Blog Recommend is exactly the blog I sometimes daydream about creating if I won several million dollars and quit my job. But now I don’t have to, because already exists.

The people behind Loonwatch do exhaustive, point-by-point takedowns of what the islamophobes are saying. It’s really impressive.

I highly recommend this post about Islam’s view on apostasy in comparison with Christianity’s: Fathima Rifqa Bary Needs to Read Her Bible; Final Word on Islam and Apostasy.

Oh wait, *smacks forehead*, I remember now where those verses are from. Ahh yes, they are from the Bible (Deuteronomy, 13:6-10). There are of course many other Biblical verses in the same vein, such as 2 Chronicles 15:13 which reads: “All who would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman.”

Oopsie doopsie!

Maybe it’s not such a good idea to randomly quote someone else’s scripture or medieval texts without any context as a proof to demonize a people or to fear monger.

Yes, the majority “classical” and “traditional” opinion codified hundreds of years ago was indeed that apostates from Islam should be killed. However, such views are abundantly present in the Judeo-Christian tradition as well, yet Jews and Christians have over the course of time reanalyzed their canonical texts and come to different understandings today.

Before the Great War, the Ottoman Empire united Muslim lands under one symbolic leadership. (Perhaps an oversimplification but it suffices for our discussion here.) It is interesting to note that the Ottoman government eventually stopped enforcing the punishment for apostasy and finally abolished it altogether in 1844, more than one hundred and sixty years ago.

The main argument used by Islamophobes is that Islam as a religion itself advocates the death penalty for apostates, and therefore it is the religion itself–not the interpretation of it–that is the problem, an unusually obtuse and altogether unhelpful assertion. Furthermore, some of them argue, Muslims must abandon their belief in the inerrant nature of the Quran. In other words, the Islamophobes posit that the only possible way for Muslims to become “civilized” is to view the Quran as any other text, deleting what they dislike from it and adding whatever they wish to it–or as Daniel Pipes puts it: to make it “defunct.”

The Quran is an open text, because it generally refrains from specifics. In fact, names are almost never used in it, in order that its verses have not only a specific meaning but also a more general import. For example, a verse may have been revealed to placate the Islamic prophet Muhammad during a particularly difficult time in his struggle; so even though the verse will have a specific reason for revelation (to one particular man in one specific situation), it can also be used in a general context: Muslims will use that same verse when they themselves are going through tough times.

Because of this unique structure of the Quranic text, what one gets out of it depends a lot on the reader, who tends to inject into verses his own background and biases, for better or for worse. Having said that, it seems to the author that an unbiased and neutral reading validates the argument of the reform-minded Muslims: nowhere in the Quran does it clearly and definitively say one must kill apostates. In fact, it seems to say the exact opposite.

If Muslims can understand it in that way, why this continual insistence by the Islamophobes that the Muslims “must” abandon their belief in the inerrant nature of the Quran? (Again, it is in order to set up a situation whereby Muslims simply cannot fulfill the requirements to be accepted into society, which is exactly what the Islamophobes desire.)

Ms. Fathima Rifqa Bary was incorrect: unlike the Bible, the Quran does not at all say to kill apostates if they choose to leave Islam. Rather, it says the exact opposite. The Quran declares emphatically:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth is distinct from error!” (Quran, 2:256)
Almost every Muslim knows this verse by heart. It categorically closes the door to religious compulsion, and is used by reform-minded Muslims to promote freedom of religion and the idea that the people have a right to follow whatever religion they so choose. Because “truth is distinct from error,” people should be able to discern it for themselves without having to be forced.

So there are clear and explicit verses of the Quran that reform-minded Muslims naturally understand to mean that freedom of religion must be extended to all, and that compulsion into Islam is not to be tolerated.

Mind you, I’m just quoting little bits. The whole post has much more information.

