Rifqa Bary, Islam, Muslims, Shar'iah, and Apostasy (Part Two of Two)
by M. Zuhdi Jasser
Read part one of this article here.
On July 26, 2008, our American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) was kindly invited to the Noor Islamic Cultural Center (NICC) in Hilliard by their director, Hany Saqr, to give a talk on any subject we wished. I asked to speak to them about "Upholding our Islamic Responsibility: Countering the Ideologies that Fuel Terrorism." Take a look at short video excerpts (Part I, Part II) of my talk to the Noor mosque, selected with some relevance to the subject of reform and apostasy. While our hosts were very cordial, polite, and gracious, we first found it very interesting that there was virtually no publicity about our visit – which was in stark contrast from previous speakers. They also completely avoided any media acknowledgement of our visit and message. AIFD worked to generate our own publicity of the event with an extensive pre-interview with the Columbus Dispatch. But interestingly, despite the reporter's keen interest, the Dispatch never attended the talk or published any parts of the interview only posting an announcement of our visit. One cannot help but be suspicious of what influenced their absence particularly for a newspaper which has in the Bary case given more than adequate inches to the Noor Center's and CAIR-Ohio's side of the story. Interestingly, the Dispatch itself has had epiphanies about CAIR as Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) recently pointed out on the floor of the House:
Also note that even in Mr. Saqr's introduction of me there was no real endorsement of our ideas but rather, a statement about the value of debate. In fact, opening a debate on reform with Muslim communities is our intention but before, during, and after our visit, there was absolutely no acknowledgement on their website or in their mosque literature about our visit. It was almost as if they checked the box of inviting an anti-Islamist and could go back to the comfort of their foundational Islamism and promotion of the likes of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi.
In fact, in direct feedback from some who attended the talk, I was told "that the new Islamic ideas of modernity were a welcome outlook but I should have refrained from direct criticism of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, since he is so respected by many of the congregants." And some Muslims wonder what the real impediments to reform are? If these global Muslim Brotherhood icons cannot be criticized frankly and openly as I did in my visit to Noor, reform will never become a reality. The work of Patrick Poole locally has exposed documentation of NICC leadership connections to official Muslim Brotherhood leadership structure in the West and to Al-Qaradawi. These speakers at Noor have previously raised concerns of their ideological mindset: Salah Sultan, Ahmed Al-Akhras, Christopher Paul, Khalid Yasin, Siraj Wahhaj, and Wagdi Ghoneim.
If Muslims cannot acknowledge as I did, publicly with the Noor audience, that Qaradawi and these other contacts of theirs are examples of deep seated moral corruption in the highest order, then Islamic scholarship will continue to be driven into the ground by Islamist apologists. Islamists will always compromise real moral clarity for an Islamist set of ethics in which the ends justifies the means (terrorism) and the Islamic state takes precedence over the secular system (Muslim supremacism).
In fact, these same leaders (spokespersons) who have now this month surfaced to defend the name of Noor Islamic Center and CAIR were nowhere to be found during our visit to the Hilliard Muslim community despite months of advance notice. They remained silent in the face of an internal Muslim challenge from AIFD for reform. They did not follow up with us on one action item of reform. I discussed apostasy, Shar'iah, the Islamic state, and the root causes of terror vis-à-vis the Islamic state and Muslim supremacism with no follow through in a real contest of ideas.
As to the local families, mosques, and Muslim organizations, their greater overarching responsibility – not only in this case but, with respect to even the slightest chance that there are other Rifqas, Asmas, Aqsas, Saras, or Aminas out there – is for them to be leaders and set new standards with regards to Islamic teachings without drowning in denial.
Nowhere can I find in any of the statements of the Muslim leadership of Ohio or Florida an acknowledgment of the challenges and the plight of women under the tribalism and teachings of the current status of Shar'iah law. Do they really believe the accusations against the Noor Islamic Center would have had this much life in the media if that mosque had made a righteous stand against political Islam, the treatment of women under Shar'iah law, and the prescriptions for apostasy which remain basically unrefuted by Muslim leaders?
