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Democracy defends apostasy

KUALA LUMPUR, 6 May 2009: Muslims in a truly democratic country would allow other Muslims the freedom to leave Islam if they wished, said Muslim Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol.

“We are happy when non-Muslims like Cat Stevens embrace Islam, but what if a Muslim wants to become a Christian?” asked Akyol at a public seminar on Secular state, religious society: The role of religion in a plural country yesterday evening.


Akyol
Akyol said the ban on apostasy did not originate from the Quran, but was rather a strategy to quell rebellion by the caliphs who succeeded Prophet Muhammad in leading the early Muslim community.

If apostasy was made legal, Muslims would not convert out en masse, he said.

“In Turkey, there is no law banning apostasy, but the conversion rate of Muslims to Christianity has been around 2,000 out of a population of 71 million,” he explained.

The Istanbul-based Akyol, who is also a journalist with the Turkish Daily News, said ideally the state should be neutral in regard to religious or ideological beliefs.

“In this case, I personally think that the secular state is ideal and compatible with Islam,” he said.

Akyol also clarified that the term “Islamic state” did not exist in the Quran, and that it was a political creation of Islamists in the postcolonial era.

The writer went on to explain that it was important to distinguish between a secular and secularist state.

“Examples of secularist states include Communist Albania, in which even belief in God was illegal,” he explained.

He said secular states, on the other hand, demonstrated neutrality and allowed citizens to practise religion according to their own conscience.

On this score, Akyol criticised his own country, Turkey, for having a history of banning women from wearing the hijab in public schools and offices.

Akyol stressed that leaving religion to the individual’s conscience also meant that personal sins could not be treated as crimes against the state.

“Even homosexuality, which many Muslims believe is a sin, should not be criminalised by the state,” he said.

“The rights of minorities must be protected, and human rights are not debatable in a democracy.”

Plurality vs pluralism

The other speaker at the forum, PAS Member of Parliament for Kuala Selangor Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, agreed that “the age of forcing ideas and beliefs through military and political power is over”.


Dzulkefly
Dzulkefly said it was important for Muslims “to respect others as others, and that others have the right to believe the truth claims of their religions.”

He also said it was equally important for Muslims to respect differences among their co-religionists “as long as these don’t trample on the essentials spelt out in the Quran”.

However, Dzulkefly differentiated himself from Akyol on the issue of the state’s neutrality with regard to religion.

“As an Islamist democrat, I believe that a democracy with a multiparty system should allow the dynamics of society to determine the ultimate form of government, including being an Islamic state,” he said.

He agreed with respecting plurality, but differentiated this from what he called “the theology of religious pluralism”.

“Pluralism claims that all religions are equally valid paths to the same truth,” he said, adding that Islam does not accept this.

The seminar was organised by Malaysia Think Tank, a libertarian organisation promoting “free individuals; free markets; limited government; and rule of law”. It was attended by some 50 academics, activists, lawyers, students and journalists.

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15 Responses to “Democracy defends apostasy”

  1. MalaysiaBoleh says:

    Yeah! Import one writer, put some of his quotes here and let it be gospel. Heck, what’s next – quoting this Shanon Shah’s beliefs and making it gospel too?

    By the way, what “is” a truly democratic country … sure sounds foreign to me.

  2. bendi says:

    I think The Nut Graph has gone overboard this time. You have obvious political motives and liberal Islam leanings. Malaysians do not need this type of liberal Islam.

  3. menj says:

    I believe that I am echoing sentiments when I say that such suggestions to “condone” apostasy are overstepping the limits. Religious pluralism and a tolerance to apostasy from Islam is the belief of liberal Muslims, not Islam itself.

  4. Dhanen Mahes says:

    1. Bendi – I respect your opinion, and it is clear you do not agree with what Mr Mustafa has articulated – but with all due respect, who are you to decide what all “Malaysians” need or want?