Enter the Hadiths. For those who don’t know, the Hadiths are a body of collection of the prophet Muhammad’s sayings or traditions. In other words, the Quran is considered by Muslims to be the word of God, and the Hadiths are the words of their prophet. Unlike the Quran however, Muslims do not believe that all of the Hadiths are authentic. Rather, many of them are apocryphal and therefore rejected. In other words, if some Islamophobe claims that such-and-such Hadith exists, be aware of the fact that many of them are rejected by Muslims. The Hadiths do not occupy the same rank as the Quran, but are rather a secondary source open to criticism.

In this huge body of collection, we find the Hadith that Islamophobes rely on as their trump card in this debate, which reads as follows: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” At first glance, that seems pretty clear and unambiguous but has the Islamophobe proven his case? Well, let’s take into consideration that the Bible has many seemingly clear and unambiguous verses which call to kill apostates, yet we never assume that Christians today believe this, nor do we insist that Christianity itself demands it.

Let’s be clear here: we’re not trying to bash Christianity at all. What we are saying however is that if we extend the common courtesy to Christians that they can contextualize such verses in the Bible, then why do we not extend the same courtesy to the Muslims when it comes to the Hadiths? Keep in mind also that Muslims believe that their Bible–so to speak–is the Quran and not the Hadiths. In other words, if Christianity’s primary source seems to say that apostates are to be killed, then why do we not accept any explanation from Muslims about their secondary source? (Hint: Islamophobia is the answer!) It is this terrible double standard that bothers Muslims and those who believe in religious tolerance.

Reformists believe it was in this particular situation that the Hadiths about killing “apostates” who “leave the community” and “wage war against God and His Messenger” were said. “Leaving the community” is a reference to leaving the community of Medina to join the invaders. Therefore, they reason, it was not merely “peaceful apostasy” which is to be punished, but rather high treason, i.e. trying to destroy the Islamic state’s army. It was a specific plot of the unbelievers to convert to Islam in order to mass apostatize and defect to the pagan side to destroy the Muslims.

One can see then how apostasy and defection are linked; back then, there was a pagan army and a Muslim army. If you were pagan, you fought for the pagan army. If you were Muslim, you fought for the Muslim army. If you converted from one to the other, then you’d likely abandon one army and defect to the other. Hence the phrase “the one who reverts from Islam (apostates) and leaves the community.”

In other words, the Zanadiqa being referred to here were not “peaceful apostates” who simply changed their mind, but rather they were guilty of high treason, causing a civil war, instigating a rebellion in Egypt, and ultimately killing the Caliph. Indeed, they were similar to the group of people who had pretended to convert to Islam in order to apostatize during the thick of things (i.e. in the battle between Medina and Mecca). The bottom line then is that even the Hadith that the Islamophobes rely upon can be used as a proof that only those apostates who wage war against the state are to be killed.

We understand it perfectly well with classical Christian texts. Let’s look at the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the most influential Christian scholars in history. The Vatican considers him as “the model teacher” for those pursuing priesthood.

The Summa Theologica, a book written by St. Thomas Aquinas, is considered one of the best summaries of Catholic doctrine to this day, and continues to be relied upon. In other words, here we have a text that is certainly more central to the Catholic faith than the Reliance of the Traveler is to Muslims. Well, let’s take a look-see into what the Summa Theologica says about apostasy; the first part talks about how Jews are apostates and thus worse than regular disbelievers, and the second part talks about how apostates ought to be compelled by the sword to Christianity:

Then a quote follows. I’m not quoting the quoted quotes. How messy would that look? The important thing is that is one-stop shopping for refuting the arguments of Islamophobic loons.

His statement also betrays a superficial understanding of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The four schools are not defined by their final rulings or verdicts, but rather based on their methodology (Usul). Within a school itself, all sorts of conflicting opinions can be found, since a school is defined not by a ruling but by the methodology one uses to arrive at such a ruling. In other words, contemporary Muslims can still follow the same methodology and arrive at different conclusions, without betraying the school of thought itself. Many followers of the four schools have done so with regard to the issue of apostasy.

