Take Back Islam: Freedom of Religion & Freedom from It

Take Back Islam: Freedom of Religion & Freedom from It

Written by Stephanie Siam

Like many reverts to Islam, my conversion did not come without its share of awkward and unsure feelings: Was I making the right choice? Would I still be accepted in my circles? How would I be perceived by friends and family?

Alhumdulillah, I had a supportive network of friends, and I have family members who, above all, respect my inherent right to make such a profound decision on my own.

No compulsion in Islam
graphic by Nicole Elmasry

Now, I understand the commonly-held belief that when we’re born we are, in the literal sense of the word, Muslims (in complete submission to Allah). That is why many consider themselves “reverts” instead of “converts”.

But in terms of being spiritually-identifying and religiously-practicing individuals, we are not anything. For most people, whatever religion (or non-religion) their parents ascribe to will be the one they also follow into young adulthood (and quite often far beyond). But this doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily chosen it.

For a great majority, they’ve gone along with it, without questioning.

Yet, being a practitioner of a religion requires conviction in the heart. As a certain Elder once reminded me:

Just because your mother or father are a certain religion doesn’t make you that religion. This is NOT DNA people! We do not inherit it!

Unfortunately, not everybody around the world is afforded this inherent right to choose their religious affiliation (or non-affiliation).

One of the biggest news stories circling the globe as of late is the case of Sudanese doctor Meriam Ishag, who was accused of committing adultery, apostatizing from Islam and, ultimately, sentenced to death. Though current rumors (which I pray are true!) announce Ibrahim will soon be freed from her unlawful incarceration, the distress this issue has caused in the international community is still highly tangible – and will continue to be for a long time.

How can we call ourselves The Religion of Peace when those who act as the talking heads and spokespeople of all Muslims continue to misappropriate, bend and twist the sayings of our dear Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and verses of the perfect Qur’an?

How can we stand up and say, “Islam is the religion of human rights”? Proclaim that it “provides rights and equality for women”? Defend it against naysayers who call Muslims, collectively, “terrorists” and “barbarians”? (Or maybe a better question might be, “Why should we have to defend it?” But, that’s for another post. ..)

And it boils down to this next sentence:

Trying to convince a person about something when they are adamant their opinion is correct is like trying to move the iceberg out of the way of the Titanic.

Sailing_too_Close
graphic by Nicole Elmasry

What we have is a giant ship of people (take your pick: Muslims, Christians, atheists, whatever) heading toward a giant problem (the issue of apostasy and its possible punishments).

As much as we’d like, we can’t move the issue (iceberg). If we did, another one would just come up at a later point in time, we’d be back at the beginning. Specifically, someone else would defect from their religion, possibly bringing a harsh verdict down upon themselves. And, in the case of Sudan, illegal.

That’s right. It is illegal, since the sentence directly contradicts Sudan’s 2005 Interim National Constitution, which

provides for freedom of religion in Sudan. In Article 38, on Freedom of Creed and Worship, the Constitution assures that “[e]very person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship … no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he/she does not believe in, nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.”

Sudan also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1986. The ICCPR is legally binding and is monitored by the Human Rights Council. Furthermore, Sudan is a member of the UN, an organization that recognized the importance of freedom of religion or belief in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, Article 27(3) of Sudan’s Constitution expressly states that international human rights instruments ratified by Sudan shall become part of the Constitution [. . .] — Sudan Democracy First Group

Be that as it may, I am not here to argue the legal or penal code of Sudan (though it clearly needs enforcement).

What I want to do is draw attention to the basic insinuation that has landed Dr. Ishag in prison to begin with. The very idea that apostasy should be addressed by an Earthly council so that the apostate can be punished in the duniya (the physical life prior to the spiritual Hereafter).

All too often, people of various religious persuasion take it upon themselves to enact punishment (vengeance?) upon those who do not conform to the ideals or standards of society, theology, or indoctrination. Whoa, that was a loaded statement. Basically, it’s the mindset of

You are wrong. I am right. You don’t agree that I am right. I am going to punish/kill/imprison/maim/torture you.

But where did humans — HUMANS — get this balderdash idea that Allah needs humans to protect Him? Why would the Creator of the known and unknown universes, the artist of ultimate perfection, need an imperfect creature such as man to force atonement on others for not choosing to do something that is…….a CHOICE?

Let’s not forget there is no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2:256):

2:256

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.

 

But that verse is always given as a shield by those who oppose mistreatment of not only apostates, but anyone who chooses not to follow or conform to Islamic teachings. Let’s look at a few others that should serve to remind us that we, mere humans, are not the judge and jury of others when it comes to dealing with actions that directly (and predominately) affects a person’s soul.