If the media went to the Noor Islamic Center's website and saw a clear denunciation of the Hadith (Sahih Bukhari 9,83 and 9,84) which calls for killing apostates or saw statements on religious freedom which call for the reform of the concepts of murted (the name of a criminal apostate under Islamic law) the attitude against the mosque and other apologists may have been very different. But they did not. They simply have a generic statement of denial which ignores reform.
The Realities of the Status of Apostates according to Islam's Scholars: Islamist Dissimulation
The Islamist literature is rife with examples of apologetics about the punishment for a murted (the Islamic designation for an apostate) as prescribed by Islamic law. Common apologetics for laws in Shar'ia against apostasy have been extensively published globally by well-known professional Islamist "rock stars" like Jamal Badawi, Yusuf Estes, Yusuf Qaradawi, and Tariq Ramadan. Also prominently weighing in are Dr. Mohammed Al-Haj Aly, a Wahhabi of the Assemby of Muslim Jurists of America and countless other apologist scholars from ISNA and elsewhere, usefully chronicled by Islamist Mohamed Farooq at this blog.
Responding to all of their commentaries would need an entire dissertation. But in the setting of the Bary case, it is exceedingly important for us to begin to understand the realities of current statements by Islam's scholars on laws about apostasy. Suffice it to say that most of their statements are painful circuitous explanations, which leave readers far more confused than they were before they read them. What is clear is that Islamists dissemble on apostasy. Some will try to deny to a Western audience that laws against apostasy exist, yet they still maintain the role of the state in protecting the faith of Islam from apostates. Thus, blasphemy laws by any other name are still a form of apostasy laws. Leaving exceptions for the protection of the "Islamic state" is still a potent use of the oppressive state to prevent apostasy and blasphemy over any semblance of religious freedom. Others like Qaradawi will simply put forth the argument for the death sentence hysterically qualifying it with a "rare" need for application.
Some explanations, like that of Yusuf Estes (who actually lectured in Columbus, Ohio at OSU in 2002), are absolute gibberish. It is dissimulation at its best. He wants readers to believe that anyone "is free to make that choice" (to leave Islam) while he also conveys a supremacist undertone to his Islamist interpretations. He had the temerity to dismissively summarize his opinion at the end stating:
Thus, the opinions of Islamists vary whether they are a minority or a majority. And therefore, the laws of apostasy vary whether it is an "Islamic state" or not. This proves that Muslims can only legitimately set aside apostasy laws if they are actually able to separate mosque and state. Islamists like Estes try to put a benevolent face on the travesty of religious freedom under Shar'iah and the truth is revealed in their attitude about the Islamic state. As long as the concept of the Islamic state exists all their dismissals of penalties for the murted are disingenuous.
This was felt by Dr. Farooq at his ridiculously apologetic blog to somehow be a denunciation of apostasy. Give me a break. This absurd logic simply transports the same issue and violence from one of leaving Islam (murted) to one of blasphemy against Islam. There is a reason the free world always considers freedom of religion and freedom of speech together. They are inextricably wedded. The oppression of one leads to the oppression of the other. It is absurd for these Islamists to think that a renunciation of apostasy laws can be expressed in conjunction with an endorsement of blasphemy laws. And then these so-called scholars wonder why lay Islamist Muslims respond violently to cartoons against the Prophet Mohammed or against apostates who exercise their freedom of speech.
The axis of the crime of apostasy rests upon the legitimacy of the Islamic state and the mandate of the Islamic state to defend Islam. As long as the state derives its legitimacy from clerics and the Constitution and state laws are dependent upon the Koran and Hadith, it is entirely impossible to truly reform apostasy laws.
