The recent case of Abdul Rahman raises, once again, serious concerns about the possibility of the modernization and democratization of the Muslim world. To be sure, what does it say about a religion that, in the year 2006, pronounces that a human being must be executed if he changes his faith? Can it be denied that Rahman is still breathing in Italy today not because the Afghan government let him go, but because he escaped from the Islamic world? And what does it say about Islam that the leading clerics in Afghanistan supported Rahman’s execution on a theological basis – and that almost the entire Islamic world was behind them? How, in the context of these realities, can true democracy ever be really built in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world?
To discuss these questions with us today, we have assembled a panel of experts. Our guests today are:
Thomas Haidon, the Chief Legal and Policy Advisor of the Free Muslim Coalition and a member of its Board of Advisors. A commentator on legal issues surrounding counter-terrorism measures and Islamic affairs, he currently serves as an advisor to the New Zealand government and has provided guidance to parliamentary committees on counter-terrorism issues. His works have been published in legal periodicals, newspapers and other media.
Salim Mansur, a Muslim writer and a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario.
Serge Trifkovic, a former BBC commentator and US NEWS and World Report reporter. His last book was The Sword of the Prophet. The sequel, Defeating Jihad, will be published by Regina Orthodox Press in April. Read his commentaries on ChroniclesMagazine.org.
Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of five books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is also an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.
FP: Thomas Haidon, Salim Mansur, Serge Trifkovic and Robert Spencer, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.
Mr. Haidon, let’s begin with you.
I think it would be important to start with this question: As a Muslim yourself, what do you think about the death sentence handed down on Rahman? It is based on the teachings of Islam that you yourself cannot deny and must also follow, correct?
Haidon: On a personal level, the imposition of any criminal or social sanction to punish an individual who has made a decision of conscience to change their religion is morally and legally indefensible from an international legal perspective and, in my view, from a contextualist interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah (which is not necessarily a prevailing Islamic view).
The prosecution of Mr Rahman, and others recently arrested in Afghanistan (not to mention those accused and punished in other Muslim countries), poses a serious challenge to moderate Muslims, to not only condemn this punishment (which also applies, according to Yusuf Qaradawi, to “intellectual apostates as well) but to develop clear and thorough theological arguments showing that the punishment is indefensible, using the Qur’an and Sunnah.
The only positive outcome from the prosecution of Mr. Rahman, is the open visibility of Islamic intolerance exhibited by the Afghan government (including the ambivalent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission), and Muslims throughout the Muslim world who have rabidly called for Rahman’s death. This visibility will hopefully increase Western awareness of the tenets of Islamism and lead to more effective strategies in combating it.
At the outset, I acknowledge, that according to traditional Islamic jurisprudence, as informed by the scholars of the four Sunni madhabs, as well as Shi’ia jurisprudence, affirm that an apostate in Islam, must generally be killed. However, as I hope to explore in this discussion, the Qur’an, the authoritative source of Islamic jurisprudence contradicts the Muslim tradition on this issue (which creates the legal basis for the penalty). The Qur’an prescribes no earthly penalty for the individual who ceases believing in Islam, in fact, many verses appear to affirm the freedom of religion and conscience. The particular hadith, as a reliable source for the punishment, when read with the Qur’an should be explored today.
FP: Serge Trifkovic?
Trifkovic: It may be possible to dispute the Kuranic justification of death for apostasy, but it is not possible to deny that the demand for such punishment is based on incontrovertibly valid Islamic sources, precedents, and methods of deduction.
While in some details Islam is not monolithic and there is no single "correct Islam," the advocates of death for apostasy invoke sources and principles that are independent of any capricious or dubious interpretations of the Kuran or the Hadith.
