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Message to Iran: Free Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani


Youcef Nadarkhani should be released from Iranian jail immediately. In fact, he should have never been jailed in the first place.

Nadarkhani faces possible execution in Iran for the “crime” of apostasy and Christian evangelism. In the face of mounting international pressure, the Iranian regime has said Nadarkhani was actually charged with more serious crimes unrelated to religion, but barring new evidence to the contrary, this appears to be a face-saving lie.

The regime in the so-called “Islamic” Republic of Iran urgently needs to reread the Qur’an, including Chapter 109, Surat Al-Kafirun -The Disbelievers, and (among others) verses 2:62, 5:69, and 2:256:

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. (Qur’an 2:256)

Further reading should also include the excellent, in-depth article by Danios regarding apostasy in Islam: Fathima Bary Needs to Read Her Bible; Final Word on Islam and Apostasy.

No matter what excuses are offered by Iranian authorities, the persecution of religious minorities is un-Islamic and just plain wrong.

Pastor Nadarkhani, Islam and Punishment for Apostasy

by Harris Zafar, The Huffington Post

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is currently on death row in Iran for the “crime” of converting to Christianity from Islam. The charges of his initial arrest in 2009 were for protesting, which were later changed to apostasy and evangelism. In Sept. 2010, an Iranian court verbally delivered a death sentence, which was then delivered in writing a month later by the 1st Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal. After submitting an appeal to the Supreme Court the very next month, the third chamber of the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence in June 2011 and the execution orders were given in Feb. 2012, which can be implemented at any time. Throughout the process, he was told his life would be spared if he recanted his belief in Christianity, which he refused to do.

This verdict clearly violates numerous human rights, which is why President Obama, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Amnesty International and the American Center for Law and Justice have all condemned this conviction and called for Nadarkhani’s release.

As a Muslim, however, I find this verdict’s religious violations equally troublesome. Far too many people — Muslim and non-Muslim — mistakenly believe Islam prohibits freedom of conscience and religion by prescribing punishments for matters like apostasy and blasphemy, whereas Islam’s Holy Scripture and Prophet do not support such punishments.

If Islam prescribed any earthly punishment for leaving the faith, it would mean that it compels one to be Muslim against their will. But chapter two of the Quran — Islam’s Holy Scripture –rejects this notion, stating, “there shall be no compulsion in religion.”

There are at least 10 direct verses in the Quran about those who leave Islam, none of which sanction death in response. Exemplifying the Quran’s principles, the Prophet Muhammad never ordered any person to be killed for apostasy. In his peace treaty with Meccans, he agreed that any Muslim recanting their faith would be allowed to return to Mecca unharmed. Muhammad’s acceptance of this condition demonstrates that no such punishment exists for apostasy, as he would never accept anything that went against the Shariah.

Yet some within the Muslim world argue these verses only apply to non-Muslims, whereas Muslims can be compelled in matters of religion. They cite examples during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad when Ibn Khatal, Musailmah and Maqees bin Sababah were put to death. These were not religious punishments for apostasy, however. They were political punishments for murders each individual had committed.

Death for apostasy had its birth several decades after the demise of Prophet Muhammad — in an age when use of force for spreading influence and ideology was common around the world. The Ummayyad dynasty (661-750) — the political rulers of the Muslim empire — were regarded as secular kings and did not have the religious position of the previous pious caliphs. To guard the Sharia, the kings appointed clergy to positions much like the clergy after Constantine’s conversion. Respected for their religious knowledge, their support was pursued to legitimize unpopular political regimes.

Political and social rebellions then became justified in religious expressions, and dynastic power struggles developed significant disagreements in religious doctrine. Thus began politically motivated punishments (including executions and crucifixions) aimed at abolishing any forms of objection.

While this view finds no credibility from Prophet Muhammad’s example, it has admittedly become more prevalent in the last century. For example, Abul Ala Maududi, influential cleric and founder of the Pakistani political party Jamaat Islami, advocated this erroneous view beginning in the 1930s. He wrote, “in our domain we neither allow any Muslim to change his religion nor allow any other religion to propagate its faith.”

Many believe Maududi’s view was reactionary and in response to the growing influence of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad — who claimed to be the second coming Jesus and Messiah for all people to remove misconceptions in religion, unite everyone under the banner of true Islam, and bring mankind back to God. Half a century before Maududi, Ahmad condemned any punishment for blasphemy or apostasy and any violence to spread faith. He wrote, “Religion is worth the name only so long as it is in consonance with reason. If it fails to satisfy that requisite, if it has to make up for its discomfiture in argument by handling the sword, it needs no other argument for its falsification. The sword it wields cuts its own throat before reaching others.”