Ramadan states that some scholars "question the absolute authenticity of the two prophetic traditions quoted in Bukhari. "Question the absolute authenticity?" Again, give me a break. He needs to completely dismiss that Hadith as a forgery. But Ramadan does want to offend his co-Islamists like Qaradawi. His dissimulation is slick as Caroline Fourest has pointed out before. He even gives good examples of Muslims who left Islam at the time of the Prophet Mohammed who were not killed and maintain good relations with Muslims. But, perhaps revealingly, Ramadan does not cite the centrality of the Islamic state in empowering apostasy laws or blasphemy laws and the need to dissociate citizenship from being Muslim for "crimes of apostasy" to truly be intellectually buried. His explanation also falls far short. By his trademark, he makes no acknowledgement of the anti-Islamist movement needed for real reform if the concept of murted (criminal apostate) is to truly disappear.
Jamal Badawi, a darling of ISNA, and prominent theologian on Muslim Brotherhood sites like Islamonline, also dissembles on the topic of apostasy with the best of them. His review is actually one of the more scholarly ones of Islamists but as a result, incriminating to the reality of Islamic theology, Shar'iah and its intolerance for apostasy. For if the status of apostates was so truly benign under common scholarly interpretations of Islamic law, he wouldn't have needed pages and pages of explanation.
In Badawi's commentary on Islamonline from April 26, 2006, he basically reiterates the same old Islamist apologetics that death for apostasy is an incorrect interpretation. But then he hysterically states, "Apostasy is a capital crime as it threatens the integrity and stability of the Muslim community and state." And we are to take this as a modern condemnation of apostasy laws? This is quite the contrary. Again note, the Islamic state is dependent upon a supremacist legal system which allows government to maintain its own interests above that of the individual. This is the antithesis of Western governments and especially of our First Amendment and our Establishment Clause. Badawi actually cites Yusuf Qaradawi as "eloquent," and points readers to Qaradawi's defense of apostasy laws wherein Qaradawi states,
Then, Qaradawi actually not only teaches Muslims that apostasy laws and their punishments are part of Islam but blasphemy laws should also be taught since blasphemy is more dangerous to Islam:
The rest of this morally defunct commentary by Yusuf Al-Qaradawi on apostasy which was endorsed by Badawi reads like a theocratic supremacist manifesto of the Islamic state for Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood. Note that in my comments to Noor Islamic Cultural Center of Columbus, I also highlighted the significance of calling out Qaradawi due to his level of influence and direction upon global scholarly interpretations of Islamic law. Note also that this is extraordinarily relevant to the American Muslim community and mosques like the Noor Islamic Cultural Center. Qaradawi's books are prominently featured by Islamic Horizons – for example, the magazine of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which Noor Mosque hosted last year in their annual convention.
Let's now look at domestic commentary on apostates. In the United States for example, legal Islam is led by the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America. This organization's site (a consortium of global Wahhabi clerics focused upon the American scene) had recently featured, for example, on its homepage a rather seditious repudiation of the Pledge of Allegiance and a plethora of legal defenses for the Islamic state against the Western secular state. As long as the Islamic state exists it will derive its power from Islamic law and clerical interpretations. With that power it will be impossible to separate treason from the state versus apostasy from Islam.
In fact, incredibly, in a religious opinion (fatwa) from April 2006, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Haj Aly interestingly an attending pediatrician at Albert Lea Medical Center of Mayo Health System in Albert Lea, Minnesota makes it rather clear that apostasy is a capital crime, according to his own "American" juristic interpretation of Islam with the full endorsement of his Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (an apparently Wahhabi front based out of Egypt and California with leadership from Wahhabi schools of thought). He states,
It is frightening and insulting to me, as an American Muslim, that this organization, its website, and Americans like Al-Haj Aly claim to represent American Islam. Note that many well known American imams belong to this organization – including, for example, the head of their executive committee, the lead flying imam from Phoenix, Omar Shahin. Shahin is also head of the North American Imams Federation and cannot be dismissed as a marginal figure among American Islamic clerics. AIFD exposed the real story behind American Islamism and the flying imams.
