Fear Stalks Muslim Apostates in the West
By: David J. Rusin
The American Thinker | Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Persuading Western Muslim
leaders to repudiate Shari'a-sanctioned violence against apostates can
be a frustrating exercise, as Prince Charles discovered in 2004.
Troubled by the treatment of Muslims who convert to Christianity in
Islamic nations, the prince convened a summit
of senior figures from both religious communities. It ended in
disappointment. The Islamic representatives failed to issue a
declaration condemning the practice, which the Christians had
requested; they also cautioned non-Muslims not to discuss such matters
in public, arguing that moderates would be more likely to make progress
if the debate were kept internal.
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, the outspoken Anglican prelate of Rochester, attended the meeting but rejected their advice. While continuing to highlight the perils
faced by those who leave Islam in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran,
he now has turned his focus to the harassment of apostates in the West.
Last year the bishop warned that a convert could die
in Britain unless prominent Muslims affirm the right of all people to
change their faith. There have been few takers, despite the dire need
for this message: a poll indicates that 36% of younger British Muslims believe death to be an appropriate punishment for renouncing Islam. Their views are grounded in Shari'a law. All major schools of Islamic jurisprudence stipulate that a sane adult male must be put to death
for abandoning Islam, though varying interpretations persist on whether
females should be killed or merely imprisoned. Many Islamic states
outlaw apostasy and seven list it as a capital offense. However,
freelancers such as angry relatives present the greatest danger to
ex-Muslims, as Sunni and Shiite scholars largely agree that Shari'a
empowers individuals to punish converts. This tradition has followed
Muslims to the Western world. Salman
Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and other high-profile apostates have brought
needed attention to the risks that ex-Muslims encounter, even in
liberal democracies. Pope Benedict XVI recently underscored the plight
of this vulnerable population by baptizing the Italian journalist and
former Muslim Magdi Allam
on the most public of stages: Easter Vigil mass at the Vatican. Having
suffered threats for opposing Islamic fundamentalism, Allam now speculates that he will endure "another death sentence for apostasy." Ordinary
Muslim apostates face similar fears, which were palpable when Christian
converts from Islam met in Virginia four years ago at the first Muslim Background Believers Convention.
One woman admitted that she had not yet told her family about embracing
a new faith. "I know they're going to disown me," she said, "if they
don't kill me." Another relayed that her brothers were not speaking to
her because she had married an American. "Can you imagine what they
would do if they found out I was a Christian?" For other ex-Muslims, the intimidation is far more concrete. Khaled
emigrated from Iraq to the Netherlands, hoping to freely practice his
new religion; instead he receives death threats from Islamists. Sofia was beaten and told by her father that she deserves to die; she ultimately was thrown out of their London house. Hannah,
the daughter of a British imam, has changed residences forty-plus times
since converting to Christianity; she went underground in 1994 when her
home was attacked by a horde of men that included her father, whom she
describes as "shouting through the letter box, ‘I'm going to kill
you.'" In April Dutch politician Ehsan Jami announced that he is closing down his Central Committee for Ex-Muslims after less than a year of operation because people are too scared to join. Aiding
apostates begins with acknowledging what endangers them: the
prescription of death under Shari'a law. Yet Islamist lobby groups like
the Council on American-Islamic Relations labor to obscure the facts.
During the diplomatic crisis that centered on Abdul Rahman,
a convert to Christianity who faced capital punishment in "liberated"
Afghanistan two years ago, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper initially shrugged, "We haven't dealt with that issue." Once media interest in the story had made silence untenable, CAIR released a statement
claiming that "Islamic scholars say the original rulings on apostasy
were similar to those for treasonous acts in legal systems worldwide
and do not apply to an individual's choice of religion." Other
leading Western Muslims justify, or even promote, the punishment of
apostates. For example, Syed Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian
Society of Muslims, argues
that freedom of religion implies the ability to be governed by one's
religious laws. From this he concludes that, in the spirit of
"tolerance," Canada must allow Muslims to discipline people
who abandon the faith. He does grant that these penalties would not
necessarily include death, but one may wonder whether his position is
just a matter of expediency. After all, he surely recognizes that
multiculturalism has its limits. Given the prevailing climate, Bishop Nazir-Ali has called for governments to do more to protect former Muslims.
However, it is clear that many officials are too swayed by political
correctness to comprehend the dangers associated with leaving Islam.
This sad reality is demonstrated by the case of Nissar Hussein,
a British citizen and Christian convert. When he reported to police
that locals had threatened to burn down his home, he says he was told
to "stop being a crusader and move to another place." Intimidation
of ex-Muslims has not succeeded in dissuading Christian missionaries
from going about their usual business, even when they themselves face bullying
in Islamist-heavy neighborhoods. Nazir-Ali recently stirred controversy
by chiding the Church of England for its oversensitivity toward
Muslims. He recommends more proselytization instead. At the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem on June 24, he observed that "just as Muslims have a right to invite others to join Islam, Christians have a right to invite others to Jesus."
statement reflects the thriving marketplace of religious ideas that has
characterized the West for several centuries. Yet the perils suffered
by Muslim apostates offer a powerful reminder that upholding such
freedoms demands vigilance. How our societies respond to this challenge
will help set the parameters of freedom in the twenty-first century by
determining whether fundamental rights truly are guaranteed for all.
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