    2. Liberal Islam – I hear this word get thrown around a lot, usually in a negative light, and most often in comments to articles with a lot of words like “democracy”, “respect” and “rights”. Pray tell, what exactly is “liberal islam”, and why do you hate it so much? To my knowledge, the term liberal is extremely fluid and contextual. Hence, anybody can be a liberal to somebody else. So by extension, to someone else you might also be a liberal Mr Bendi. Should we kick you out of Malaysia because some Tom, Dick or Harry thinks you’re too “liberal”?

  5. Reza says:

    I completely agree with Akyol on the subject of apostasy. I find it interesting that of all religions in the world, Islam is the only one that prohibits apostasy. Actually, it is not accurate for me to state that Islam prohibits apostasy when it does not state anywhere in the Quran that a Muslim cannot apostate. However, the Quran does state that there should be no compulsion in Islam (Quran 2:256) – a completely opposite philosophy. How does one then justify this “no apostasy” nonsense?

    In any case, it is a gross violation of human rights to force a person into a religion. How one believes in God is an extremely personal matter and should be left up to the individual. Just because a person was born to Muslim parents in a Muslim country does not give the parents or the government the right to force Islam onto the child. Of course, I do realize that most children are brought up in the religion of their parents, but this is not the issue. The issue is giving the child the right to choose whether or not to continue with the religion of his upbringing once he becomes a mature adult who can think for himself.

  6. Nina S says:

    I think what everyone needs to step back and recognise is the set of beliefs you have for yourself, and the difference between personally ascribing to them and having them imposed on everyone else regardless. Especially if justice is an important notion in your faith.

  7. menj says:

    Responding @Reza:

    “In any case, it is a gross violation of human rights to force a person into a religion. How one believes in God is an extremely personal matter and should be left up to the individual.”

    If any other religion holds to this, then that is their business and not the problem of any Muslim or Islam. In Islam, becoming a Muslim is a covenant between a person and God and apostasy from the religion is tantamount to violating God’s right and hence to be duly punished according to the syariah. “Human rights” as understood by the non-Muslim population is not the business of Islam, God’s rights are and takes precedence in the religion of Islam. For further discussion on the topic, see: Ismail R. al-Faruqi, “Islam and Human Rights” (http://www.ismailfaruqi.com/articles/islam-and-human-rights/)

    - MENJ

  8. Taneug says:

    How can one be a democrat when one believes in the existence of an Islamist sate which is not democratic by its very nature?

    Furthermore, pluralism does not claim that all religions are equally valid valid paths to the same truth. Pluralism only says that all religions have the same right to exist in a state and each follower has the right and each follower of a religion has the same right to practice his religion.

    Dzulkefly is in an inherently contradictory position.As an Islamic democrat would he allow a Buddhist state or a Christian state which imposes restrict’ons on Muslims just like non-Muslims are discriminated against in Iran or Saudi Arabia?

  9. Reza says:

    menj wrote:

    “In Islam, becoming a Muslim is a covenant between a person and God and apostasy from the religion is tantamount to violating God’s right and hence to be duly punished according to the syariah.”

    If one decided to convert to Islam when one was a full mature adult and with properly functioning mental faculties, knowing full well what he was getting himself into, that Islam would not allow him to apostate, then I could accept your statement above. I may not completely agree to it, but I could accept it as a kind of compromise.

    However, the issue I have is with the forced conversion of children born into Muslim families in Islamic states. In this instance, the child is essentially a Muslim the moment he is born and can have no say, at any time in his life, if he decides to reject Islam. To me this is totally unacceptable. Any individual should be given a chance, at least once and during full mental maturity, to decide on his/her belief system and whether or not to accept or reject God’s rights as defined by Islam or human rights as defined by non-Muslims.

  10. The Lord Panda? says:

    Dilanda ultrarightwingparochialliteralistpsychopaths.

    Woo hey!

  11. Reza says:

    Menj,

    If you have a problem with non-Muslims’ definition of human rights then let me put it in a more universal context. Let’s use the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you”. As I mentioned, this is a universal value not tied to any specific creed. The Westerners may have given it its name, The Golden Rule, but the value itself does not belong any specific religion, race or social denomination of any kind. The message is simple: treat others in the same way you want them to treat you. It’s about mutual respect. This rule is the basis of universal ethics. Surely, no sane person can disagree with this rule.

