Friday, March 30, 2007

Statement: Muslims Uphold the Freedom of Faith

Muslim Academics/Scholars/Imams/Professionals
uphold the Freedom of Faith
and the Freedom to Change one's Faith

Apostasy (riddah) is a major issue that affects the understanding of, and perception about, Islam. Historically, Muslim scholars have not factored in the distinction between apostasy (changing one's faith, which is strictly a sin against God) and treason (strictly a civil offense against an established public order) when it is stated that Islam mandates capital punishment for riddah. That unnuanced perspective about apostasy has fueled negative propaganda against Islam and a negative image of Muslims. In recent years in some notable and well known cases, a fatwa (legal, non-binding opinion) was issued against alleged apostates and, at times, even a bounty was announced on their head.

Many Muslim scholars and academics have argued against the stated historical position as inconsistent with the Qur'an and on the grounds that killing someone for making a considered choice negates the very Islamic value and principle of freedom of choice, affecting Islam's position on universal human rights.

Freedom of choice in faith is central to Islam. This has been exemplified in the Qur'anic narrative regarding the choice made by Satan in contrast with Adam and Eve, and the broad agreement of Muslim scholars that only faith freely adopted is meritorious before God. Throughout history prophets and the communities of their believers have struggled to secure freedom of faith for themselves. Indeed it is a principle quintessential to both Islam and humanity.

Choosing a path in line with our beliefs about salvation has significant consequences in terms of our afterlife. In this world that freedom is bestowed upon us by God, which, by implication, must include the possibility of changing one's faith. Freedom of religion is meaningless without the freedom to change one’s religion. Denial of such reciprocal rights is also inconsistent with the principle of justice (adl/qist), as clearly enunciated in the Qur'an [4/an-Nisa/135].

The Qur'an does not specify any worldly punishment or retribution solely for apostasy. Similarly, there is no clear prophetic judgment on apostasy, nor examples that such punishment was meted out (during the time of the Prophet or in the period of the Righteous Caliphate) to someone solely for abandoning Islam as a creed, in contrast with apostasy-cum-treason, involving taking up arms against the Muslim community or the state.

Islam upholds the fundamental principle pertaining to freedom of faith ["Let there be no compulsion in Deen" 2/al-Baqara/256; also see 39/al-Zumar/41]. Thus:


We the undersigned Muslims from diverse backgrounds affirm:
The freedom of faith and the freedom of changing one's faith.
In light of the Qur'anic guidance and the Prophetic legacy,
the principle of freedom of faith does not lend itself
to impose in this world any punishment or retribution solely for apostasy;
thus there ought not to be any punishment
in the name of Islam or fatwa calling for the same.

In addiiton, we call upon:
  • our esteemed scholars (ulama) and jurists (fuqaha), to address this inconsistency between the Islamic principle of freedom of faith and the position mandating punishment for apostasy, and to bring our legacy of Islamic jurisprudence and general Islamic discourse up-to-date for the times with reference to indisputable and categorical Islamic principles.

  • our fellow Muslims, to be informed of Islam's position on apostasy and to uphold the principle of choice so that we may exercise tolerance towards those who have left the "straight path" and deal with their subsequent views and actions (even when they are against Islam) within the conext of human rights and civil liberties allowed by law.

  • Imams and religious leaders, to educate and sensitize Muslim masses about notions of fairness and justice inherent in Islam and respond to apostasy in a dignified, constructive and patient manner.

  • governments of Muslim-majority countries, to address this matter constitutionally as well as legally, and actively engage in a process that eventually discards any law entailing punishment for apostasy.

  • Islamic organizations, to uphold universal human rights (not inconsistent with Islam) and to defend the rights of ex-Muslims in regard to apostasy.


Bahar Bastani MD said...

Killing a person for changing his faith is unislamic and unhumane

Anonymous said...

Dear Brothers and Sisters: Assalaam-u-Alaikum

In my opinion, the choice our DEEN is a freedom that Allah (SWT) has allowed us so that it will be our decision to earn JANNAH or not.


Aslam Rana

Jibril Abdullah said...

It is true that Islam is a faith of religious tolerance that cannot be forced on any human being. As we've read from our holy scriptures, Allah (SWT) has stated "Let there be no compulsion in religion" and "Let there be no coercion in matters of faith". These holy statements attest to Islam's position on religious choice. Islam CANNOT be forced on anybody, whether Muslim or non-Musim. To deny anybody their right to freedom of faith goes against every grain of our great deen. But let's look at it another way. We all know that anybody who is kafir in their heart is kafir, even if they claim Musim identity, have Muslim parents or have a Muslim name. That being said, I strongly believe that if one does not like or believe in the deen of Islam, does not have the fear Allah (SWT) in their hearts and does not agree with the teachings of our great Prophet (SWS), they should have the right to leave the religion, and they SHOULD separate themselves from the Muslim ummah. If someone is kafir in their hearts, they are often kafir in action. As a result, they are not only taking themselves down the path to Jahannam but many people around them. (Their friends, family, and others who would be influenced by their behavior.) They are in a sense, a "pollution" to the Muslim ummah. We cannot tell another what and what not to believe or force them to believe what we believe. And we should not kill people just because their hearts and minds are not in Islam. We should step back, and let them be on their way.

Anonymous said...

Mahshallah well compiled. jazakak
I would like to add one more thing, The 'Illah علة (rationale or cause) in -terms of Usool al-fiqh and Maqasid asharia, for Jihad , is the same as for apostasy. That is, hirabah حرابة (hate-filled fanaticism or direct and indirect hostility towards islam or Muslims), and NOT INFIDELITY OR KUFR, AS SOME MAY INTERPRET IT. This is an example of the misunderstanding that can arise out of literal interpretations.

Wallahu a3lam.

Rob said...

I need help in refuting the following statements, which I believe are false:

Statement #1: "I still haven't seen any affirmation from ANY schools of thought in either Sunni or Shi'a Islam of: 1. The absolute condemnation of the death penalty for apostasy, 2. The acceptance of ANYBODY, atheist, polytheist, and even Bahai as a creature worthy of respect and love, independent from the strictures of religion, BECAUSE of their being a CREATURE of God, a human."

Statement #2:

" I do not hear ANY respected imams speaking out against extremists."

These falsehoods were posted on Facebook. I want to refute them with a few counterfactuals. Please help.