Bassiouni and the non-reform of non-Islamic non-apostasy laws
James M. Arlandson
On April 2, 2006, M. Cherif Bassiouni, a professor and the president of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University College of Law, wrote an editorial in the Chicago Tribune on apostasy (leaving a religion), asserting that it is not a capital crime in Islamic law.
He wants to clarify for the public what Islam really says in light of the Abdul Rahman case in Afghanistan. Rahman was being prosecuted for leaving Islam and converting to Christianity, a "crime" that carries the death penalty. After an international outcry from free governments around the world, Rahman safely arrived in Italy.
What Bassiouni published in the mainstream media says too much and too little at the same time, depending on whether he makes Islam appear positive or omits facts that make it appear negative. Since the publication of these highly selective articles in the national media is on a rapid rise, they must not go unchallenged. The purpose of my reply is not to put Islam down, but to expose all of it to the publicthe unpleasant parts that Bassiouni left out and that have a secure basis in the sound and original source documents of Islam, especially the Quran.
For clarity, I have divided up my reply into six main sections with my own subtitles that are not found in the editorial.
In with the old and the new
Starting off, Bassiouni writes:
A Muslim's conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law, contrary to the claims in the case of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan.
While there is long-established doctrine that apostasy is punishable by death, that has also long been questioned by Islamic criminal justice scholars, including this writer.
There are 1.4 billion Muslims who live in more than 140 countries. They constitute the great majority in 53 countries that declare themselves to be Muslim states. Most of these states have constitutions that guarantee freedom of religion, as does the Afghani constitution. Most of these states have criminal codes that do not include apostasy as a crime. Among them are: Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.
Other Muslim countries, however, criminalize apostasy on the basis of doctrinal constructs established in the 7th and 8th Centuries, which have been mildly questioned over the years or simply sidestepped. States that recognize it as a crime punishable by death include Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. However, there are no known cases in recent times in which someone charged with apostasy in these countries has been put to death.
(1) Bassiouni says that apostasy is not a crime in Islamic law; however, this implies that it prohibits or discourages executing apostates, but it does not. As we shall see, some Islamic constitutions declare that their source of legislation is sharia. This is sacred law rooted in the Quran and hadith or traditions and developed in the classical period. The science of interpreting and applying sharia is called fiqh. It is this area that may be reformed more easily than sharia.
But Bassiouni seems to confuse these terms. If some countries do not enforce apostasy laws embedded in sharia or have theoretical statements about freedom of religion (see below, point no 2), then that comes second. I do not question that there may be some Muslim majority countries that do not officially kill apostates. But Bassiounis claim was that Islamic Law (i.e. sharia) does not apply the death penalty to apostasy. Yet, Islamic law is the sharia, and it does impose the death penalty. Sharia is not simply some kind of law existing in some utopian Islamic country. Thus, Bassiouni should not confuse the terminology to give a wrong impression.
Here is an illustration that separates personal wish from difficult facts.
The US still has the death penalty for certain crimes like first degree murder with special circumstances. Many people in the US disagree with it and campaign for abolishing it altogether. Here is the point: The observation that there are many people opposing the death penalty does not change the fact that it is the law in many States. It is certainly permitted in the Constitution, which assumes that it is a valid punishment, provided the accused gets "due process." Whether there are only very few or many who disagree with the death penalty does not change the bedrock fact that it is part of criminal law (in many States) and that first-degree murderers are executed every year. To claim it is not part of State law because of someones wishful thinking is to twist the facts.
Similarly, whether or not there have been people with a different opinion on sharia does not change the fact that in all the major schools of law in Islam (Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafii, Maliki and the Shiite Jafari school) there is unanimity that the penalty for apostasy is death. The difference is only whether an apostate is given the opportunity to repent or not, or whether he is given a certain number of days to repent. But it is a fact that Islamic Law demands everywhere that the apostate is put to death.
