TCS Daily


Death Lists and Dissenters

By Stephen Schwartz - April 18, 2006 12:00 AM

Allegations of "apostasy" among Muslims are presently a topic for global controversy. To Westerners, apostasy from Islam seems to denote conversion to Christianity, since the persecution of Muslims who have changed their religion has gained media attention -- most recently in the case of a Christian convert, Abdul Rahman, who was threatened by a local judge in Afghanistan. It is also widely believed in the West that apostasy from Islam is invariably punished by death.

Both views are distorted. The phenomenon of public abandonment of Islam for Christianity did not become widespread until the last 150 years or so, and cases have remained rare enough that there is no substantial body of Islamic jurisprudence dealing with it. In general, apostasy from Islam was defined in the past as denial of foundational concepts of the religion -- more as heresy than as a change of faiths.

Shafi'i Sunni jurisprudence, a school of shari'a which remains widespread in Arab countries and Southeast Asia, defines apostasy as straying from the religion, rather than leaving it or joining another, and recommends repeated mercy and opportunities to correct alleged errors. The Maliki school of jurisprudence, which is established in northwest Africa, is severe on those who change religions, demanding capital punishment. This may reflect the history of formerly-Islamic Spain where, during periods when territory passed from Muslim to Christian rule, Muslims who had converted from Christianity to Islam returned to their earlier faith.

I have personally and extensively observed Islamic customs in which the faith of Muhammad has fused with Christian elements (in the Balkans), Buddhism and shamanism (in Central Asia), and local folk religious traditions (in Indonesia). In the first two cases, syncretism or religious merging attracted no criticism from mainstream Muslim clerics, who considered porous borders between faiths a natural phenomenon. In Indonesia, however, Muslim clerics influenced by the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia have preached against such variations from the standard Sunni way, and recently have incited violence against those who diverge from their path.

However, under the great Muslim empires, accusations of apostasy were often pretexts for the suppression of political and intellectual dissent, and that is how such charges are typically employed today in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have warned against accusations of apostasy, according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, which is prevalent from the Balkans to India. The Prophet, it is said, opined that when one Muslim accuses another of disbelief, the accuser is the unbeliever.

The accusation of apostasy or unbelief remained mainly a political matter until the 18th century and the rise of the Wahhabis, who practiced takfir or accusation of apostasy against all Muslims who rejected Wahhabi doctrines, but especially against Shias and Sufis, or spiritual Muslims. They most certainly followed such accusations with death sentences, despoliation of property, and reduction of captive women to servitude.

Such terms have now appeared on the margin of American Islamic discourse -- literally: "We have issued our commands to the soldiers of God to worship God by pouring out their blood and burning their homes [i.e. of the supposed apostates]... Their women are to be abducted; their children enslaved, and their money confiscated."

This brutal idiom appeared in a claim of apostasy and threat of death issued on April 10 by a group, apparently in Egypt, called "Supporters of God's Messenger [Muhammad]." Included in the list of those condemned was Imam Ahmed Subhy Mansour, a Virginia-based Egyptian Islamic dissident who is also a founder, with me, of the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP), a think-tank supporting moderate Islam.

Subhy Mansour is not an apostate from Islam. He has not renounced the religion or denied any of its essential precepts. He is a critic of Sunni traditions. I do not agree with some of his views on the history of Islam, but these opinions have nothing to do with basic matters of faith, and therefore cannot be considered the basis for a charge of apostasy. Subhy Mansour's views are controversial but certainly within the norms of Islamic debate.

Commentaries on the April 10 death list have been published by other CIP founders including M. Zuhdi Jasser in Phoenix, previously a victim of Wahhabi ideological aggression, as reported in TCS, and CIP Canada representative Salim Mansur, a journalist; and here.

Given the Sunni-Shia split and Wahhabi influence, accusations of apostasy have led to horrific loss of life in Iraq, and a movement has begun among Sunnis to ban the practice of takfir. Charges that all Muslims except Wahhabis are unbelievers are more than a theological position; they also promote the elitist mentality that every extremist movement needs to recruit and maintain itself.

Nevertheless, issues of conversion from Islam to Christianity remain a major issue in the threatened clash of civilizations. Aside from general religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, which is an immediate necessity, a global Islamic consensus with contemporary attitudes about freedom of religious conscience will have to be developed by Muslim authorities in a long series of colloquies inspired by the utmost seriousness and intellectual weight. There is no simple answer to these questions. Still, the intent of the April 10 death list was not to clarify religious views, but to intimidate dissenters. This must not be tolerated by Western authorities, who must assist those threatened by such aggression, especially those residing in the democracies.

Stephen Schwartz is a TCS contributing writer and co-founder of the Center for Islamic Pluralism.

