matter and requires shar’i knowledge in order to know the conditions of proof.
The ordinary people have no knowledge of such things, and the carrying out of one of the hadd punishments by the ordinary people leads to many evils and the loss of security, whereby people will attack one another and kill one another or chop off one another’s hands on the grounds that they are carrying out hadd punishments.
And that’s the opposite of a reformist site. So even they don’t advocate honor killings or vigilante justice. The point here is not to justify the ultraconservative view. Rather, it is simply to show that this entire thing has been a hyped up situation used to demonize Islam and Muslims in general. Most Western Muslims don’t believe in killing apostates, and even the small fraction that do don’t believe it can be done in the West.
The Quran does not at all say to kill apostates. As for the Hadiths, yes there are some texts which could be interpreted as such, but reform-minded Muslims believe that if you properly contextualize them, this is not the case. Furthermore, they believe that if a Hadith contradicts a basic tenet of the Quran, it is to be rejected; in other words, the Quran takes precedence over all other texts.
As for a parent forcing a child to convert to Islam, an explicit verse in the Quran rejects this practice, which was specifically revealed for a Muslim father who was trying to force his Christian daughters to accept Islam, a remarkably similar situation to what we see in the Fathima Rifqa Bary case today.
What seems apparent is that Fathima’s parents never threatened to kill her; rather, she was brainwashed by some Christian extremists (who by the way look down on the Christian mainstream) into thinking that Islam itself–and the Quran in particular–mandates death for apostates. Notice in her emotional interview that she clearly was of the view that: the Quran mandates it, ergo religious Muslims believe in it. This logic is faulty and problematic.
The Islamophobes have jumped on this opportunity to spread fear and hate, insisting that Islam is intrinsically culpable, a pagan and heathen religion incompatible with those who love Christ.
Yes, a legitimate criticism is that it is unfortunate that there are Muslims–even some big time scholars who are not ultraconservatives–hold onto this view. This is in fact a self-criticism that the reform-minded Muslims themselves engage in, and if the critics limited their input to this, there would have been no problem. But the Islamophobes wanted to impugn Islam as a whole, and the Muslims in generality.
The issue of apostasy is at “the heart of a burning debate among modern Muslims,” explained Sherman Jackson, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Michigan. It is a time of reassessment, flux, and hopefully change. But to reduce that all down to “Muslims (or Islam) say that apostates are to be killed” is preposterous. Muslims are undergoing a soft reformation, led by Western Muslims. But it will take time, just like Europe did not reform overnight.
Even if there happens to be a case of Muslim parents killing their children for changing religions, this shouldn’t be used as an example of what Islam advocates, or what Muslims in general think. Such demonization is altogether unhelpful and only helps to strengthen a binary worldview. If indeed such a case takes place (and they do from time to time), then the fault lies with the murderers, not Islam and not the Muslims in generality. Certainly we shouldn’t encourage extremists and xenophobes who seek to co-opt such tragedies for their own nefarious agendas of fear mongering and singling out of Muslims, who are already one of the most maligned minority groups in the West.