To begin with, the school of law founded by Shafii (d. 820) is today "prominent in Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan, with a significant following in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Hejaz (western Saudi Arabia), Pakistan, and India, and Indonesia" (Oxford Dictionary of Islam). Thus, its influence is extensive. So what does this school say about apostates? The following medieval manual compiled mainly by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 1368), Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, (rev. ed., trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Beltsville, Maryland: Amana, 1994), summarizes rulings in the Shafii School. Here are only four reasons out of twenty that constitute apostasy, which demands death:
. . . (16) to revile the religion of Islam; (17) to believe that things themselves or by their own nature have causal influence independent of the will of Allah; . . . (19) to be sarcastic about any ruling of the Sacred Law;
This last law leaves no room for ambiguity about the ultimate goal of Islam:
(20) or to deny that Allah intended the Prophets message . . . to be the religion followed by the entire world.
Such interpretations of the Quran and hadith may be considered archaic or may be questioned today by modern Muslim legal scholars (as Bassiouni implies), but these kinds of stringent interpretations still guide conservative judges and legalists, like the ones who were prosecuting Abdul Rahman. So it must be exposed. But no one should quarrel with Bassiouni if he knows that moderates are in fact challenging these archaic interpretations that are "established in seventh and eighth century constructs." This reform is especially important outside of the comfortable and free US and inside Islamic nations, where oppression really occurs.
Thus, Bassiouni will have our full support if he works towards the abolition of the death penalty for apostates. We hope that more Muslims will speak out against killing converts; we hope that Muslims will start to truly make an effort to remove that law from the Islamic law books and vigorously campaign against it, but any such campaigns have to begin with honestly acknowledging the current state of affairs. To abolish this penalty will be a serious fight. It will mean an upheaval in Islamic nations. It may be difficult, but he and other Muslims need to fight that good fight.
But the next two points do not promise optimism for change.
(2) Bassiouni writes that many constitutions around the Islamic world guarantee freedom of religion. But these two constitutions, to cite examples of the nations that he lists as permitting religious freedom, say that their main source of legislation is sharia:
Art. 2: Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia).
Article 3 [Islam]
(1) The religion of the President of the Republic has to be Islam.
(2) Islamic jurisprudence is a main source of legislation.
To his credit, Bassiouni has insightfully described conflicting ideologies, old and new. Various other Articles in Islamic constitutions seem to guarantee religious freedom. But sharia, on the other hand, is embedded in these constitutions if not explicitly, then by centuries of custom and practice. Egypt and Syria say that it is the principal "source of legislation." How can they eliminate this ancient foundation? Recall that this sacred law is taken directly from the Quran and sound traditions about Muhammad himself and is therefore set in concrete. So Islamic nations are reluctant to leave it behind, even though the Quran and the sound hadith are extreme in many matters like executing apostates. How will the old and the new be reconciled? Can they be, if this involves leaving the Quran and hadith behind?
(3) This brings us to our next point, the most important one. The Quran itself is also filled with seventh-century "doctrinal constructs." Does Bassiouni have any suggestions about that? Yes, but not one that I had hoped for. He says that his holy book comes down from God (see "Last of Gods revelations?" below). If Islamic law must be based on it, then why should we be hopeful that Muslim countries will improve their constitutions, legislation, and human rights? How this ideological competition (old v. new) will be resolved in the final analysis is anyones guess.
(4) Bassiouni says that "States that recognize [apostasy] as a crime punishable by death include Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. However, there are no known cases in recent times in which someone charged with apostasy in these countries has been put to death."
In reply, however, this report says that 150 Muslims charged with converting to Christianity have been detained in maximum security prisonsin Egypt, the nation that Bassiouni extols as guaranteeing religious freedom:
. . . There is also an article of the Penal Code which prosecutes actions susceptible of endangering national unity or social peace which is often used by the authorities against Muslims wishing to convert to Christianity. More than 150 Muslims charged with converting to Christianity have been detained in maximum-security prisons accused of threatening national security and unity.
It is true that they have not suffered death (so far), but why is it good to be technically correct when humans are actually suffering in Islamic countries? Why is freedom of religion and of conscience even a debate in Islamic nations today? The answer goes back to the Quran itself, the traditions (hadith), and classical sharia, none of which guarantee freedom in religion, as the Quranic verses and the hadiths cited below will demonstrate.