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8 Comments

More death threats from the religion of peace
Ye shall know a tree by its fruit leaps to mind (again) when I heard about the latest death threats.
How many death threats, how many bombings, how many violent demonstrations and murders over slights or perceived insults that other religions can absorb without so much as a second thought are the justification for murder and mayhem?
I have said for twenty years and continue to (and I was chastised by Mr Schwartz for saying so) say that Islam has to have a reformation.
In recent years I have tried to keep an open mind to Mr Schwartz and others like him ,who no doubt have only the best intentions, but the mountains of overwhelming empirical evidence continue to pile up.
The truth is that as it is currently practiced Islam is a fundamentally flawed religion.
The only peaceful coexistence possible with muslims is if they are a minority.
Any where you have a critical mass of believers this behavior will present itself e.g. The Netherlands.
Yes there are more than zero practicioners like Mr Schwartz who clearly does not want to exterminate infidels, but this is a tiny minority of muslims and clearly not the mainstream of believers world wide.
If there is a strain of belief of among muslims that can live in a pluralistic society and be tolerant of the beliefs of others I don’t see single example of it practiced anywhere except when and where muslims are a minority.
Once you have a critical mass of muslim believers the true nature of islam becomes clear.
The worst thing I have to worry about when my neighbor is a fundamentalist Christian is being warned about my likely buring in in hell in the after life not being sent there by him/her.
If my neighbor is a buddist and I make a commnet about how budda’s mother wears combat boots he rightly might be offended but there is a near zero chance he will feel he has to kill me because of the my disrespectful treatment of his religion’s founder.

Islam is a evil belief system, no different than Nazism, that wants world domination and believes that any means to this end are justified.
Schwartz and others can quote portions of the Quran and wish things were different all they want but this is in confilct with the reality on the ground world wide.
That Schwartz and others are in denial about islam’s ture nature does not change this or anything else..
This is not a mispercetion on my part, the facts here are indisputable.
Islam is dangerous and destructive beilef system that without a fundamental reformation will remain in permanet conflict with the rest of the world.

When things like these lists appear the silence of these supposed moderates that exist every where is deafining.
There is a a reason that there not millions of believers rising up to denounce this type of behavior.
The truth is the that majority of muslims tacitly approve of this type of evil just as the majority would rejoice at the destruction of Israel.
Just as in old news reels when Nazi’s “invaded” Austria the roads were lined with well wishers tossing flowers and saluting the furor.
They can all say now how they opposed the ***** but the news reels from that era refute this bald face lie.
When a bomb goes off or death threats are issued the deafing silence of muslims every where shows islam’s true nature. (yes there are a tiny few like Stephen but my point here the vast majority applaud this behavior)

Americans and the rest of western socitey need to wake up and realize that the current, practiced versions of Islam are a threat to their culture, freedom, and their very lives.
I can’t speak for others but for the record I want all muslims out of my country…………..now before we have more murders over cartoons or other stupid reasons.
Either that or maybe we can have them convert to some other religion at gun point it.
I’ve never ben threated by a buddist in my life so maybe buddhism would be a good choice here.
The details make no difference to me…my preference is that they leave peacefully …………………………but peaceful behavior and muslims well you see the obvious problem there.
I just want them and their hateful religion out of my life and my home.
As in Europe if something is not done soon we face the destructuion of our freedoms.
We’ve already seen the intimidation of many instutions indivudals due to the cartoon riots.
How much more are we willing to lose to this animalistic behavior?
If you are a muslim please leave America now, go someplace where the wisdom of muhammad is applied to daily life i.e. Saudia Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Packistan, North Africa, Iran, Iraq etc. and you can live the good life there and leave me alone.


Phillip
Things should be as simple as possible but no simpler

Apostasy is not the main problem
It appears you are the self appointed person to tell us Westerners about Islam and how we misunderstand it. I find some of your explanations amusing, but sad.

You stated: "To Westerners, apostasy from Islam seems to denote conversion to Christianity, since the persecution of Muslims who have changed their religion has gained media attention -- most recently in the case of a Christian convert, Abdul Rahman, who was threatened by a local judge in Afghanistan." I find your answer an end run around the facts. Apostasy means renunciation of a religious faith. All the word means is that when any person leaves his religion and joins another religion or simply becomes agnostic or atheist, he or she has committed apostasy. You must think Westerners are dumb.

You stated: "It is also widely believed in the West that apostasy from Islam is invariably punished by death." I do know what "widely" or "invariably" means, but having reviewed the Shari 'a and read a number of books on the subjects by Muslims and others, apostasy is definitely punishable by death in a number of Muslim countries. You are spinning because you have used the two italicized words in the above sentence to qualify your sentence carefully, which satisfies your conscience, but is misleading to many.

You state: "Both views are distorted." This sentence is a half-truth. You made statements that Westerners believe apostasy means converting to Christianity, which is a partial truth, but a number of us know what it truly means; and, all apostates are invariably punished by death, but many know this is not true in all cases too. It is your statements that are distorted, not the Westerners viewpoint. This article is all about trying to defend Islam against criticism. It cannot be done, and as time passes on, it will get even more criticism as religious pluralism is evaluated by Christians.