 

Take, for example, Qur’an 5:54, which tells us that Allah does not NEED us, as he can replace us at any time with another believer:

5:54

O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion

– Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him [who are] humble toward the believers, powerful against the disbelievers [. . .] That is the favor of Allah;

He bestows it upon whom He wills [. . .]

 

Or Qur’an 9:67, which reminds us that if we forget Allah, He will forget about us:

 

9:67

[. . .] They have forgotten Allah, so He has forgotten them [. . .]

 

And yet, the basic truth is this:

There is NO surat (chapter) in the Qur’an, or verse therein, that advocates, prescribes, suggests or commands execution for the apostate of Islam.

Furthermore, the actions that were permitted by the Prophet (SAW) during his time to clarify vague descriptions in the Qur’an were done as example. Yet, neither the Prophet nor any of his companions ever sentenced anyone to death for renouncing their faith, though they had ample chance to do so.  If the punishment were not only permissible, but indeed recommended, the Prophet would have been the first to cast a stone to set the example.

Now, am I saying there is no punishment for apostasy? No. The Qur’an tells us in 9:74 the punishment for apostasy is jahannam (Hellfire). But that punishment is Allah’s to dole out, and Allah’s alone.

So, this brings us back to our ship, heading straight for disaster, as nobody can agree on a solution to avoid the problem.

So, then, how do we avoid running into the iceberg?

We must find an answer that allows all people involved to be true to their respective beliefs, dogmas, ideas, interpretations. In simple terms, we must agree to disagree, while at the same time agree to take action based on a common – no, core – similarity.  But what is that similarity?

The answer is the acknowledgement of humanity.

If you take a group of various theist/atheist scholars (or regular Joes) and ask them a pertinent, faith-based question, you’ll more than likely get a different answer from each attendee based on their ___________ (fill in the blank with your choice of beliefs, religion, interpretation of theological text, agenda, etc.).

But ask them a direct, logic-based question that you might ask a 1st-grader, aka Someone Who is Not Affected by Theological/Atheological Thinking, such as:

Is it right to kill another human?

Shakles
graphic by Nicole Elmasry

Unless they are inherently evil, all of these individuals who can’t even agree on how the Earth was made can unanimously utter a single word:

No.

Now, I see your wheels spinning, Readers (a few unnamed ones, specifically). Here’s the follow-up question:

If there is NO PHYSICAL VIOLENCE involved, is it right to kill another human?

Again, No.

And I think we can agree that it is wrong to take a mother from her children if she isn’t physically neglecting or harming them. Or a child from its father. Or to separate spouses because an intangible entity (government) decides their marriage is not valid by some inane ruling.

Therefore, the only logical solution that allows us to avoid certain catastrophe at the hands of too many captains at the helm is:

When in doubt, do no harm.

And, that, dear Readers is the bond of humanity that will save the ship from going down.

If we can’t agree on the “right” answer, we can at least agree that leaving apostates alone to answer for their own choices on Judgement Day is the least harmful answer in this Life. Perhaps by granting clemency, by truly following the peaceful path, the apostate may be brought round. Maybe he won’t. But, in the end, it’s not our decision to make. Because Allah brings to Islam whom He wills.

And if we execute a person who renounces his faith in Allah, what we’re ULTIMATELY doing is usurping the WILL OF ALLAH to guide him home.

 

#TakeBackIslam 

Read more about our Take Back Islam effort: here, here, here, and here

 

References:

Sudan Democracy First Group (31 May 2014). “The dilemma of freedom of religion in Sudan.” Sudan Tribune. Retrieved 9 June 2014, from http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article51185

 

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Hysterical Woman Phenomena

Hysterical Woman Phenomena

Written by Stephanie Siam

man goes to the doctor complaining of stomach pains; gets Rx. Woman goes to the doctor with same problem; gets straight jacket
man goes to the doctor complaining of stomach pains; gets Rx. Woman goes to the doctor with same problem; gets straight jacket. graphic by Nicole Elmasry.

Let’s get ready to rummmmble!!!!!!

The late 19th century (probably before and most certainly until some point after) saw a Western cultural predominance of labeling people according to disorders. If you’ve ever taken a look at literature or societal psychology from this time period, you’re sure to be acquainted with ideas such as leeching or frontal lobotomies.

Of course, if you spent more than 3 seconds looking at the recipients of such pleasant treatments, you’ll notice they often have one thing in common: the “fairer” sex.

Ah, yes. Throughout history, women have continuously been dealt the bad reputation of being unpredictable and emotional. Therefore, we tend to be considered weaker and prone to act irrationally based on our feelings at any given time.