These core sources have created a moral philosophy and a legal code that erases individual judgment based on natural morality or on the allegiance to any other source of authority but itself. Analogies thus derived stand above reason, conscience, or nature. The lack of any pretense to a moral basis for executing apostates is explicit: there is no "spirit of the law" in Islam, no rationality behind it for human reason to discover. There is no discernment of the consequences of deeds, and revelation and tradition must not be questioned. No other standard of good and evil can be invoked, least of all a notion of "natural" justice.
Islam's denigration of the individual conscience has serious political consequences for societies that derive their concept of authority from the "Prophet.": Any notion of freedom distinct from complete submission is forbidden and sinful. Human imperfection is not subject to improvement in the direction of God. Political progress of the kind that defined America in 1776 is not just impossible, it is irrelevant.
The fruits of Islam's denial of natural morality are as predictable as they are grim, for the Muslims no less than for their victims: both are enslaved, brutalized, and de-humanized. Discrimination against non-co-religionists and women, racism, slavery, anti-Semitism, and cultural imperialism can be found, individually or in various combinations, in other cultures and eras. Islam alone has them all at once, all the time, and divinely sanctioned at that. As Clement Huart pointed out back in 1907,
"Until the newer conceptions, as to what the Koran teaches as to the duty of the believer towards non-believers, have spread further and have more generally leavened the mass of Moslem belief and opinion, it is the older and orthodox standpoint on this question which must be regarded by non-Moslems as representing Mohammedan teaching and as guiding Mohammedan action."
It is not Rahman's would-be executioners who are "distorting" Islam; the reformers are. It breeds a peculiar mindset, the one against which Burke warned when he wrote that "intemperate minds never can be free; their passions forge their fetters."
FP: Salim Mansur?
Mansur: Thank you, Jamie.
Oddly I will be in agreement with just about everyone in this discussion. The reason is simple. Islam and the Qur’an can be practiced and explained, justified or denounced, in whichever way and with whatever understanding an individual or collective approaches it.
The Qur’an describes itself as an inexhaustible ocean from whose bosom men might pull forth a mix of things life-sustaining and life-denying. In this metaphor the Qur’an is as is nature with volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and in their midst you will also find fragile roses. Muslims driven by power-seeking individuals remain wilfully negligent of fragile roses. Abdul Rahman is that rose as was Mansur ibn Hallaj, as was Ali ibn Talib and Husayn ibn Ali, and countless others killed by Muslims on the basis of life-denying reading of the Qur’an.
Islam is now open to global scrutiny as it should be. Religion is a human construct, and any religion as life-denying is worthless. So Muslims have to step forth unapologetically and fearlessly to cast aside the shell in securing the pearl inside the Qur’an. God gives man intelligence and freedom to discern the difference between the shell and the pearl within it. The Qur’an has been used by Muslims in their majority as a legal code to be enforced (hence a shell), rather than as a book of ethics enjoining freedom and responsibility (hence a pearl). The inevitable consequence of this has been Muslims making Islam into a political instrument shaping their life-denying culture -- now fully exposed as in the incidence of Abdul Rahman.
Hopefully the outside world will squeeze Muslims to make them become eventually discerning individuals wanting freedom, as the Qur’an instructs, and cast aside their life-denying reading of the Qur’an for reconciling themselves with the modern world of science and democracy.
FP: The Qur’an instructs Muslims to become discerning individuals wanting freedom? This is news to me. Am I missing something here? To be honest, I have never read any consistent themes in the Qur’an that resemble anything even close to what is in the American Declaration of Independence or in the American Constitution or in anything else that promotes the individual’s right to live his life by his own conscience – and that instructs that it is no one else’s business what beliefs he has and how he lives his life.
Robert Spencer perhaps you can shed some light on the discussion thus far?
Spencer: The responses thus far have been illuminating both for what has been said and what has not been said. Both Muslims have acknowledged that, in Haidon’s words, “according to traditional Islamic jurisprudence, as informed by the scholars of the four Sunni madhahib, as well as Shi’ia jurisprudence, affirm that an apostate in Islam, must generally be killed.” Thus Trifkovic is correct that “it is not Rahman's would-be executioners who are ‘distorting’ Islam; the reformers are.”
