Egypt Freedom of Religions The Holy Qur'an

Egypt and Freedom of Religion

Egypt and Freedom of Religion (Mushtaq Ahmad Bajwa) A West German quarterly, Aktuelle FragenAus der Welt des Islam (Actual Questions from the Islamic World) has in its August issue published a letter to the Egyptian Ambassador signed by the editor and two German Muslims representing their organisations. This letter is based on the reports of Evangelische Pressedienst (Protestant Press Service) and Amnesty International Bonn. It mentions that during the year ten persons who gave up Islam and joined Christianity have been arrested. Among them are four Tunisian students.They write: “We are also against every form of pushing one to change religion and exploiting the emergency situation in order to convert. But we believe that the basic teaching of the Quran that there should be no compulsion in religion (2:257) applies to this case. God alone is the judge. God has made both the right and wrong paths distinct to human beings and has left the choice to them. “If in our time someone foresakes Islam in order to accept another religion, the question occurs to us what has impelled him to take this grave decision while the grip of Christianity in Europe is already becoming loose. “We should ask ourselves whether we are not the cause of him remaining homeless among ourselves. We should know for certain that our attitude in this world causes reflection on Islam for which we are answerable before God. Do we not belie the mercifulness of God, being merciless ourselves where God will be loving? We are required to establish the position of Islam in the world by founding peace. We are entrusted with the task of continually reminding people of the presence of God. But we can be trusted only if there is harmony in our words and deeds. Every apostacy from Islam rebounds on us. It is a challenge which we should put to ourselves. It brings forth the question how we desire to develop Islam in our community. Compulsion, threats, imprisonment or even death penalty cannot be the proper means to 34 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS proclaim and realise the peace of God in the world. Fanaticism and aggression were never the way of God. We Muslims in diaspora demand general equality in exercise of human rights for our community along with the majority of the people. We regretfully point out the oppression against and persecution of Islamic minorities in some parts of Africa and Asia. But how can we do it in good faith, while the news is published about the discrimination of religious minorities in some Muslim countries? How can we seriously demand the right of freedom of belief and religion for ourselves, if we ourselves do not intercede for the rights of the minorities in the Islamic World? We believe that the repression of religious minorities is clearly against the Quran, the Sunnah and the practice of earlier Islamic communities. We, therefore, request you, much respected Ambassador, dear Brother in Islam, to have the press report checked up and in case it is proved to be correct, then appeal to your Government to release the arrested persons and to guarantee freedom of belief to all the religious communities in your country. We pray for the protection of God, the Almighty, for you and your country and remain with brotherly greetings . . .” The above has raised a serious problem for Egypt, which has very friendly relations with the most powerful Christian country, USA and other Christian lands of Europe. Aktuelle Fragen has published in its columns (p. 118) a report from Cairo dealing with the proposed solution: “SHOULD IN FUTURE THE CHANGE OF RELIGION BE FORBIDDEN IN EGYPT? Cairo (in). The Islamic Movement has accused the speaker of the Egyptian Parliament, Dr. Rifat Al-Mahjoub that he is preparing a bill aiming at ‘the prevention of the conversion of Christians and Jews to Islam1. As mentioned by the Movement, the title of the bill is: ‘Law for the Protection of the Religions’. This requires that in future, anyone in Egypt trying to persuade someone belonging to another religion to change his religion shall be punished with life imprisonment with hard labour. This proposed law shall apply alike to Muslims, Christians and Jews. Thus, Islam, as state religion shall be denied every possibility of preaching Islam to non-Muslims and spreading itself. Therefore, it would be more correct to declare the law ‘Law for the Protection of the Christians and Jews’. ‘The Islamic Movement’ blames the Parliament’s President hi this connection to have been influenced by the Coptic minority. The Coptic Church has great interest in stopping ‘the wave of conversion to Islam’, which has been continuing for years, and thus hinder the Islamization of the country. If this law becomes a reality, the secularism shall have all avenues open in Egypt. The Government is in this way making itself the ‘Tool of the enemies of Islam’. Recently the Muslim Brotherhood has assured that it supported the freedom of EGYPT AND FREEDOM OB REIIGION 35 religious beliefs, the guarantee of which might be given to all the religious minorities. However, at the same time 59 parliamentarians had proposed a law which threatened all who seek to persuade Muslims to forsake Islam with the death penalty.” The whole confusion in Egypt and in some other Muslim countries has arisen on account of not fully realising the position of the Holy Quran and status of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him). God says: “We have revealed the book to thee explaining all