Freedom of Religions Freedom of Speech Persecution

Editorial: Is there punishment for apostasy?

The Afghan government released Abdul Rahman, a 41 year old man who converted 16 years ago to Christianity. In 1990, Mr. Rahman left Afghanistan and started to work as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan. During the course of his job, he converted to Christianity. In February of this year he was arrested after the police found him carrying a Bible. His ‘crime’ was that he has become an apostate and according to Muslim clerics in Afghanistan, should now face the death penalty. In 2004, the constitution of Afghanistan was written and it enshrined personal freedoms and recognised the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the freedom to choose one’s religion. But the constitution also draws from both civil and Islamic Sharia laws and explicitly states that no law can ‘contravene the tenets and provisions’ of Islam. Islamic cler- ics in Afghanistan argue that the death penalty is the prescribed punishment for apostasy. Intense international pressure was placed on the government to release Mr. Rahman. The case was dropped on ‘technical grounds’ with the prosecutor declaring that medical tests confirmed that Mr. Rahman was mentally unfit to stand trial. Many have interpreted this as an appeasement gesture to win favour with the West. There is no mention in the Holy Qur’an or anywhere else of any punishment for an apostate which may be meted out to him by any other person. The consequences of his apostasy in this world and in the next life lie solely in the Hands of God. Man is free to accept or reject whatever beliefs he chooses. God says in the Holy Qur’an: 2 The Review of Religions – April 2006 Sarah Waseem – UK EDITORIAL There should be no compulsion in religion. (Ch.2: V.257) It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe and let him who will, disbelieve. (Ch.18: V.30) Islam recognises the right of freedom of conscience and freedom of belief. As far as one’s religious belief is concerned, one is answerable to God alone. No man has the right to punish another for his choice of belief. There is absolutely no compulsion whatsoever in Islam and no punishment of any kind permitted in the Holy Qur’an for apostasy. Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them nor will He guide them to the way. (Ch.4:V.138) This verse proclaims that persons who renounce Islam have the opportunity to re-enter Islam if they so choose. This verse disproves the assertion that according to the Holy Qur’an an apostate should be put to death. If death was the automatic punish- ment for an apostate then no question would arise of having the opportunity to join Islam again. This verse mentions apostates who again accept Islam. Human rights are laid down in the Holy Qur’an which guarantee man the right of perfect freedom of faith and conscience. In such matters God is the Judge – not man. In this edition of The Review of Religions, in his speech on ‘Freedom of speech and Tolerance in Islam’ Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V emphasises the extent to which tolerance and forgiveness was displayed by the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) at the time of the victory of Makkah. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V quotes the example of Ikramah who was the greatest enemy of Islam. When Ikramah’s wife pleaded for his forgiveness, the Holy Prophet(saw) forgave him. However, Ikramah went to the 3 EDITORIAL The Review of Religions – April 2006 Holy Prophet(sa), and arrogantly said that he had no intention of becoming a Muslim merely because he had been forgiven. He insisted that he still believed in his faith. ‘The Holy Prophet(saw) replied “You can, no doubt, remain steadfast on your faith. You are free in every way.” Moreover, thousands of Makkans had not accepted Islam and despite their defeat exercised their right of freedom of faith. So this is the teaching of the Holy Qur’an and the example set by the Holy Prophet(saw) on this matter.’ ‘People who persecute in the name of religion are totally ignorant of the essence of religion. ‘Religion is a metamorphosis of hearts. Religion is not politics and its adherents do not make up political parties. Neither is it a nationality with limited loyalties, nor a country with geographical borders. It is the transformation of hearts – transformation for the good of the soul. The home of religion is in the depths of the heart. It is beyond the sway of the sword. Mountains are not moved by the sword, nor are hearts changed by force. While persecution in the name of religion is the repetitive theme in the history of human aggression, freedom of conscience is the Quran’s repetitive theme.’ (Murder in the name of Islam, by Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru)) Islam presents the greatest example of forgiveness and tolerance to be found in any scripture or international convention. The Muslim clerics of Afghanistan and their Wahabi brethren who have spilled over to other countries, need to study and reflect on the true meaning of their faith. 4 EDITORIAL The Review of Religions – April 2006