(5) Bassiouni writes that in strict nations like Iran "there are no known cases in recent times in which someone charged with apostasy has been put to death." However, Reverend Soodmand was hanged in 1990:
Reverend Hossein Soodmand was a Muslim who had converted to Christianity in 1964 and acted as pastor and evangelist in the Evangelical Christian Church. He was arrested in 1989 and charged with apostasy and insulting Islam through his own conversion and by his efforts to convert other Muslims. He was sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court in Meshed and despite pleas for clemency by fellow pastors to the Dayro-E-Tasalamat (a Muslim cleric acting as Ombudsman, literally "he who hears the cries of the oppressed"), he was executed by hanging on 3rd December 1990 at the insistence of the Ombudsman.
Here is the source for both reports. Go also to this website that tracks the persecution of Christians around the world, citing many cases in Islamic countries.
The principal category of crimes in Islam is called hudud. These crimes are referred to in the Koran and thus require prosecution. They are: adultery, theft, transgression (physical aggression), highway robbery, slander and alcohol consumption. Apostasy is included in this list by most scholars, but not by a few others. The Koran refers to it as follows: "And whoever of you turns [away] from his religion [Islam] and dies disbelieving, their works have failed in this world and the next [world]. Those are the inhabitants of fire: therein they shall dwell forever." Surat (chapter) al-Ma'eda, verse 35. This verse does not criminalize the turning away from Islam, nor does it establish a penalty.
(1) One of the most excessive aspects of Islamic law derived from the Quran and the hadith is its punishments for crimes like highway robbery and theft, and for sins like adultery. I have already written on most of the topics in Bassiounis quick list. The following punishments are derived from the Islamic holy book and the sound hadiths.
Death for adultery
Death for homosexuality
Crucifixion or mutilation for highway robbery
Mutilation for male and female thieves
Whipping for alcoholism and gambling
Literal eye for eye
(2) Bassiouni quotes Sura (Chapter) 5:35 as if it is the only verse in the Quran that deals with apostates. But here are other verses: Suras 2:217; 3:72, 86-87, 90; 4:137; 5:54; 16:106; 33:14; 47:25-27; 73:11; and 74:11. He notes, correctly, that 5:35 says that punishment for apostates is reserved for Judgment in the Last Day. It must be conceded that these other verses also leave punishment in Allahs hands.
However, two verses put punishment in Muhammads hands. The so-called hypocrites embraced Islam with reservations. Sometimes they supported Muhammad from a geographical and religious distance, for example, in saying prayers the Muslim way. At other times, they seemed to help the enemies of Islam (see Abul ALa Maududi, The Meaning of the Quran, vol. 1, pp. 361-62, notes 116-117).
In Sura 4:88-89 Allah tells the prophet how to deal with these particular hypocrites.
4:88-89 Then what is the matter with you that you are divided into two parties about the hypocrites? Allah has cast them back (to disbelief) because of what they have earned. Do you want to guide him whom Allah has made go astray? And he whom Allah has made to go astray, you will never find for him any way (of guidance) 89 They wish that you reject (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like one another). So, take not Auliya (protectors or friends) from them, till they emigrate in the way of Allah (to Muhammad). But if they turn back (from Islam), take (hold of) them and kill [q-t-l] them wherever you find them . . . . (Hilali and Khan, parenthetical insertions are theirs; mine in brackets)
We should note two facts from these verses. First, Allah himself made the hypocrites go astray, yet he orders them killed. Second, the Arabic verb qatala is used (root is q-t-l), and this word means exclusively to fight, kill, war, battle, or slaughter. Its meaning is much narrower than that of jihad, though this latter word also includes bloodshed.
Verse 90 goes on to say that if these nominal Muslims seek peace, not war, then Allah has not opened a way for Muhammad to fight them. He must allow them to live in their state of hypocrisy. However, as verse 89 says, if they turn back both from emigrating and Islam, then they shall be battled. So there is no ambiguity about Muhammads policy on full apostatesdeath.
For other passages in the Quran that permit Muhammad to punish apostates, go here.
What the sacred Traditions actually say
Turning away from Islam, which is translated as apostasy, would not have been considered a crime, except the Prophet Muhammad (praise be upon him) in the 7th Century applied the death penalty to a Muslim who turned away from Islam. Historians of the Sunnah, the tradition established by the Prophet and deemed binding upon all Muslims, failed to note a significant fact about that case--that person not only had a change of faith, but decided to join the enemies of Islam at a time of war, thus making it a crime of high treason. Such a crime exists in all legal systems, many with the death penalty.