Unfortunately, though the West has (mostly) progressed past this deluded mindset, other nations are still far behind understanding how a woman’s body works for – or against – her.

Not only that, but when it comes to women’s rights and inclusion, many societies base their ideologies on misappropriated ayat (verses) from the Qur’an and/or ahadith in order to subjugate, dismiss and maintain the patriarchal status quo on the (irrational and idiotic) basis that:

Women are easily confused and should not be given full responsibility or choice due to their precarious emotional states.

Go with me now to the year 2012. . . . .

We are still in Saudi Arabia, but it is nearing the end of my contract. We will be moving soon, and as the end grew ever nearer, I realize I am happy to go. Our time has been pleasant, but it is finished.

My husband’s niece has gotten engaged, so we make a weekend-trip to Kuwait for her engagement party. Now, I’m no extrovert, and I hate parties – but, it is for family, so I have to go to show support.

On the way to the border, we stop and eat lunch at a Hungry Bunny (fast food burgers) with bathrooms so clean I would eat off the floors. We hit the road, and I grab a cup of ice to go (because I have pica, and I crave ice).

Once in Kuwait, we get settled in the hotel (apartment) with my sister-in-law, and then we head to my other sister-in-law’s (mother-of-the-bride) for dinner. I don’t feel too well, so I don’t eat much. I think I am just tired from traveling. It was a long week at work, and there are lots of people in the house. I nibble.

Change scenes. We’re at the mall. Everybody’s happy and laughing. I can barely walk. Once again, I attribute it to being tired, plus I have major back issues, so I thought, “Eh, figures.” I sit and watch them walk around, having a grand time. I’m labeled as unsociable.

It’s the night of the party. I get all dolled up, and I even do my hair (it was just for women at the beginning). Get to the party. Start to get a migraine. I’m thinking, “Great….perfect timing.” By the middle of the party, I have to leave and go sit in the car. I’m dizzy, my head is throbbing and I’m pouring sweat.

The next day, we go to the movies. I’m still feeling queasy, but I warrior through. Afterward, all the family wants to go out to do something (I can’t even remember, I was so sick). I said I couldn’t, and I asked my hubby to take me back to the hotel. I barely got back to the room before I was choking and throwing up. He said, “I feel sorry for you, but I’m happy because now I can tell them there’s really something wrong!” (It sounds insensitive, but I understood what he meant.)

We finally get back to Saudi, and I start feeling better. I thought it was just a stomach bug. Then, Laila gets sick. And mine returns.

So, we head to the doctor. While Hubby takes Laila downstairs to the pediatrician, I wait to be seen by the doctor upstairs.

Now, you must understand this: I have a laundry list of medical issues that puts me at the doctor quite often. I have several chronic conditions that require treatment and stabilization — and they have been. At one point in the past, however, I had some chest pain. I knew there was nothing seriously wrong, but when you present with chest pain, they do the heart tests and make you see the heart doctor for a follow-up.

While I’m waiting to see the doctor, the heart doctor is sitting nearby talking to a nurse. . .about me. They’re speaking in Arabic, but he keeps motioning toward me. She keeps looking. Then the nurse of the doctor I’m waiting to see comes by and joins in the conversation. They continue talking about me. The gist: I’m there all the time. . .or, I’m a hypochondriac.

When it’s finally my turn, I go in to see the doctor (whom I’ve seen before). I run down my list of symptoms: sweating, fever, nausea, diarrhea, pain, etc.

Again, please note: The nurse did not take my temperature, and even though my blood pressure was high, it wasn’t seen as important.

The doctor asks about my husband. Yes, that’s right. My husband should be there to verify my problem.

“He’s downstairs with my daughter,” I say.

“Oh, is your daughter sick?” he asks.

“Yes. She’s got like the same thing, but not as bad.”

It’s like a light bulb goes off in his gray-haired head. “Are you worried about your daughter?”

I’m confused. “No, I’m not worried about her. I mean, of course I’m concerned for her health, but I know she’ll be okay. . .”

“I think you’re a little anxious. You’re probably upset because your daughter is sick.”

“No, that’s not what’s wrong. . .” To prove his point, I start tearing up.

“I’m going to give you a shot of _________” (I don’t remember the name, but it was an anti-anxiety medicine….Xanax, maybe?)

“I don’t need a shot. . .”

He sends me out of the office to wait for the nurse.

In the meantime, my husband comes up to check on me. He finds me crying.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

“He won’t listen. I told him what’s wrong, and he thinks I’m just worried about Laila.”

“What?” He goes inside and speaks with the doctor. “Honey, come inside. . .”

I go back inside the office, and the doctor breaks down and checks my temp (imagine the concept!). It’s very high. Suddenly, he realizes I am sick, and he hands out a list of various medicines to collect from the pharmacy downstairs.

