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.
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.
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):
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:
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:
[. . .] 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?
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:
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?
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.
Read more about our Take Back Islam effort: here, here, here, and here
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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