Analysis: Basiouni implies that there is only one case of apostasy in the Sunnah. But the following hadiths, representing many others, say nothing about an apostate joining the enemies of Islam at a time of war.
(1) Malik (d. 795) was the founder of a major School of Law and taught Shafii. Malik is widely used among Sunnis, so says the Oxford Dictionary of Islam. He is also considered a highly reliable collector of hadith. He records this straightforward tradition:
Yahya related to me from Malik . . . that the Messenger of Allah . . . said, "If someone changes his deen [religion] - strike his neck!" (online source)
(2) Bukhari (d. 870) is one of the most reliable collectors and editors of hadith, if not the most reliable. He records this tradition traced back to Muhammad himself in a legal context. It gives three reasons for shedding a Muslims blood.
Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas [like-for-like punishment] for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims." (Bukari)
(3) In this hadith accepted by Bukhari, Muhammad sends a Muslim to go on an inspection tour of Yemen. The Muslim envoy notices a Jew in chains. Why?
. . . The Prophet then sent Mu'adh bin Jabal after him [to Yemen] and when Mu'adh reached him, he spread out a cushion for him and requested him to get down (and sit on the cushion). Behold: There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu'adh asked, "Who is this (man)?" Abu Muisa said, "He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism." Then Abu Muisa requested Mu'adh to sit down but Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed . . . (Bukhari; see a short parallel here)
This legal decision was reached during Muhammads lifetime, and this envoy and judge says that execution for apostasy "is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle." This Jew had not joined the enemies of Islam at a time of war.
(4) If the envoy and judge in Yemen understood Muhammads policy while the prophet was alive, what about Muhammads family, specifically Ali (his son-in-law) and Ibn Abbas (his cousin and highly reliable transmitter of the traditions)? What did Ali do to some "atheists"? He burned them alive. What would Ibn Abbas have done?
. . . The news of this event reached Ibn Abbas who said, "If I had been in his [Alis] place, I would not have burnt them, as Allahs Messenger forbad it, saying, Do no punish anybody with Allahs punishment (fire). I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah Messenger, Whoever change[s] his Islamic religion, then kill him." (Bukhari, Apostates, no. 6922; online source)
Thus, the Islam of Ali and Ibn Abbas, Muhammads family, would not tolerate freedom of religion. And only Allah may punish someone with fire (see Sura 5:35, above, quoted by Bassiouni).
(5) Finally, after Muhammad dies of a fever in AD 632, the tribes in Arabia revolted against Islam. Evidently, they honored this religion only because the prophet grew in military prowess. But shortly after he died, they dropped their allegiance to him. However, his right-hand companion Abu Bakr was appointed successor or Caliph upon Muhammads death (ruled AD 632-634). This is how he deals with the revolt.
When Allah's Apostle died and Abu Bakr became the caliph some Arabs renegade (reverted to disbelief) (Abu Bakr decided to declare war against them) . . .
Umar questions his policy, but Abu Bakr explains why it is just to fight apostates.
Abu Bakr said, "By Allah! I will fight those who differentiate between the prayer and the Zakat as Zakat is the compulsory right to be taken from the property (according to Allah's orders) By Allah! If they refuse to pay me even a she-kid which they used to pay at the time of Allah's Apostle. I would fight with them for withholding it" Then 'Umar said, "By Allah, it was nothing, but Allah opened Abu Bakr's chest towards the decision (to fight) and I came to know that his decision was right." (Bukhari; parallel hadiths: here and here)
Zakat is the forced "charity" tax that flows into Islamic coffers. Thus, besides theological reasons for fighting the "apostates," Abu Bakr has both eyes trained on their resources, down to their last she-kid.
For more hadiths that are not cited here, see this article.
Only tolerance and forgiveness?
The first [overlooked factor] relates to the Koran, the highest binding source of Islamic law, which contains a fundamental principle stated in unequivocal terms: "Let there be no compulsion in religion," Surat Al-Baqarah, verse 256. Surely this overarching principle cannot be transgressed by forcing a person under penalty of death to espouse Islam even after such a person professes to have renounced it.