Sadly, apostasy and other “crimes” like blasphemy are punishable offences in some Muslim-majority countries today, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, etc. In these countries, apostasy and blasphemy are not only leveled against non-Muslims but even people the country deems to be the wrong type of Muslims.

The good news, however, is that though certain regimes apply extremist penal codes under the guise of Islam, the majority of Muslims recognize that Islam condemns religious compulsion. For example, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community — Muslims who believe in that Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian — has advocated this position for over a century. In this continuing war of ideas, true success is through peace and logic — never violence.

Any attempt to compel Pastor Nadarkhani to recant his Christian faith is barbaric and against the teachings of the Quran. The government leaders in Iran who have sentenced Pastor Nadarkhani to death, do so of their own accord. Quran and Prophet Muhammad, however, are clear — Pastor Nadarkhani must be set free.

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  • NurAlia

    @beliving athiest…

    When a person needs rescue, say from drowning, we dont analyse how and why he is in the water, who put him there, or why he cant save himself. If we can help, we do so, if we cant, we move out of the way and let those who can do so.

    Perhaps my way of thinking is to ‘beneath you’ to understand. Perhaps I cant pull articles and ancedotes out of my hat to justify my point of view…but I am willing to bet…in an emergiency situation, the victim would rather have a person like me, acting on saving a life, rather than analysing while the victim screams to be helped.

    It doesnt matter of the man was Christian all his life, or changed his damned what…irrelvent to what is needed TODAY. What we need is an action plan, and there are many…many people out there…including Muslims like me, who are acting on this man’s behalf in a NON POLITICAL, and non blaming way to help him out of this mess.

    In other words beliving athiest…WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT IS WRONG…and by our actions, we (that is the Muslims I know) are seeking to change the situtation…one victim at a time.

    I, and the women I know are not out to defeat terrorists. We arent going to change what is taught in Saudi Arabia. We arent out to change regimes. We not only dont want Iran to have bombs, but we dont want anyone to have them. That is NOT OUR PURPOSE. We are fighting to stop one man from becoming the victim of a misguided intepretation of Islam…that is it.

    Now, if you cant help, or dont want to…move the hell out of the way.

  • Hakeem

    While I understand the rationale behind the article and understand the advocacy, I am not sure how many takers you’re going to get by having only the Ahmadiyya view on this. As is the case, this particular group has had its own problems and is viewed as outside the fold of Islam in many places.

  • Isa

    “No matter what excuses are offered by Iranian authorities, the persecution of religious minorities is un-Islamic and just plain wrong.”

    Amen. But we all know it’s just “taqiyya” speaking. 🙂

  • “If these so call Muslims actually read the Koran they would not do some the things they do.”

    Correct! Which is of course one of the many reasons the extremist groups try to ensure that no actual understanding of Islam is ever transmitted to their followers or people under their control. Instead it is just rote learning with no real meaning to keep the masses under their thumb.

  • Rocky;

    You’ve been coming here for, what, a year now, saying the same old crap time and time again. Please bring proof for your claims that people here have defended ‘Islamists’ (whatever they are) or just don’t bother posting any more. Deal? You’re dull lad, an embodiment of the old Goebbels concept of ‘a lie repeated often enough becomes truth’. Sorry, that doesn’t work here.

    As usual, no reply expected.

  • Believing Atheist

    @Sabhanak Yarabi

    Thanks SY. I really appreciate your kind words. Nur wants me to help, but why? It’s futile. We cannot solve this problem that has presented itself in the ME as long as what political scientist Francis Fukuyama said is the reality. He said:

    “Of all contemporary cultural systems, the Islamic world has the fewest democracies (Turkey alone qualifies), (My Note: This no longer is true, but it is still true that the Islamic world has the fewest democracies unless someone can correct this statement of his) and contains no countries that have made the transition to developed nation status in the manner of South Korea or Singapore.”

    Keep in mind that he said this is 2001 and it still holds true for the most part.

    It’s upto the Muslims themselves to change their societies for the better not us. When we do it, it is a disaster, just look at Iraq. I used to believe in humanitarian intervention now I am a non-interventionist, Ron Paul style.

    We have our own problems and business to attend to and fix, it’s not upto us to go around and demand other people enact liberal laws, or police the world. Iran is a sovereign nation that has its own internal laws.