Finally, all of these opinions do not change the textual treatment of apostasy (riddah) in textbooks of Islamic law. One of the most common and accepted texts of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is The Reliance of the Traveler and Tools for the Worshipper: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad Ibn Naqib Al-Misri (died 1368 AD) and translated by Sheik Nuh Ha Mim Keller. It is of the Shaf'ii school of thought from Sunni Islam. However, As Dr. Al-Haj Aly stated, the four schools are basically the same on apostasy. I would ask other Muslims here in America who feel that they are being tarred and feathered with concern over the fate of apostates in Islam to be more academically rigorous and purchase this text and others to find out what if any authoritative textual refutations of the laws described in The Reliance of the Traveler have ever been refuted convincingly. Here is what this text, endorsed by leading American clerics at ISNA and IIIT, states with respect to "Apostasy from Islam-Ridda" (o8.0, Reliance of the Traveler):
Also note – very relevant to an apostasy case with regards to parents – this Shar'aiah text states refers readers to the section on "Disciplinary Action ('Ta'zir") (o17.0)
One should note that some of the scholars I reviewed above may try to dismiss Shaf'ii school as more radical but in reality, there are often little differences in major Islamic rulings between the four major schools of thought in existence today. Note also the certification of this text at a very popular Islamic bookstore(Amana Publications) lists even the so-called "moderate" International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) as endorsers of the validity of this text for the orthodox Sunni community by Dr. Taha Jabir Al-Alwani in December 1990. This center was, unfortunately, recently allowed to establish an endowed chair in Islamic studies at George Mason University, a Virginia taxpayer-subsidized institution.
Real reform will need the development of a whole new school of thought beyond the four Sunni and other Muslim schools. Suffice it to say that ISNA has allowed this text to be sold at its conventions and one can find this text on most Islamic bookstore sites. Most importantly, this text has no clear public repudiation from authoritative Islamic scholars in America or replacement to supersede any or most of its offensive and oppressive rulings. For example, if anything the previous scholars I reviewed may disagree with the clarity with which this text of Shar'iah says to kill the apostate and they may modify the punishments or circumstances related more to the state than the individual. But that is dissimulation. The bottom line is that there has not been any wholesale academic repudiation and castigation of the mistreatment of apostates and the whole dangerous slippery slope upon which most Islamist scholars and this text base their non-condemnation of punishments for apostasy. Intolerance for apostasy can have no qualification. Individuals are either entirely free to practice or reject faith and religious law or they are subjects of the state and slaves. Islamist apologists want to have it both ways.
CAIR, MPAC, ISNA, and other Islamist groups can protest the unfair brush with which they are painted on the issue of apostasy all they want. But when leading American Muslim organizations post opinions like ours here without academic opposition, engagement or approval, it stands to reason that lawyers defending Christians like Rifqa Bary will raise legitimate legal concerns about their safety. What Tariq Ramadan dissimulates and easily dismisses as an illegitimate Hadith is endorsed by most American Muslim leadership. If apostasy laws were such a sensational concern, why does it take Muslim scholars (ulemaa) pages upon pages to refute them?
The NoorCenter and CAIR Ohio has done nothing publicly to refute any of these scholars. If the Noor Islamic Center was really interested in teaching and modernizing Islam through critical thinking it would have openly addressed this whole debate. We actually tried to give them an opportunity to do so last summer and nothing happened (see video excerpts at Part I and Part II). Our message of responsibility fell on deaf ears. Moreover, our subsequent offer to return to continue the discussion was ignored and rebuffed.
There is no doubt that the official scholarly position on apostasy needs clarification and needs to be part of a greater movement to defeat the ideology of the Islamic state. Anything short of separating mosque and state will fall far short of putting an end to the discrimination and violence against non-Muslims, apostates, blasphemers, heretics, and women to name a few groups are the real victims of many predominant interpretations of Shar'iah.