So the fact that a person follows a school of jurisprudence does not at all mean that he must commit himself to one particular ruling. Furthermore, many Muslims do not follow a school of jurisprudence at all, with still others claiming that it is wrong to follow the four schools whatsoever. Bottom line: there are diverse opinions on this matter, and to pigeonhole Muslims into a particular belief is wrong. It is just wrong to speak on behalf of Muslims; let them speak for themselves!

Of course, Spencer quotes an Islamic scholar who lived hundreds of years ago as a proof. Sorry, but that’s not a proof to Muslims, nor is it binding. Whilst moderate Muslims respect Imam al-Qurtubi like Catholics respect St. Thomas Aquinas, they don’t believe his words are divine and simply disagree with them. That is in actuality the bulk of Spencer’s argument, since the verse itself is not at all “direct proof” of anything!

In other words, neither the ultraconservative Muslims nor the Islamophobes can make their case, i.e. that the Quran says to kill apostates, without having to get rid of certain Quranic verses, those that are abundantly clear that religious compulsion is forbidden. This in actuality shows the strength of the reformist view, namely that if one looks at the Quran as a whole, it mandates religious freedom.

What seems apparent is that Fathima’s parents never threatened to kill her; rather, she was brainwashed by some Christian extremists (who by the way look down on the Christian mainstream) into thinking that Islam itself–and the Quran in particular–mandates death for apostates. Notice in her emotional interview that she clearly was of the view that: the Quran mandates it, ergo religious Muslims believe in it. This logic is faulty and problematic.

The Islamophobes have jumped on this opportunity to spread fear and hate, insisting that Islam is intrinsically culpable, a pagan and heathen religion incompatible with those who love Christ.


Filed under arabist, Islamic relations

7 responses to “Blog Recommend

  1. Interesting. My observation, however, is that in every Islamic country, someone who leaves Islam to follow another set of beliefs is at least persecuted and threatened and mostly ends up dead. It seems the average Muslim outside of western liberal democracies holds to the old ‘kill the apostates’ line. The closer the nation is to being under shariah law, the higher the chance of someone who leaves Islam being killed and the higher the chance of religious minorities being persecuted. The least tolerant nations are the most Islamic nations: Sa’udi, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Every Muslim writer I have ever read who makes the arguments detailed here is from a Western liberal democracy. I wonder whether some of that liberal thought process has rubbed off and has affected their interpretation of the scriptures in question. Are such arguments being expounded openly (and safely) in Sa’udi, Egypt, Iran? I’d be interested to know but I suspect not. The writers would be killed and both Quran and ahadith would be used as justification. The doctrine of abrogation is used as an excuse to ignore all ‘tolerant’ Quranic verses, as they happen to be all the earliest ones written. More liberal Muslims seem to ignore the doctrine of abrogation but it is the very heart of the interpretations used in the most Islamic of nations.

  2. Hi Vince, I don’t know, I never see any stats or stories about people being tried in court and sentenced to death for apostasy. It’s hard to know what the answer is, especially since the press categorizes things as it chooses, for instance, if a Muslim teenager in the US kills his friend because he’s gay, it gets painted as an “honor killing” and attributed to the Qur’an, but if a Christian teenager in the US kills his friend because he’s gay, it’s a hate crime or just a random incident.
    I’ve been following the Lord’s Resistance Army in the news and there are stories on it every day, but they pretty much never mention that it’s an explicitly Christian militia killing, maiming, and pillaging in the name of Christ.
    If you have any stats on apostasy trials and sentences in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and etc., I’d love to see it.

    • There are rarely trials – it’s usually mobs.

    • Slevdi

      Both killings in your example are murder.

      It is an honor killing if family or friends or community or the legal system approve – tacitly or openly – on the basis that the victims behaviour justified the murder.