The second overlooked factor relates to the Prophet's Sunnah, which is the second source of law. In another case, the Prophet reached a different outcome. In this case, which shows the considerate and gentler face of Islam, a man was brought to the Prophet and accused of turning away from Islam. He was seen throwing his spear into the sky and screaming, "I want to kill you God!" The Prophet inquired of the man if that was true, and then asked for his reasons. The man said that God had killed his beloved one that he was soon to marry, and that he wanted to kill God for that. The Prophet, addressing the accusers, said, "Is it not enough for you that he believes in God enough that he wants to kill him?" And he let the man go.
(1) Bassiouni quotes from the overused but obsolete Sura 2:256, which says that there is no compulsion in religion. This sura (chapter) is regarded as the earliest one after Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. Muhammad wanted to be accepted by all peoples, so the verse reflects this desire. But Bassiouni fails to mention an unpleasant verse in Sura 9 (and there are many). This sura is the last one to be revealed in its entirety, and many Muslims believe that it abrogates or cancels earlier verses that seem to promote only tolerance. Verse five in Sura 9 unveils Muhammads violent policy against polytheists. They either convert or die.
9:5 Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. (Pickthall)
So there is compulsion in Islam, after all.
(2) Bassiouni cites a tradition in which Muhammad forgives a grieving man who threw a spear at Allah. It should be carefully noted, however, that Muhammad never changed his legal policy on apostasy in this sad case. Rather, he simply disagreed with the mans accusers. The man still believed that Allah existed; otherwise, why bother throwing a spear at him? But what would have happened if Muhammad had agreed with the mans accusers? The five hadiths quoted in the previous section remove any doubt. The man would have been killed.
The last of Gods revelations?
The Koran is the last of God's divine revelations and it is specifically stated therein that Islam is the continuation of Judaism and Christianity." [After quoting 2:136, which says that Muhammad honors Old Testament Prophets and Jesus, Bassiouni concludes]: "It would be contrary to this recognition to criminalize, let alone execute, a person who embraces Judaism or Christianity."
(1) Bassiouni asserts that the Quran is "the last of Gods revelations." Though I am neither a Sikh nor a Latter-Day Saint (Mormon), these two religions have holy books that appear long after the Quran. Nanak, founder of Sikhism, has the Guru Granth Sahib, and Joseph Smith has the Book of Mormons, believed to be brought down by an angel. Bassiouni is entitled to declare his beliefs, but members of other religions are equally entitled to disagree.
(2) He quotes Sura 2:136, which teaches that Islam recognizes various prophets from the Old Testament and even Jesus himself. Thus, Islam is open-minded about Judaism and Christianitynever mind that the Quran erroneously demotes Jesus to a mere prophet. (Go here for the New Testaments teaching on Christ). However, it is not hard to find polemical and intolerant verses in the Quran, near each verse that seems to preach "peace and love."
For example, the very next verse (Sura 2:137) reveals which message is the best one (Islam): "And if they [Christians and Jews] believe in the like of that which ye believe, then they are rightly guided. But if they turn away, then are they in schism". . . (Pickthall). Thus, the Jews and Christians are in schismnot Muhammad and his Muslims. As the later religion, it may be fairly said that Islam is in schism. But for Muslims, Islam must come out on top. It may be true that Biblical Christianity regards later revelations as suspect, but Bassiouni implies that Islam rises above such quarrels, and this is inaccurate.
To go beyond Sura 2, these verses lump Jews and Christians or People of the Scripture (= the Bible) together with polytheists, and their destiny is the fires of hell, as "the worst of created beings" (verse 6).
98:1 Those who disbelieve among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters could not have left off (erring) till the clear proof came unto them, 2 A messenger from Allah, reading purified pages 3 Containing correct scriptures. 4 Nor were the People of the Scripture divided until after the clear proof came unto them. 5 And they are ordered naught else than to serve Allah, keeping religion pure for Him, as men by nature upright, and to establish worship [salat or prayer five times a day] and to pay the poor-due [zakat]. That is true religion. 6 Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings. (Pickthall, my insertions in brackets)
Also, Sura 9:29 says that Muhammad should fight against the People of the Scripture.