Royally pissed, we go to get them and leave for home.

That night, I can’t sleep, and I end up in the bathroom for hours. Anything that goes in comes out five minutes later. I can’t eat, and all liquid makes me nauseous.

We go to the emergency room, where the resident runs a bunch of blood tests.

“I have an idea of what’s wrong,” he says, standing beside my bed. “But I’m waiting for the tests to confirm it. I’ve ordered a Widal test.”

“What’s that?” I ask, completely out of energy.

“It tests for typhoid fever.” He leaves the room.

“Oh, my God!” I’m terrified. I don’t know exactly what typhoid fever is, but I’ve heard of it. And I know it doesn’t sound pretty.

The doctor comes back and confirms the test is positive. I have to be admitted. And I can’t have any human contact except for those whom I’ve already been around.

What is typhoid fever? It’s untreated salmonella poisoning which, if left untreated, can result in death. It takes months to recover from completely, and it took me nearly ten days in hospital to reach a level of being able to be around people again.

I had a “Do NOT Enter Without PROTECTIVE GEAR” sign on my hospital door!!!!

That’s right. I came *this close* to death, and I was labeled “emotionally unbalanced”. . . a hysterical woman.

I had my husband go down to the doctor’s office who had written me off with a diagnosis of hysterics.

His response? “Oh, really?” No apology. No realization of what could have happened. Just an, “Oops.”

Alhumdulillah rab-il al-ameen! Thank you, God, for your unending protection! It was a long road, and I recovered.

And I’d like to say this was a one-off. I’d like to blame it on Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunately, I can’t.

The moral of this story?

When women are quickly labeled as emotional and, thus, not even able to appropriately gauge whether their OWN BODIES are acting erratically, it can be more than just a simple “oops” that results. To allow the diagnosis of hysteria to persist as a cultural norm only risks further maltreatment for women in those locations. To be frank, it puts them at a clear risk for death.

This is why careful study and interpretation of religious doctrine is necessary and why biased and flippant prose that condescendingly discounts a gender is dangerous. When such verses are misappropriated to serve a specific purpose, they propagate the stereotype that women carry too much emotional baggage to think clearly.

Of course, by saying that women are the “weaker” sex and inclined to hysterics, what’s really being said is that men are the opposite. That they’re not prone to emotions because they’re “stronger”. That their judgment is solid and unwavering. That they think with their heads, and not with anything else (like their HEARTS). That they’re not easily swayed by gossip and don’t make rash decisions.

Yet, in this story (as well as many, many others), we can see this isn’t always the case. At times, we are all led by emotions instead of logic and clarity. This doesn’t make us “weaker” or “stronger” than the other. It makes us human. And, as humans, we must respect each other to create a stronger, united ummah (brotherhood) and present a positive image of Islam to the world.

But unfortunately for me, it didn’t end in Saudi Arabia.

So, join me next time, when we travel to Oman, and I continue the story of The Hysterical Woman Phenomena.

Oh, and PS. . .wondering what caused the salmonella? I suppose those bathroom floors weren’t as clean as they looked. Never eat ice from a border-town fast food restaurant.

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Proof of Life for the Apostate in Islam

Proof of Life for the Apostate in Islam

Written by Theresa Corbin

Recently, I was questioned about my position on the death penalty for the Muslim apostate. I am embarrassed to say that I had until recently blindly followed what I was told. And what I was told was that the Islamic scholars agree: the death penalty is prescribed for the apostate, that the apostate in an Islamic state is like the the one committing treason in a democracy.

proof of life for the apostate in Islam

Even though Islam had liberated me from taking the word of people as my religion, apparently, I continued to do so in some things.

As far as Islamic knowledge goes there are clear sources. Something unique to Islam. The Quran has never been altered, something we unfortunately cannot say about the Bible or the Torah. And the hadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him-PBUH)) have been recorded and verified by authentic chains of narration. Something that has been lost for all other prophets.

And even with these sources available to me, I had neglected them. And took what the people said in their place.

2:170
 

And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided? (Quran 2:170)

I no longer looked to my forefathers for my religion. I have no Muslim family other than my husband who also has no Muslim family or forefathers, so we look to those who have more Islamic knowledge for some answers.

This is a slippery slope and a dangerous path to be on if this is the only place you look to for your religion. Because like doctors, scholars can make an incorrect diagnosis. While scholars deserve an immense amount of respect, they should not be followed without question. And sometimes we may need a second opinion.

Seeing the flaw in my logic for accepting this platitude of “the scholars agree on the punishment for the apostate” I began my own research and these are some of the reasons why I changed my position on the death penalty for the apostate: Read more