      So you can differentiate your two murders quite easily, based on that definition. Religion isn’t the defining factor, it is the acceptance or otherwise of the murder within it’s social context.

  3. questioner

    The author (Danios) of this piece on apostasy may have convinced himself that (1) Rifqa Bary is not in danger and that (2) Islam has no earthly penalty for apostasy. However, it’s largely irrelevant what Danios personally believes about the Islamic texts based on his own interpretation and selection of material. The relevant issue between Rifqa and her family is difficult to determine because we have conflicting accounts, though note that the child protection agency in this case is not taking chances.

    The relevant societal issue here is What percentage of Muslims today, including those in the U.S., think apostates should be punished on earth? In addition, What percentage of Muslims believe they should take matters into their own hands and do something to punish Rifqa? What percentage of imams and jurists think apostates should be punished on earth? What percentage of Islamic (or Muslim-majority) countries implement some penalties for apostates?

    • James

      There are many other reform minded Muslims out there. The problem is, those who retain power in the Muslim world aren’t amongst them. They are hypocritical, elitists, and deceitful. Now, of course I am generalizing, but I am referring to many of the political leaders, and “Mullah’s” who have been conditioned to be far more closed-minded and intolerant in their thinking.

      However, note, I am not saying that all “Mullah’s” are this way (in fact, I believe the word denotes a Muslim man educated in Islamic theology – someone you’d expect to be rather intelligent if he has to constantly conceptualize and comprehend philosophical and complex matters).

      I’m sure there are some open-minded Muslim leaders (isolated amongst themselves) in the Muslim world trying to combat this. But, the problem lies in too much division, and not enough unity or clarity.

  4. James

    Vince, interesting points. However, you do need to understand that the countries you have mentioned are swayed in their practice of Islam by numerous factors, including politics which also entails hypocrisy. The Saudi Elite swim in their wealth, which is provided by the US, whose shoes they lick.

    Iran and Afghanistan are nations thrown into constant conflict, the inhabitants are conditioned to know war, intolerance, desperation, and the need for health: health of body, mind, and soul (because of how bad the situation is there).

    Colonization has created this backlash of ultra-conservatism in parts of the Muslim world. I agree, there are Muslims who are far more judgmental and intolerant than what Islam advocates, and this is indeed a problem that Muslims need to deal with. However, understand that there are many forces in acting in the way of Muslims TRYING to deal with this. Let me cite an example of an incredibly intelligent Muslim – a former Secular Humanist and Agnostic Atheist, Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, who is battling this ocean of misinformation.


    There are factors such as: 1) foreign occupation + invasions 2) the after effects of imperialism and colonialism 3) corrupt political regimes who have a detailed history of conspiracy and hypocrisy 4) the total lack of unity due to the total lack of LEADERSHIP 5) constant misinformation and propaganda 6) the competing ideologies such as secularism in its many forms (there is democratic/liberal capitalistic and monopolistic economic systems and ideological systems at play which do in fact have a wider reaching influence then people would like to think), and then there’s the fact that the majority of the world is far less wealthy and intelligent than the financially elite who reserves their status through bloodlines, this is a well established fact. I could go on…

    Furthermore, you’re statement regarding abrogation is inaccurate. And I cite Vincenzo: “It is true that many Muslim scholars claim later verses abrogate earlier verses, but the extent of abrogation is greatly debated. Some scholars say that only five verses have ever been abrogated. Some say that over 150 have been abrogated.”

    here’s an example of a peaceful verse revealed near the END (last two years) of the Prophet’s lifetime:

    “Let not the hatred of the people — because they hindered you from the Sacred Mosque — incite you to transgress. Help one another in goodness and reverence, and do not help one another in sin and aggression”(Qur’an 5:2).

    “O ye who believe, be upright for God witnesses injustice; and let not hatred of a people cause you to be unjust. Be just — that is closer to piety” (Qur’an 5:8).

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