things” (16:90). Muslims should turn to the Holy Quran for guidance. The Holy Prophet got all his guidance from the Quran and nothing he did or said could be against the Quran. He put the Quran into practice. If some jurist or narrator of the sayings of the Holy Prophet quotes something clearly against the Quran it could definitely not be from him. The quotations in Aktuellen Fragen bring forth two propositions. First, does Islam acknowledge and guarantee the right of every individual to freedom of faith and conscience? Second, can the preaching of Islam be banned in consideration of the non-Muslim minorities? The Holy Quran declares in unequivocal terms the right of every individual to believe in what he pleases. The Magna Charta of Islamic Human Rights has already been quoted in the letter to the Ambassador: “There is no compulsion in religion (2:257)”. The Holy Prophet was required by God to declare to the world: “And say: The truth is from your Lord; so let him who pleases believe, and let him who pleases disbelieve” (18:30). Wherever the command “Say” used in the Quran is directed not only to the Holy Prophet but also to all Muslims. This is a warning for us to remember and continue repeating so that no one may forget this important teaching. Islam requires Muslims to possess sure knowledge: “Say. This is my way: I call unto Allah in sure knowledge, I and those who follow me” (12:109). Use of force can only create hypocrites about whom Quran says “shall surely be in the lowest depth of the fire (4:146). God repeatedly asserts this principle of the freedom of Religion: “Say. O ye men, the truth has indeed come to you from your Lord. So whosoever follows the guidance, follows it only for the good of his own soul, and whosoever errs, errs only against it. And I am not a custodian over you” (10:109). The Holy Prophet had great zeal for spreading Islam and over-exerted himself in preaching it. Allah said: “Maybe thou wilt grieve thyself to death for sorrow after them if they believe not in this discourse” (18:7). God consoled the Holy Prophet: “And if thy Lord had pleased, surely, all who are on the earth would have believed together. Wilt thou then force men to .becomebelievers?” (10:100). God foretold the supremacy of Islam to the Prophet but that no compulsion 36 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS is permitted. He left the acceptance of Islam to the choice of the people, so he should not be grieved if some do not accept the Truth. The role of the Holy Prophet was not that of a custodian. He was only an admonisher and not a warder. God says: “Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an admonisher. Thou art not a warder over them” (88:22, 23). God has in the Holy Quran narrated the history of the earlier prophets. The prophets never threatened to silence their opponents by using force against them nor did he ever do it. This was the practice of their opponents. There is a great deal of misconception about apostacy for which many jurists and orientalists have unfortunately mentioned the penalty of death for a male apostate. There is not a single verse in the Quran which supports this view. Islam clearly gives everyone the right to follow a religion of his choice and allows no compulsion. The following verse does not support apostacy: “Whoso disbelieves in Allah, after he has believed — save him who is compelled while his heart is content with faith — but such as open their breasts to disbelief, on them is Allah’s wrath; and they shall have a severe punishment” (16:107). Here an apostate is threatened with punishment not in this world but in the next life. Even after the establishment of the Government in Medina, the above rule was affirmed by God: “And whoso from among you turns back from his faith and dies while he is a disbeliever, it is they whose works shall be vain in this world and the next. These are the inmates of the Fire and therein shall they abide” (2:218). So an apostate will be punished in the Hereafter. Again Allah refers to this class of people in Sura 3, Imran. Gqd says: “Of such the reward is that on them shall be the curse of Allah and of Angels and of men, all together. They shall abide thereunder. Their punishment shall not be lightened nor shall they be reprieved” (3:88, 89) God valued the freedom of conscience and religion so much that He mentions it as one of the grounds permitting Muslims to defend themselves against the infidels. God says: “And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated” (22:41). Lives of Muslims are to be sacrificed not only to stop their persecution and to save their mosques but in the first instance to save places of worship of other religions. The like of this religious freedom is unfortunately not found even in the present civilised world. It is extremely shameful if Muslim countries fail to observe this teaching. We do not find a single case in Hadith when a person was punished for apostacy. Some apostates were killed but for other crimes. Bukhari mentions the case of the tribe of ‘Ukul. A party of them came to Medina and accepted Islam but the climate of the town did not agree with them. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) sent them to a place where the state milk EGYPT AND FREEDOM OF RELIGION 37 camels were kept so that they might live in the open air and drink of milk. They got well and then killed the keeper of the camels and drove away the animals. A party was sent in pursuit of them and they were put to death (56:152). They were not killed for apostacy but because of brutal murder. In order to observe equality among its citizens, according to the report quoted above, Egypt is considering banning the preaching of one’s religion. It would therefore not only be laying an axe at the root of religious freedom but also the ignoring of the position of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him). Before Islam the Prophets were sent only to particular, tribes, races or nations. The Holy Prophet was the first universal Prophet. God says: “And We have sent thee not but as a mercy for all peoples (21:108). “And We have not sent thee but as a bearer of glad tidings and a Warner for all mankind” (34:29). “Blessed is He who has sent down the Furqan (i.e. Quran) to His servant that he may be a Warner to all the world” (25:2). The Holy Quran is full of commands to the Holy Prophet and to Muslims to propogate their faith. Professor T. W. Arnold writes: “Thus from its very inception Islam has been a missionary religion, both in theory and practice, for the life of Muhammad exemplifies the same teaching, and the Prophet himself stands at the head of a long series of Muslim missionaries who have won an entrance for their faith into the hearts of unbelievers. Moreover it is not in the cruelties of the persecutor or the fury of the fanatic that we should look for the evidence of the missionary spirit of Islam, anymore than in the exploits of that mythical personage, the Muslim warrior with sword in one hand and the Quran in the other, but in the quiet, unobtrusive labours of the preacher and the trader who have carried their faith into every quarter of the globe” (The Preachings of Islam, pp. 4-5). Spiritual conquest through preachers continued even after the political degeneration. Professor Arnold writes: “Although in after years this great empire was split up and the political power of Islam diminished, still its spiritual conquest went on uninterruptedly. When the Mongol hordes sacked Baghdad (A.D. 1258) and drowned in blood the faded glory of the Abbasid dynasty — when the Muslims were expelled from Cordova by Ferdinand of Leon and Castile (A.D. 1236), and Granada, the last stronghold of Islam in Spain, paid tribute to the Christian king — Islam had just gained a footing in the island of Sumatra and was just about to commence its triumphant progress through the island of Malay Archipelago. In the hours of its political degraduation, Islam has achieved some of its most brilliant spiritual conquests: on two great historical occasions, infidel barbarians have set their feet on the necks of the followers of the Prophet — the Saljuq Turks in the eleventh and the Mongols in the thirteenth century — and in each case the conquerors have accepted the religion of the conquered. Unaided also by the 38 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS temporal power, Muslim missionaries have carried their faith into Central Africa, China and the East Indies Island” (The Preachings of Islam, T. W. Arnold, p. 2). Professor Arnold who has made a thorough research in this subject asserts: “The duty of missionary work is no after-thought in history of Islam, but was enjoined on believers from the beginning” (Ibid, p. 3). Professor Arnold has given a long list of verses in chronological order enjoining preaching and we can add to it. But perhaps after the evidence of a renowned Christian Scholar, it would suffice to mention only two basic points. God says: “You are the best people, raised for the good of mankind; you enjoin what is good and forbid evil and believe in Allah” (3:111). The verse claims that the Muslims are the best people and gives reasons for it: 1. They have been raised for the good of all mankind and not only for any particular nation or country. 2. It has been made their duty to enjoin good and forbid evil, possessing belief in god for the ultimate success of Islam. God made the Muslims torch-bearers of Islam in the World and history bears ample testimony that they contributed to the betterment of the world. This was the duty of every Muslim but even before declaring it God required a special body fully devoted to this job: “And let there be among you a body of men who should invite to good and enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. And these are they who are successful” (3:105). It is essential for success to have a special group of Muslims dedicated to the work of spreading Islam. The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam founded by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, peace of God be upon him, can serve as a model for the general mass of Muslims in the world. Though a small community and these days under great stress on account of its persecution in Pakistan which increased manifold on the promulgation of General Zia’s ordinance of 26 April, 1984. Under the guidance of the Head of the Movement, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, now in London, the preaching work has greatly increased in all the five Continents, as has always happened in the history of Islam during a crisis. Besides permanent missionaries, Ahmadi Muslims are also sharing this heavy burden according to the teachings of Islam. If the reports from Egypt are correct about banning of preaching and locking up of apostates in prison, and thereby depriving people of all forms of freedom of religion, then it is indeed a sad day for Islam. The basic teaching of Islam is being violated. May Allah guide all the Muslim countries and individuals to the right path. Amen.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment