In “Must Islam Uphold Barbarism?” in the Daily Times of Pakistan (thanks to DFS), Ishtiaq Ahmed of Stockholm University argues against the death penalty for apostasy. In so doing, he notes that the same clerics who are calling for the death of Abdul Rahman also uphold the laws of the dhimma:
Of course a solution has been found. The Afghan government had Abdul Rahman declared mentally ill and the next day despatched him to Italy. I salute the Afghan government for its wise decision. It had no other choice. But what have Afghan politicians and ulema been saying? In an interview published in the Asia Times online of March 25, 2006, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, an engineer by profession and a prominent Afghan leader who was acting prime minister in the government of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani before the Taliban came to power, said, “Regardless of the court decision [whether or not he is hanged], there is unanimous agreement by all religious scholars from the north to the south, the east to the west of Afghanistan, that Abdul Rahman should be executed.”
The same article mentions that senior clerics in Afghanistan have already given the verdict that he should die. “We will not allow God to be humiliated”, Abdul Raouf a member of the Ulema Council, Afghanistan’s main clerical organisation, told Associated Press. “We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there’s nothing left.”
The problem is complicated because the Quran declares that there is no compulsion in religion. How should such an apparent contradiction be made to appear not a contradiction but a confirmation of the ulema’s view of apostasy? They argue that Islam does not force others to convert to Islam. Non-Muslims can retain their faith if they are a conquered people and agree to pay the jizya. However, if a Muslim abandons Islam it is an act of sedition since by adopting another religion he joins the enemy camp and is therefore a threat to the Islamic state and the Ummah.
I don’t believe that Ahmed will find much support within traditional Muslim circles for his view that Qur’an 2:256 — “There is no compulsion in religion” — forbids the death penalty for apostasy, but I appreciate his honesty in detailing principles of Islamic law regarding non-Muslims that Islamic apologists strenuously deny when they are pointed out in the West.