This indicates that the moderate Islam which is the object of so much confidence and hope in the West is at this point essentially a chimera, a fantasy. When George Bush, Tony Blair, and other Western leaders refer to a vast majority of law-abiding Muslims in the West, they are assuming that the major portion of Muslims in their countries accepts the principles of the societies in which they live. But if they accept the canons of traditional Islamic jurisprudence -- in other words, if they adhere to what has been mainstream Islam throughout the history of the religion -- they will not only approve of the execution of apostates, but will also accept many other notions that are fundamentally incompatible with core elements of Western pluralism and many Judeo-Christian principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Right now the public discourse is dominated by a dogmatic unreality that not only refuses to confront these unpleasant realities, but stigmatizes and marginalizes those who do so. But the implications of these facts will have to be confronted sooner or later -- particularly as the force of events, in the United States and Western Europe as well as elsewhere around the world, makes it ever more difficult for the prevailing fantasies to be maintained.
Haidon: At the outset, I want to briefly outline why, in my view, and of some scholars, that the death penalty for apostasy should be inapplicable. My objective is not to convince Mr. Trifkovic or Mr. Spencer. Genuine moderate reformers have an obligation to engage in research that helps clarify the edicts of Islam towards moderation. We are not, as Mr. Trifkovic and Mr. Spencer point out of, distorting Islam (although it is recognised both gentlemen are merely restating, not endorsing what many Muslims would argue). I find this particularly offensive however as genuine moderate Muslim reformers are often the subject of fatwa and the rulings of apostasy which result in death.
Some scholars have gone so far as to accuse genuine reformers of being the “worst kind” of apostates (“intellectual apostasy”). I need not cite the countless examples of brave Muslim reformers who have set forth clear arguments in favour of moderation, and have suffered greatly. Having been called an apostate (by some Muslims) myself and threatened, I stand in solidarity with Mr. Rahman, and all others who have been deemed as such.
Over the past month I have articulated to Muslims in several forums and meetings our position (FMC) why the death penalty for the “crime” of apostasy is wrong. I will briefly walk my colleagues through it here (understanding full well that they may take issue with it).
The principle source of usul al fiqh is the Qur’an, the primary source (in theory at least) of sharia’. With respect to religious questions, the Qur’an must be consulted first. In cases where there is no clarity from the Qur’an, other, secondary sources are consulted (ie Sunnah, qiyas). The Qur’an could not be any clearer on the fate of those who accept and then reject faith (2:217, 3:176, 5:54, 9:101, 9:74, 9:80, 47:25, 47:27, 47:28, 88:21-260 (not an exhaustive list). They are to be punished by God alone (please note that I have not employed the oft used 2:256). The oft-cited hadith clearly contravenes the Qur’an.
According to most fuqaha, a hadith can limit the application of a general Qur’anic statement, but cannot negate it. For instance, a clear hadith which specifically stated that apostasy is illegal when coupled with high treason or sedition, would arguably be a valid limitation. But this is not the case, and should cast serious doubt on the validity of those hadith. Further, if we look to the actual practice of the Prophet, we will find that there is a lack of sufficient evidence to suggest that the Prophet killed apostates solely for the reason of their apostasy; in other words, he did not follow his own purported tradition.
The Prophet was surrounded by hypocrites (often deemed to be the worst of apostates) at times and even lived amongst them. How did the Prophet deal with them generally (outside of battle)? He prayed for them until he was ordered by Allah to stop. Some Muslims have used the examples of Abdullah ibn Abu al Sarh and Abdullah ibn Khatal to demonstrate that the Prophet ordered the death of apostates. While the Prophet did order their execution however, the evidence points to the fact their apostasy was coupled with the acts of spreading tales which the Prophet deemed false, in the time of war.