Moderate Muslims have been an ongoing preoccupation of this site. I have repeatedly asked that they confront and refute the Islamic arguments of jihadists — which is the one thing they must do if they are going to prevail in the Islamic community, and which shouldn’t be difficult in light of their insistence that Islam is fundamentally peaceful.
But despite a great deal of bluster, there is no large-scale organized movement of Muslims countering the jihadists, and no coherent moderate Muslim theology that teaches against jihad and the subjugation of unbelievers on Islamic grounds, with the possible exception of academic constructs that have no roots in Islamic tradition and no following among Muslims, and the certain exception of deceptive pieces that make unbelievers feel great but likewise have no acceptance among Muslims.
And there are a lot of those deceptive pieces. Yesterday after Jihad Watch reader James alerted me to Dean Esmay’s latest defamatory comment, about which I wrote here, I ventured again into the fetid waters of the Esmay site. I found that Esmay was commenting on a post by Ali Eteraz entitled “How The Death Penalty For Apostasy Will Fall.”
This is just the sort of thing that we need to see, right? Islamic arguments against the death penalty for apostasy! Here then is a small sign of the Islamic reform that everyone (except those who believe that Islam is essentially peaceful and needs no reform) wants to see, right? And it starts out well: Eteraz acknowledges that there is a death penalty for apostasy, which many Islamic apologists in the West have denied, and promises an “almost airtight legal argument against it.”
Classical Islamic Law “” where national citizenship was based on one’s religion “” mandated a death penalty for converting out of Islam. This medieval remnant has too long been part of modern Islamic Law. There is now a palpable cultural movement against this. We knew that. Here, for edification, is an almost airtight legal argument against it. I posted this is on my blog and I am copying and pasting it.
A hadith narrative from Bayhaqi’s Book of Hadith, regarding the Prophet’s directive to kill an apostate woman, falls to critical evaluation.
It is interesting to note that the scholars did not even engage in a matn (textual) analysis. The hadith was lacking on isnad (chain of narration) grounds and they didn’t even have to proceed to evaluating its text. Assuming the hadith would have passed the isnad test, the matn test would have involved looking to see if the hadith was a) logical and b) consistent with the Quran.
Click on Eteraz’s link. This is no breakthrough. This is an examination of a hadith about killing apostate women. The fact that it is a weak hadith has long been noted, and that’s why the schools of Islamic law are not unanimous about the necessity of killing female apostates — as I noted in passing here. This is not a new development, and hence it is no sign of any evolution in the Islamic legal understanding of the death penalty for apostasy.
My prediction: one by one (here is another one revealed as weak) all of these tertiary apostasy hadith will be discredited. Then we’ll be left with nothing but a couple of hadith which satisfy the isnad test “” but which won’t be able to satisfy the matn analysis. Why? Because the Quran does not legislate an earthly punishment for leaving Islam, so when a hadith contradicts that, it has become inconsistent with the Quran, and therefore questionable.
Click on the link again. It’s a hadith about giving the apostate a chance to repent — not about the death penalty for apostasy itself. Does Eteraz think people will not click on his links? Moreover, he asserts that the death penalty for apostasy contradicts the Qur’an — funny how all the many Islamic jurists who have upheld the death penalty for apostasy over the centuries, in all the schools of Islamic law, never seem to have noticed that.
UPDATE: Even as I say that, here is THE authoritative hadith on the issue of apostasy (cited in both Muslim and Bukhari), becoming highly questionable in light of a matn (textual) analysis. You may not realize it now, but this is big.
Yes, click the link. See anything in there about this hadith, in which Muhammad says “Whoever changes his religion, kill him” (من بدل دينه فاقتلوه), being inauthentic? I don’t either. In fact, its multiple attestation is affirmed:
This narrative or a part of it with some variations has been reported in Bukhari (narrative no. 2854, 6524 and 6525), Muslim (narrative no. 1733), Mu’atta of Imam Malik (narrative no. 1413), Ibn Hibban (narrative no. 4475 and 5606), Abu Dawood (narrative no. 4351 and 4354), Tirmidhi (narrative no. 1458), Nissaiy (narrative no. 4059, 4060, 4061, 4062, 4063, 4064, 4065 and 4066), Ibn Maajah (narrative no. 2535), Nissaiy’s Sunan al-Kubraa (narrative no. 3522, 3523, 3524, 3525, 3526, 3527, 3528 and 3529), Bayhaqiy (narrative no. 16597, 16598, 16599, 16635, 16636, 16637, 16654, 16658 and 17841), Ahmad ibn Hanbal (narrative no. 1871, 2551, 2552, 2968, 19681 and 22068), Abu Ya`laa (narrative no. 2532 and 2533), Humaidiy (narrative no. 533), Abd al-Razzaq (narrative no. 9413, 18705 and 18706), Ibn Abi Shaybah (narrative no. 28992, 29006, 32728, 33143 and 36491). The preferred text is reported in Bukhari’s narrative no. 2854.
What’s more, the article affirms the traditional rules of jihad and dhimmitude, which I have pointed out many times:
…In short, the Qur’an says that it is the unalterable law of God that when He sends His messenger to a people, the polytheists among these people are left with no option, but to accept His message or to face the punishment of death and sometimes complete annihilation.
The Qur’an goes further to tell us how this punishment was implemented on the polytheists from among the rejecters of the Prophet (pbuh). It tells us that although the previous nations of the messengers of God were annihilated, because of their rejection, through (apparently) natural calamities, the believers of Muhammad (pbuh), because God has given them rule in a land (Madinah), shall fight the rejecters and, thereby, through these believers shall God implement His punishment (Al-Tawbah 9: 14 – 16). It directs them that the Mushrikeen should be killed, without any exception. They should only be allowed to live if they accept Islam (Al-Tawbah 9: 5). On the other hand, it also directs them that the Jews and the Christians (because they were not polytheists – i.e. Mushrik), even if they do not enter the folds of Islam, they may be allowed to live if they accept to live under the Muslim rule and agree to pay the appointed Jizyah (Al-Tawbah 9: 29).
All it has are some textual variants: in some versions, Muhammad doesn’t say “kill him,” he says, “break his neck.” Oh, I feel so much better! Reform is at hand!
But the weakness of his argument doesn’t stop Eteraz from rushing on to some sweeping conclusions:
Let me say it again: there is no Quranic basis for an EARTHLY punishment for apostasy. (Maududi tried to find one but he failed). As such, the death penalty for apostasy is rooted in the hadith. Within the three links above, the single most important apostasy hadith, and a couple of corollary hadith, have been discredited. It becomes really difficult, in light of this information, to persuasively argue that Islamic Law should permit a death penalty for apostasy.
Now, the issue is to spread these opinions so more people can get out of their ignorance.
Yes, it’s all about ignorance, isn’t it? Those poor ignorant Islamic scholars, all over the world, blundering in darkness and relying on this hadith in which Muhammad says “If anyone changes his religion, kill him” to legislate a death penalty for apostasy. If only they knew that Ali Eteraz has declared this a weak hadith on the grounds that in some versions Muhammad says to break the apostates’ necks!
If this is the bandwagon of Islamic reform that we are all supposed to jump on, on pain of being called “traitors” and “liars” and “hatemongers” and everything else Dean Esmay has called me, I will take a pass. The problem, of course, is not that I am not convinced. It is that no Muslim who can read and check Eteraz’s links will be convinced. No one who believes in the death penalty for apostasy will be convinced. And they are the ones who need to be convinced.