9:29 Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute [jizya] readily, being brought low. (Pickthall)
This verse says nothing about a real and physical harm done to Islam. Nonetheless, Muhammad gave three options to the Christians and Jews in the north during his Tabuk Crusade to fight against Byzantine Christians in late AD 630: (1) fight and die; (2) convert; (3) or submit and pay the second-class-citizen jizya tax for the "privilege" of living under Islam.
So why should a Christian or Jew trust the seeming "peace and love" verses in the Quran?
(3) Moreover, the claim that Islam is a continuation (read: improvement) of Christianity is empirically and demonstrably false, as far as Jesus and the New Testament are concerned. The Quran ordains and endorses the following policies and practices. Chapter and verse follows each point.
This list is all about physical acts here on earth, not about abstract doctrines. These acts and legal decrees can be measured and evaluated with our own eyes and sound reason, and how do they come out? Not very good, to say the least. Further, it may be fairly asked: Did Jesus and his Apostles and the New Testament authors say or do these things? Not even close. If the Quran is "the last of Gods divine revelations" to humanity, then God must hate us, especially women. Truthfully, humanity can do a lot better than the Quran. It is filled with seventh-century "doctrinal constructs" (Bassiounis words), so we must leave it far behind us in the new millennium.
If the readers suspect that these verses have been taken out of context, they may click on the following articles that in turn have long and several supporting articles behind each item on the list:
Why I dont convert to Islam
Top ten reasons why Islam is not the religion of peace
Why Islamic law is bad for all societies
Top ten rules in the Quran that oppress women.
These verses in the above list are clear and unambiguous.
Does the Old Testament command some severe punishments? Yes, but go here to find out why they no longer apply in the New Testament.
Regrettably, contemporary Muslim scholars do not sufficiently address controversial issues long-established in tradition for fear of having to face the wrath of the traditional religious establishments in the Muslim world. And they are also reluctant to do so in this country, because of consistent attacks against Islam by certain religious and political groups who have their own agenda. The media have regrettably abetted this agenda by negative portrayals of Islam and Muslims. Admittedly, such situations as in Afghanistan, the horrendous crimes committed by the jihadists in Iraq, indiscriminate bombings, aerial attacks in the U.S., suicide bombings in Europe and Israel, lend credence to anti-Islam negativism.
Analysis: Bassiouni must be commended for exhorting his fellow Muslim scholars to address controversial issues like executing apostates, "long established in tradition." But the word "tradition" implies that these issues are not found in the Quran or Islamic law, but they are.
(1) Be that as it may, he offers two reasons why Islamic scholars "do not sufficiently address controversial issues long-established in tradition," both abroad and in the US.
First, it is "for fear of having to face the wrath of the traditional religious establishments in the Muslim world."
In reply, no one should have a quarrel with his first reason. Moderates may have to pay with their lives. So their fear is understandable.
Second, "And they are also reluctant to do so in this country, because of consistent attacks against Islam by certain religious and political groups who have their own agenda. The media have regrettably abetted this agenda by negative portrayals of Islam and Muslims."
In reply, however, this is odd logic. Muslim moderates will be attacked here in the US if they challenge harsh Islamic laws and even the violent verses in the Quran? No one should doubt that all Americans and others citizens of the whole world would applaud and support moderate Muslims if they did this.
However, many are asking, where is this alleged majority of moderate Muslims who challenge and confront the radicals, who expose them, who oust them and who denounce them in no uncertain terms? Is it not rather astonishing how little resistance the Islamists have to their agenda, and how much support they enjoy in the vast Muslim population? The Palestinians just voted the Hamas into power and they, without question, stand for a very radical version of Islam.
(2) Bassiouni also says that the violence coming out of the Islamic world lends credence to the negative portrayal in the media: "the jihadists in Iraq, indiscriminate bombings, aerial attacks in the U.S., suicide bombings in Europe and Israel."
Who could disagree with this? It is indeed the violence that comes first, the media portrayal, second.
(3) Bassiouni concludes with these words:
Muslim scholars must assume their responsibilities in responding to such negativism, and also by condemning the wrongs committed in the name of Islam.