This discussion on apostasy also falls short of addressing some of the even deeper tribal pathologies which lead to abuse and even murder in retribution for "honor." When the scholars I discussed are able to teach Muslims to "honor" religious freedom and liberty for all individuals equally, regardless of faith and when they can "honor" the secular state over the Islamic state while dismissing tribal attempts to immorally honor their own family, the real fears of apostates like Rifqa will begin to disappear.
Time for a Muslim Reality Check on Apostasy- A possible Muslim exegesis
At AIFD we have laid out a position on apostasy long before the Bary case. There was great media attention to an apostasy case of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan in 2006. If apostasy laws and Rifqa's fears were not real, then why would Abdul Rahman have presented before the court in Afghanistan for the high crime of leaving Islam in March of 2006?
At the inception of Islam, there was a mixture of citizenship, military enlistment, and faith. I believe that the laws interpreted by Islamists as being against apostasy were intended by the Prophet Mohammed to apply only to those Muslims who deserted the Muslim military since there was an Islamic state which was in a state of war and operated under a full mixture of religion and government. So just as our U.S. military will convict those who desert, so too did the Muslim military. The Islam I was taught relegated any discussion of those who left Islam to a limited time in Islamic history related to those belonging to the military at the time of the Prophet Mohammed. This may not be the current consensus (ijmaa), but is a viable ideology for rational Muslims to put forth into modernity. Islamists who believe in the ascendancy of the Islamic state will never be able to truly separate citizenship from faith. But once Muslims can separate mosque and state and get Shar'iah out of government then denials on the penalties for apostasy will be believable.
We should certainly take all Muslims (laity and scholars) at their word about their own personal belief about religious freedom in Islam. We should never forget that they are our best hope against Islamist supremacism. I was certainly taught the universality of religious freedom as a child and as a devout Muslim. But I did not learn that through the Islamist lens but rather through the separation of mosque and state. Most Muslims I have met have abandoned the concept of riddah and do not believe in identifying those who leave Islam as murted (apostates who are deemed criminal). However, the same is not true for most imams (teachers of Islam).
It is time for mosques to lead a movement to obliterate any justifications for such a concept. It is time for mosques in the spotlight like the Noor Islamic Cultural Center instead of having nothing on their homepages, to have a frontal assault against apostasy laws and the apologetics of their Islamist friends around the world so that there can be no doubt about where their community stands on laws of riddah, the murted, and apostasy.
With the media firestorm NICC squandered another opportunity to make it clear where they stand on apostasy and condemn the apologetics. The courts will, I pray, fairly address Rifqa's safety and her parents' rights. But with regard to Islamic attitudes on apostasy, Muslims need to realize it's time for a reality check.
At the outset, I made the assertion that most Muslims who are rational, moral, humble, and God-fearing ignore or are unaware of the suggestions and mandates of the realities of Shar'iah law when it comes to the so called crime of apostasy in Islam. Hopefully, this piece will bring such ignorance to an end. As we pray for Rifqa's safety and a just resolution to her case, it highlights now more than ever the need for lay Muslims to empower themselves in a new religious freedom movement. Muslims need to demand that our scholars and leaders start from scratch and sign petitions and write new law (ijtihad) protecting the equality of apostates which is endorsed by religious scholars in position of leadership or guidance in American mosques and American Muslim organizations. These petitions, opinions (fatwas) and new laws (Shar'iah) need to send to the dustbin of history any hint whatsoever of an Islamic punishment for apostasy. They should unequivocally repudiate any scholars (some of whom I named above) who give exceptions to the rule of equal human rights for all before the state and family. They should make it clear that apostates deserve the same full rights as Muslims. This can only happen through a separation of mosque and state and a defeat of the idea of the "Islamic" state.