Islam, Freedom & Apostasy

This week I finished reading ‘Freedom to Believe: Challenging Islam’s Apostasy Law‘ by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo. There are four chapters: 1) What Classical Islam Teaches About Apostasy. 2) Muslims Debate and Interpret the Apostasy Law. 3) The Application of the Apostasy Law in the World Today. 4) Conclusion. There follow 4 Appendices and a helpful Glossary of Islamic Terms that occur in the text.

Dr Sookhdeo in the penultimate sentence concludes, ‘The Muslim voices calling for reform of the law represent only a small proportion of the world’s Muslims’. And the final sentence of his conclusion ‘The only hope for real freedom of religion within Islam lies in the abolition of all penalties for apostasy and permission for those who want to leave Islam to do so’ (p. 100).

Islam & The State

These conclusions follow a fairly detailed discussion of the Apostasy laws within Islam and how these laws are applied  in the context of the State. It is vital to understand that within Islam there is no separation between Islam and the State. To apostatise from Islam is seen as State treason. The State is Islam and Islam is the State. Some might liken the Church & State situation here in the UK but it’s worth pointing out that if a person decides to leave the Church of England they will not find themselves in court for treason against the UK Government. Let’s be honest no one would blink an eye – if it was a ‘personality’ it might be newsworthy for a couple of days but that would be it. Not so within Islam, Apostasy is Treason.

Hadd or Ta’zir

To be fair Dr Sookhdeo does point out that penalties do vary and the severest penalties are not necessarily carried out in practice. Penalties are also dependent on which category they might fall into. There are two categories. The first is the hadd offence and these are specifically laid down in the Koran and are mandatory. The second is ta’zir – here the judge has some discretionary powers. However  ‘though not all schools of [Shari’a] law identify apostasy (that is for adult male apostates) as a hadd offence, they all prescribe the death penalty for it.’

Human Rights

To make the differences between a Western and an Islamic understanding of ‘rights’ clearer it was quite revealing to compare the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Appendix 3, p. 129) with the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (Appendix 4, p. 137). I will do this in a separate post and possibly update this one.

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