  • crow

    To rocky retard all Muslims are “Islamists” and in his shriveled little brain are evil. Rocky thinks a ‘Christian” looks down on all other religions ad “false” oh he might claim he “loves” the Jews, but that’s just lip service.

  • @Rocky Lore

    Loon Watch defends Muslims against anti Muslim bigotry. It does not defend extremist Muslims out to impose their will on the rest of the world. Please Show us where Loon Watch defended an individual Muslim who rightfully deserved condemnation. Please show us that.

  • Rocky Lore

    It’s about time LoonWatch defended a Christian and not an Islamist.

  • MrIslamAnswersBack

    I read that this Pastor was never even Muslim. He was always a christian, so Iran changed the charge that he must revert back to the religion of his ancestors then.Which has no basis in Islam either.

  • Pamela

    If these so call Muslims actually read the Koran they would not do some the things they do.

  • Sabhanak Yarabi

    Well said B/A.

  • Believing Atheist


    All I asked llisha was for the sake of consistency to bring the Kashgari Scandal to light and speak up against it, by covering it as she covered the story of this pastor.

    Now you requested that I help you. I can’t help you Nur, unless Muslim majority countries institute concepts similiar to the Bill of Rights or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights within their specific regimes.

    Otherwise as Hussein Ibish said: “Nobody can force the Saudi state to behave in a reasonable manner if it doesn’t want to.” That applies to every country.

    Unless these nations fix their societies and stop making thought crime a crime as in both of these instances, there is not much I can do but perhaps petition human rights orgs to put pressure on Iran or Saudi Arabia or other human rights violators.

    But this is not getting at the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is that all of the societies in the ME with the exception of three countries (although I hesitate to count Turkey as part of the ME and there is still doubts on Lebanon)have failed to establish secular, liberal democracies. Unless that is done, you will never solve the problem.

  • Saladin

    Hey LoonWatch post this Glen Greenwald article

    Washington’s high-powered terrorist supporters

  • NurAlia

    @beliving athiest…

    We do not need an analytical explanation to say that something is wrong. Religious oppression of another is always wrong, no matter the victim, where he lives, or what religion he is or not.

    We do not make these things political, or over analyse to the point where the main focus is lost. In fact, those are enemys of the core objective, to see that this Christian man is set free, and ALL people oppressed because of thier religous convictions are allowed to practice freely where ever the live.

    This is not ‘scientific’, this is humanity. There is no need to over analyse this, or any oppression. Make it simple…what is happening to this man is WRONG, and he needs people on his side to speak for him in simple, humanitarian language.

    Please help us…dont make this complicated.

    I think Loonwatch for bringing this story to the forefont. I have tried and failed to bring it to light here…but we are a group that are doing whatever we can…peacefully, and non politically to help him out of this mess. We are not out to overturn the regime…we are out to seek the freedom of one oppressed person at a time.

  • @Omar

    I’d be afraid to live in any society where a person could be punished by the state for changing his religion. I hope the laws change in Jordan as well a Iran. I also really hope that the Christian fanatics here in America are never able to strip us of our religious freedom.

  • @Ilisha

    This is really upseting. I hope Nadarkhani is able to make it out a alive and is released unscathed.

  • Lawrence of America

    Totally agreed, this is ridiculous. Why are those who tout themselves as the must religous aka fear God the most so precoccupied with defending God?
    It makes me think they are full of it.

  • Omar

    Sadly here in Jordan also, the harshest penalty is also converting from Islam to any other religion (such as Christianity).

    However Jordan remains to be much liberal and open minded society while retaining good Islamic values unlike Iran.

  • Garibaldi


    That article was published by accident and immediately taken down, I’m surprised you even saw it.

  • In the absence of the Just Imam, al-Mahdi (ATFS), the so-called “Supreme Leader” knows very well that carrying out hudud in a case like this is absolutely impermissible. Then again, it’s never stopped him from violating nearly any other aspect of Shari`ah, so color me unsurprised.

  • So, what happened to the piece about the arson in Belgium you all had posted this morning? It seems to have disappeared…

  • mindy1

    Makes me wonder which Koran these people are reading to think such things-every religion has nuts which pick and choose passages sadly 🙁

  • Believing Atheist


    For the sake of consistency I think you should also speak up against the Kashgari Scandal as Hussein Ibish requests:

    It’s hard to know where to begin in cataloging the outrages associated with the arrest of Hamza Kashgari. The 23-year-old Saudi columnist was recently detained on trumped-up “blasphemy” charges, for which he potentially faces execution.