Lets hope that the Muslim response to negativism comes in a way that tells the violent radicals to stop. Condemning their acts is a first step. Lets also hope for many Muslim reformers to go out and change Islamic countries.
In the meantime, in his editorial, Bassiouni left out too much and put too much inboth of the wrong sort. The Quran itselflet alone the traditions and Islamic lawhas bigoted and intolerant verses that command killing the tolerant and unbigoted. The Quran itself has too many harsh laws that are established in seventh century "doctrinal constructs." It is good if moderate Muslims reform and update Islamic law, but what about the Quran itself? It is good for Bassiouni to challenge his fellow Muslims to respond, but if they cannot see the true source of the problems (the Quran), then how can reform move forward?
Further, is Bassiouni making an active effort to convince those radicals of their wrong ways, or is he only seeking to convince the West that they do not represent true Islam? In the long run, the West will only be convinced of a peaceful Islam, if and only if Islam were to become actually peaceful in reality, not merely by declaring it as such.
However, how can moderates renounce verses in their holy book when they believe that it is "the last of Gods divine revelations," and when they also blithely believe that it benefits humanity?
The problem with Bassiounis editorial is that it does not disclose all of Islam. Too many uninformed readers may accept its peaceful countenance or facade. But it hides a sword behind its back.
For the sake of truth and peace, if Bassiouni would like to do the right thing, then he should expose the sword of Islam for the whole world to see. But his editorial leaves the sword hidden.
What is Bassiounis message and what is his intended audience? Whom does he want to convince that Islamic law must be reformed? If he wants to tell a western audience (the vast majority of the Chicago Tribune readership) that Islamic law does not prescribe death for converts from Islam to Christianity, then he is plainly wrong. On the other hand, if he did want to issue a call that Islamic law must be reformed and the death penalty for apostates must be removed from sharia, then he is preaching to the choir, to the already convinced. Western readers will certainly agree with him. But sharia is not going to be reformed by telling his wishful thinking to a Western audience.
The real question, the only one that will count in the end, is this one: Is Bassiouni publishing articles and books in the Islamic world, both among scholars and the population, which seek to convince the legal authorities of the Muslim community to abolish the death penalty for apostates once and for all, and to fully implement the basic human right of freedom of religion? Does he rally and campaign for this freedom to choose in the Muslim community? Does he preach this in the mosques in the USA and abroad whenever he has the opportunity? Does he protest whenever the radicals preach their message of hatred against the infidels in general and the apostates in particular? Would he be willing to publically debate radical Muslim leaders on this issue, for example people like Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad (1, 2, 3, 4), or Yusuf Qaradawi, a leading spokesperson if not the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood? Or he may start with less well-known Jalal Abualrub, an Imam of a mosque in Florida who just confirmed: "... Islam condemns the apostate to death, ‘He who reverts from his religion, then kill him’; [an authentic Hadeeth collected in as-Silsilah as-Sahihah 487]. This is the Law of Islam and we certainly believe in it." Courageous Dr. Wafa Sultan has shown that it is possible to challenge radical Muslim preachers on popular TV stations in the Muslim world (video clip 1, transcript 1; video clip 2, transcript 2).
If he doesn't do any of these then his words are ineffectually hollow.
Here is a longer article, written by myself, on apostasy. It discusses more passages from the Quran.
This article provides two legal documents by Islamic authorities that make it unmistakingly clear what the penalty is for apostasy.
If the readers would like to see verses in the Quran, they may click on this website which has multiple translations.
Dr. M. Cherif Bassiounis editorial turned out to be quite popular so that it was cited and commented upon in dozens of blogs and websites. Here are links to some other reviews: one, two, three.
Thomas Klocek, a professor teaching at the same university, DePaul, got fired for criticizing some Muslim students extremist views. Did Bassiouni do anything to support the freedom of speech in this case?
Irfan Yusuf is a Muslim attorney writing articles in New Zealand and Australian newspapers and Muslim websites: here, here, and here. However, the director of the Barnabas Fund, an organization dedicated to helping persecuted Christians, refutes the lawyer.
Articles by James Arlandson
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