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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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  • Sorry about causing you to “impose a moratorium on my vow”. As I said, since I regained the use of my computer (after having lost it for about a week), I have not attempted to keep up with all of the comments on all of the articles; so I must have missed your promise not to comment. I hereby make a “promise” not to bother you again – unless or until you decide to start commenting again.

  • Believing Atheist

    @Stephen Parker,

    I promised not to comment on this site anymore, but you just couldn’t resist responding to me, huh Stephen? Since you mentioned my name I guess I’ll have to impose a moratorium on my vow to rebuke your claims against me.

    So first no it doesn’t seem like a disconnect to me because, due to western pressure most Muslim-majority countries gradually abolished death to apostate laws, and created secular states or enacted secular laws, to prove this point let me quote an article:

    “With the exception of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the modern states in the Middle East are not founded on Islamic law. They owe their existence to a combination of European colonial policies and secular Arab nationalist ideology. The majority have a written constitution and are organized around the non-Islamic principle of division of power among distinct agencies.”

    So except for two countries in the Middle East are secular nations, not Islamic ones hence it would be wrong to describe them as Muslim countries or Islamic countries. The right term is Muslim-majority nations. The same is relatively true for all the other Muslim majority nations give or take a few.

    However another form of death remains for an apostate i.e., civil death. I quote from the same source: “While of great scholarly interest, discussions about the death penalty against apostates have no practical immediacy since in most Muslim countries today it is no longer in use. What remains very much in force, meanwhile, is civil death, yet there is curiously little interest in discussing this form of punishment.”

    You read liberal Muslim sites and Loonwatch is not a Muslim site but a secular site. Llisha said so herself here: (It’s in the comments I believe tell me if I am wrong).

    For instance, American Muslim is pro-gay rights, Loonwatch as I said before is secular and Imam Feisul Abdul Rauf is a very liberal Muslim (a Sufi in fact I believe) who collaborates with Karen Armstrong.

    Then you say: At least Garibaldi listed several of the ‘scholars’ who advocate the ‘no punishment’ view

    Wow! Listing six scholars or something like that is representative of the entire Muslim theological/intellectual community. Again let’s look at what classical Islamic law says, I again quote:

    Historically under classical Islamic law Muslims were required to wage war, fight and kill apostates and there is a good analysis of this in the book “Understanding Islamic law: from classical to contemporary
    By Hisham M. Ramadan” See p. 71 of the book

    That is why one again Stephen

    Hanafis claim that if an apostate does not repent and return to Islam he/she is to be put to death.

    Malikis claim that if an apostate remains obdurate and do not repent they should be put to death.

    The Shaf’is believe that an apostate should be granted three days to reconsider and if he/she refuses to revert to Islam he/she must be put to death.

    And The Hanbalis must either be given three days to reconsider or return to Islam immediately if they refuse either order, apostates should be put to death.

    Then you say: “Again, though, I doubt there’s any way to find out what the opinion of the majority really is. It should be enough to point out that there are an awful lot of scholars who decry punishment for apostates based on the Qur’an itself.”

    That’s similar to what I said on this very thread with my last comment. I quote: “However in the light of modernity many Muslim thinkers have reassessed the concept of apostasy and the death penalty in Islam and have written books declaring that such a concept is invalid. One notable example is
    Punishment of Apostasy in Islam
    By S. A. Rahman”

    Your response to me seems like you didn’t read in logical progression my comments on this thread and is purely a strawman fallacy. Basically your conclusion and my conclusion are one and the same.

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