    Within the context of this rule, would it then be just and fair to force someone to do or accept something that they did not agree with? Would you like it if someone did the same to you? Let me put this in perspective for you. Let’s say you were born to Jewish parents in a Jewish state that did not allow apostasy. Of course you would be brought up as a Jew. Then one day, your Muslim friend showed you a translation of the Quran. Upon reading it you found it to be more enlightening than Jewish scripture. In your heart you wanted to convert to Islam, but by decree of religious law in your country you were unable to do so. Is this right and would you accept it? I seriously doubt you would.

    And by the way, I read the article on the Islamic Bill of Human Rights by Ismail Faruqi, but apparently you didn’t, because it never stated anywhere in the article that Islam does not allow apostasy. On the contrary, if you read the excerpts below taken from that same article, you will see that Islam respects religious and ideological freedom:

    “C. Freedom. The liberty to know and to think (mind), to judge and to choose (heart), to act or not to act (arm), belongs universally and necessarily to all humans. Coercion in any form, except as imposed by law, is a civil and religious offense, punishable in this world as well as in the next.

    “21) while no human may turn his back to, and dissociate himself from society as such, each is free to associate with, or dissociate from any group or ummah. To this end humans are free to communicate and assemble with one another, to build such institutions as would promote and express such association.

    “28) Equally, they are entitled to transport their wealth and goods wherever they wish, to join or secede from the ummah of their birth. Muslims may not secede from their ummah and continue to reside in the Islamic state.

    “43) All humans have the right to identify with the ummah whose ideology represents their personal convictions, to lead their lives in ways which they determine as most consonant with that ideology, to express that ideology in theoretical, actional or aesthetic form, and to order their life and leisure as the ideology dictates. They are entitled to build and maintain such social and cultural institutions as their culture and its creative development demand.”

  12. menj says:

    @Reza: “And by the way, I read the article on the Islamic Bill of Human Rights by Ismail Faruqi, but apparently you didn’t, because it never stated anywhere in the article that Islam does not allow apostasy”

    First of all, the article is about “Islam and Human Rights” and not a “Bill of Human Rights”, since Dr Faruqi had made it clear in his article that Islam and the Muslim ummah does not need some “bill’ attached to make Islam subservient to human rights, as Islam IS human rights. And your “apparent” presumption that I did not read the article is false, since I was the person who scanned it, proof-read the material, and published it online on Ismail Faruqi Online. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I do own ismailfaruqi.com

    As to whom has not been “reading the article”, that person is obviously you. As stated in Footnote 29:

    29. This principle of the shari’ah if often misunderstood to imply discrimination between Muslims and non-Muslims. That non-Muslims may change their religion and join the Muslim ummah, and Muslims may not to convert to other religions and join their respective ummah, is alleged to constitute such illegitimate discrimination. The fact, however, is otherwise. The shari’ah holds all humans free to choose their religious affiliations, to enter into and exit from any religious denominations, including Islam. What it condemns is exit from political affiliation with the ummah or the Islamic state while continuing to reside within its territory. Since affiliation to the religion of Islam is ipso facto affiliation to the Islamic state and the ummah it is not conceivable to exit from the one without exiting from the other. Exit from the religion is a religious matter in which personal freedom is guaranteed for all. But exit from the ummah is at once an exit from citizenship, or loyalty to, the Islamic state. No state can or does tolerate anybody’s self-exoneration from loyalty to itself while continuing to affirm one’s citizenship or residence in that state. Such loyalty is a condition sine qua non on residence or citizenship. That is why Islamic law has treated exit from Islam as tantamount to exit from state, and therefore necessitating either physical separation from the territory of the Islamic state or prosecution as if it were treason. Naturally, the Muslim who converts to another religion, secedes from the ummah and exits from the Islamic state is not only safe because the jurisdiction of Islamic law does not reach him; neither the ummah nor the Islamic state has any claim against him.

