Afghan Convert Released
The Afghan authorities have released Abdul Rahman, a convert from Islam to Christianity who was facing a death sentence for apostacy. Apparently the grounds for the release were procedural– questions linger about the man’s mental health, and there are gaps in the prosecution’s evidence.
That this travesty is being ended is a great good thing. But it is unfortunate that it is being ended on these narrow grounds. The next convert will face the same charges.
The episode underlines the falsehood of the Bush administration’s empty boast that it is spreading democracy in the Middle East and that “50 million” persons have been liberated. In fact, Bush has been spreading Muslim fundamentalism. In Afghanistan, he just replaced the Taliban with the Jami`at al-Islam, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was the major element in what the American called the “Northern Alliance.” Karzaid did not even bother to change the Taliban chief justice when he came in; no doubt the chief justice was strict enough for the Northern Alliance, which contained this strong fundamentalist tendency. Everywhere Bush has intervened – Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, etc., it has helped the fundamentalists.
The doctrine that apostacy deserves the death penalty comes out of medieval Islamic canon law rather than from the Quran itself. If Islam is to survive into the next century, its adherents need to rethink all those medieval legal doctrines to which modern fundamentalists are so attached. It is monstrous, and is the height of hypocrisy for Saudis and others to fund the conversion of Americans to Islam while threatening Saudi converts to Christianity with death.
Some modern Pakistani jurists have written reformist books that dispute the legitimacy of executing people for apostasy in Islamic law. But their books are in English and although they might have been members of the Pakistan supreme court, they are laypersons rather than clerics.
As for the Quran itself, it says “la ikraha fi’d-din”– there is no compulsion in religion.
[2:256] There is no compulsion in religion: the right way has been distinguished from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the idol Taghut and believes in God has grasped the strongest handle; one that never breaks. God is the Hearing, the Knowing.
The Quran is forthright that the wages of unbelief and idolatry in this life are damnation in the next. But it does not permit coercion of the conscience in this life.
There is also Chapter 109, with its implication that the Prophet left the choice of religion, even unbelieving religion, to the individual:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Say, “O unbelievers.
I do not worship what you worship.
Nor do you worship what I worship.
Nor will I ever worship what you worship.
Nor will you ever worship what I worship.
To you, your religion; and to me, my religion.”
Since the Quran recognizes the God of the Bible, these verses refer to the Meccan polytheists. And even they are being offered their own free will. To you yours, to me mine. Nothing about killing anyone about these matters of conscience.
Unfortunately, Abdul Rahman was not going to be judged by the Quran, but by the cruelty of the medieval jurists.