    First, Saudi extremists took umbrage at some tweets in which he expressed admiration, disapproval and bewilderment at various aspects of the Prophet Mohammed’s legendary life. This outrage was orchestrated by clerics as part of a campaign to increase their power.

    Second, the Saudi state reacted by appeasing the fanatics and ordering Kashgari’s arrest for “blasphemy.” In effect, they confirmed the ability of extremists to dictate the agenda of, if not bully, the government on religious matters.

    Third, Kashgari had already left the country to evade persecution, but was apprehended by Malaysian authorities in Kuala Lumpur, possibly with the assistance of Interpol, and returned to Saudi Arabia. So at least one foreign government and possibly a multilateral policing agency have connived in this travesty.

    Fourth, the Saudi government says it may seek the death penalty for Kashgari. There can be no freedom of conscience or religion where blasphemy is a crime, but the Saudi state has never respected or acknowledged either of those principles. Yet Kashgari hasn’t committed blasphemy. All he did was express complex religious feelings. And it is shocking that a government would consider executing, or even prosecuting, anyone for either of these “crimes.”

    Fifth, while there have been some limited efforts to protest this scandalous injustice and intercede on behalf of Kashgari’s life and liberty, they have thus far been insufficient. Muslim states, governments and individuals have an especial, and urgent, responsibility to categorically oppose this outrage.

    Muslims, including Saudi officials and citizens, are properly vociferous in denouncing Islamophobic misrepresentations of Islam as an inherently violent and intolerant religion. Doctrinally and historically, it is clearly not. However, the reputation of Muslims and Islam is also, and far too often, called into severe disrepute by the conduct of some important Muslim-majority states claiming to act in the name or defense of Islam.

    The persecution of Kashgari, not by cynical Saudi clerics weeping hysterically on YouTube, but by the state itself, is another disturbing reflection of this phenomenon. One cannot claim to be tolerant or opposed to violence while considering beheading someone for expressing mild religious doubts about a figure who, in his own lifetime, reportedly insisted on his own status as a fallible human being.

    The government of Saudi Arabia doesn’t represent the norm or authority for the Muslims of the world. But it is a large and influential Muslim state and is claiming to act on behalf of Islam in this ugly affair.

    Silence implies consent. If Muslims don’t want their religion to be misrepresented by such actions, they must openly and loudly repudiate them. And, if there is any virtue or truth in religion, it hardly needs enforcement on pain of death.

    The good news is that because he is a relatively prominent Saudi citizen, and the case has become a minor international cause célèbre, Kashgari is unlikely to be executed. The pattern in such cases suggests that if he shows “repentance” or there is an international outcry, or both, Kashgari’s sentence may initially be harsh but will almost certainly be commuted.

    The most likely outcome is that Kashgari will end up sometime in the next few years permanently relocated to another country. Kashgari is lucky that he’s not from a remote village or irrelevant family or, worse, a migrant worker. In that case he might really need to start contemplating bearing his neck to the sword.

    This scandal is indicative of a broader growth of intolerance in Saudi social and religious rhetoric of late, which also comes in the context of Shia unrest in the Eastern Governorate of Qatif. Extremist clerics have been upping the ante at every stage over the past few months, and clearly believe that they have just won an important victory. They are now demanding the cancellation of cultural and book festivals. At public events, their thuggish, unauthorized and un-uniformed street forces, known as the “Mohtasbeen,” have been reportedly trying to upstage the official religious orthodoxy beadles, the “Muttaween.”

    While non-Muslims cannot honestly claim that Saudi Arabia represents Islam, Muslims cannot dismiss the kingdom as irrelevant either. Saudi Arabia’s religious and cultural influence, byproducts of its wealth and custodianship of the two most holy Muslim sites, is undeniable. The extremist shift in Saudi social and religious attitudes therefore has troubling implications.

    Nobody can force the Saudi state to behave in a reasonable manner if it doesn’t want to. But all other Muslims can and should make it clear that they strongly disapprove of the persecution of Hamza Kashgari and the mentality that lies behind such actions.

    I ask all Muslims of conscience to say, “Not in our name or the name of our religion or our prophet.”

  • Antwerp

    Thank you for this piece Ilisha! Excellent message. Thank you for noting that most contemp. scholars hold the view that apostasy is not punishable by death and for providing context. At the end of the day I see this as purely political on the part of Iran. Also it is a fact that in most Muslim countries, exception of Iran and Saudi, perhaps Sudan don’t have laws punishing apostasy with death. Still amazes me that the Ottoman Caliphate was way ahead of some of these “modern” states.

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