Finally, I think maybe you support pluralism (not convinced). But knowing the Islamic faith, this is almost impossible since it is an highly exclusive religion. In my view as a Christian, it is a false religion. In time, the truth will come out as Islam is subjected to rigorous evaluation in the West. Churches are beginning to review your beliefs now, and when evaluating them, are astounded.

It just keeps going on
The hard-line Muslims need to bb put in their place, but the only people able to do this are other Muslims. If anyone else tries it will just creat more martyrs and harder hard-liners. This is an issue for containment wherever possible and letting the people most affected deal with the problem.

muslims will never take care of their own problems
good post Pauled

The standard response from Muslims is that we don't have a Vatican that sets the rules so Islam is basically a free for all.
So there is nothing I can do about Osama et al and as a Muslim I have no responsibility.
While I certainly don’t think anyone is responsible for another’s actions I think we all have a responsibility to disassociate ourselves from evil.

Look if you or I were a member of the catholic religion (no intention to pick on Catholics any generic denomination or religious sect would do) and people that called themselves Catholics were doing stuff like the people that call them selves Muslims were doing.
I would either a find some way to police them (highly unlikely) or I would change my name and make my doctrine clear to disassociate myself from this evil behavior done in the name of Catholics.
This is what Stephen the author is attempting to do.
While I applaud his noble effort I see no response on the part of Muslims anywhere in any significant numbers.
Ask him how many members he has thus far………..out of a billion or so Muslims world wide.
Actions of Muslims (as a group not individuals) speak the loud and clear truth here.
Muslins are not joining this movement or forming their own because they tacitly approve of this animalistic behavior e.g. cartoon riots and execution lists of enemies of the state/religion.
The truth is that just as in pre world war II Germany and Europe the vast majority of Muslims are anti Semites.
The vast majority want a world wide caliphate/theocracy.
A good analogy would be Stalin’s famous quote the reason the revolution failed in France was that they did not kill enough people i.e. that the only reason that things don’t work is that they are not true believers willing to do what it takes.
Just as my commie friends (I have plenty that are not commies) in Russia now claim there was nothing wrong with communism it is a wonderful system the trouble was that Stalin corrupted “the perfect system” by making it a cult of personality.
Of course if I bring up chairman Mao then well that wasn’t true communism either if I bring up Pol pot then of course that wasn’t true communism either…………ad nausum.
The reason Muslims give for failures of Islamic governments e.g. Iran or Afghanistan is that these are not true believers they see nothing wrong with the whole Islamic theocracy concept and shria law.
Just like the die hard commies in Russia it is “the perfect system” the trouble is only with the implementation,
When you view Islam in the large context it is fundamentally a evil belief system just as communism is.
Ehile there were many communists that did not participate in sending people to the gulag but that doesn’t make their belief system any less evil.
The author is no doubt a fine person and great scholar but he is as blind as the true believers of communism.
This blindness to evil is part and parcel to Islam.
Only a radical reformation of Islam can change this.
You are correct only Muslims can fix this problem but the sad truth here is that the vast majority don’t see anything wrong with the status quo and they never will.

Phillip
Things should be as simple as possible but no simpler

Some differences of opinion
Christians one routinely persecuted anyone they felt was not one of them. The abuses of the Catholic Church are legandary (that is why it is actually a good analogy). But, this eventually changed. Why? I think it was in part due to Italy making it clear to the vatican that they existed only at Italy's whim. It was also due, in part, to several factions breaking off from the mother church.

This, unfortunately, cannot be done with Islam. Times and situations have changed too much. I don't believe a vast majority of Islamics really like the "status quo" but I do think they feel helpless to change it. The splintered sects also play a large part; each sects believers look at the rest of the world as infidels (even other Muslim sects). I think the change will actually come, but it will take time.

reformation
Hi Pauled
I chose the Catholics as an example for that very reason.
Islam needs a Luther nailing his theses to the front door event.
Sadly I am not expecting it to happen any time soon .....one expectation where I would love to be dead wrong.
I suppose few expected the reformation of Christianity either.

Phillip
Things should be as simple as possible but no simpler

There we are in total agreement
As I said, it will take time. I probably won't live to see it and can only hope the worst offenders keep their genocidal tendancies in their own back yard.

Bravo courageous readers
Bravo to other courageous readers who have posted their thoughts above.
The Mohammedan assaults on free Denmark have solidified my devotion to liberal Western instutitions, which are now under such threat from the renewed Mohammedan thirst for world conquest. The West, unfortunately, seems slow to be recognizing the problem, because too many Westerners are unwilling to recognize our civilization as:
1. Superior, because of our recognition of basic human rights and freedoms which Mohammedans don't recognize
2. Threatened, imagining that Islamo-Fascism is a short term phenomenon rather than a characteristic stance of that evil religion since its founding.
But Western Civilization, which has brought prosperity and freedom to billions, IS worth defending. And if Islamic "civilization", which has brought nothing but poverty and slavery to billions, has to be destroyed in the process of preserving our own liberties, so be it.

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