    In short, do not simply pick and choose parts which you feel “comfortable” with just because you think it support your arguments. Dr Ismail Faruqi never held the position that apostasy from Islam is permissible or to be tolerated. Freedom of religion is not equal to freedom to apostasise.

    - MENJ

  13. Reza says:

    Menj wrote:

    ‘First of all, the article is about “Islam and Human Rights” and not a “Bill of Human Rights”’

    The reason why I used the term “Islamic Bill of Human Rights” is because it is used by the author himself, not only once but TWICE, in the article:

    “The Islamic bill of human rights is the oldest, as well as the most perfect and greatest.” (first paragraph)

    “The Islamic bill of human rights is a system of axiological principles or values.” (second paragraph)

    And you claim to have proof-read this article? Are you sure?

    I’ll admit that I missed the note (29) that you referred to as I was focusing on the main article itself. But after the passage is full of contradictions and nonsensical logic.

    First it says,

    “The shari’ah holds all humans free to choose their religious affiliations, to enter into and exit from any religious denominations, including Islam.”

    And

    “Exit from the religion is a religious matter in which personal freedom is guaranteed for all.”

    But then it says

    “But exit from the ummah is at once an exit from citizenship, or loyalty to, the Islamic state. No state can or does tolerate anybody’s self-exoneration from loyalty to itself while continuing to affirm one’s citizenship or residence in that state….That is why Islamic law has treated exit from Islam as tantamount to exit from state, and therefore necessitating either physical separation from the territory of the Islamic state or prosecution as if it were treason.”

    If the shari’ah “holds all humans free to choose their religious affiliations” and that exit from religion is a “personal freedom guaranteed for all”, how then can it turn around and prosecute apostates or banish them? Where is the logic here? It is a complete contradiction. It is like saying “The sky is blue” and then immediately after that you say “The sky is purple”.

    “Freedom of religion is not equal to freedom to apostasise.”

    Yet another illogical statement. How can there be religious freedom if one cannot choose to embrace or exit any religion at will?

    Another thing that doesn’t make sense is how non-Muslims are tolerated in Islamic states but apostates aren’t. Once a Muslim apostates he becomes a non-Muslim. And if other non-Muslims are allowed to reside and be protected in Islamic states then why not apostates?

    Also explain to me how apostating can be considered treason. Who am I committing treason against? God? Fine, then let him judge me himself on judgment day, but only He has the right to do that and no one else. Sins of the soul and spirit can ONLY be judged by the Supreme. Only crimes against other fellow humans can be judged by man. Since apostasy does not harm other humans it cannot be judged by man.

    “What it condemns is exit from political affiliation with the ummah or the Islamic state while continuing to reside within its territory. Since affiliation to the religion of Islam is ipso facto affiliation to the Islamic state and the ummah it is not conceivable to exit from the one without exiting from the other.”

    This brings me to another gripe I have, which is the concept of compulsory integration of politics and religion. Explain to me why one cannot exist without the other. Why must a state necessarily be religious and non-secular? Are you saying that one cannot properly govern a state unless there is a religious component involved? If you notice the most advanced countries in the world today are secular, while many of the non-secular Islamic states are quite backward. And the ones that are prosperous are so only because they are oil-rich or resource rich. So there is no evidence to suggest that a religious component is necessary for successful social governance.

    From menj’s earlier posts:

    “If any other religion holds to this, then that is their business and not the problem of any Muslim or Islam.”

    It IS the problem and business of any Muslim who wishes to apostate, especially if that Muslim did not willingly embrace Islam in the first place.

    ‘”Human rights” as understood by the non-Muslim population is not the business of Islam, God’s rights are and takes precedence in the religion of Islam.’

    If you are a Muslim who has accepted Islam wholeheartedly, then you may go ahead and believe whatever Islam says. But for the person who was forced to become a Muslim and is not truly a Muslim at heart, you cannot expect him to accept the Islamic point of view on this matter just because you and other like-minded Muslims say so.

  14. Celia says:

    Bravo from me, too!!


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