Friday, March 24, 2006

It Just Doesn't Stop: Apostasy This Time

Another fire to put out. This time an Afghani (formerly a Muslim) speaks of his religious makeover, and now faces death because of apostasy rulings found in Islamic sacred law. The story leads the network and cable news and print behemoths, receives comments from the White House and just about every Rev and collar in America. In a way, I understand that, but, man, slow news day? I don’t make light of the situation. If a man wants to change his religion, so let him. For God’s sake, they change gender these days. (Note to the UN and the State Department: Include valium in the aid packages. Generic, if available. Sorry Roche.)

As for apostasy laws, they do exist. But Islam is not the only religion in this regard, nor are they alien to secular systems. And you ask: So what? What kind of argument is that? Is this McApologetics? Good questions. I mention this because regrettably it's now a requirement, given the puerile handling of Muslim affairs, the pompous bloviations of "experts,” and a public seemingly sedated by its own sense of perfection. But it also adds perspective in the light of the monster-making process of all things "Islamic." When you believe that the patent to "issues," like violence and extremism, belongs to one folk, then the mind is doomed to delve into fear-fictions that permit legislatures to make all kinds of damned "laws" and wars. So, I make the analogy between apostasy in the early Islamic and historical context with the American law of treason or sedition that is punishable by death. The apostasy law has more to do with “treason” and “sedition” than a spiritual choice. Back in the day, when Islam was young and enemies abound, those who didn’t want to see their idols dethroned in the city of Abraham (Mecca) and those who felt intimidated that God would send a prophet from Ishmael’s pedigree (especially in the post-Jesus world) tried to do anything to damage or destroy the small community of believers. They made alliances, attempted to assassinate the Prophet Muhammad (numerous times), waged battle, slander galore, and other tricks to do the deed. There were hypocrites among “the believers”; they would be Muslim by day and plotting maniacs by night, allying themselves with those who, on their own accord, chose enmity as their reception to Islam and its folk. They would change their “faith” for political expedience and promises in order to do some impolite things to a budding nation. Their aim was not subtle.

In the aftermath of the passing of the Prophet, some Arab tribes (especially in the eastern half of the Arabian Peninsula) decided to edit out a core tenet of the faith and withhold their charitable requirement, and thus impale the very economic basis of a contiguous people and nation. The battle against them was called the "War of Apostasy." Much has been made of this. It’s comparable to a movement to refuse to pay taxes to the Feds while still claiming the right to live in America. Imagine that on a large basis, such that the very economic legs of the nation would not only wobble, but collapse and put an end to the American entity. Do we remember the Civil War and its economic rationale?

It’s important to note that apostasy rulings have rarely been used in the heyday of Islamic civilization, which ranged from the western frontiers of China, the Indian subcontinent, to North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and the western shores of Spain. There’s absolutely nothing in the élan or sacred paradigms of Islam that makes a religious choice an anathema to Muslims.

I mean, listen: read history by real historians. And if you have the money, fly out to North Africa and the Middle East and look at some of the oldest Christian and Jewish communities on the face of the earth. The relatively few episodes of animosity were a matter of human frailty (pandemic always) and not rooted in the deep soil of the Islamic way of thinking. The recent tensions of the last century in the Muslim world were inspired more by the "political" strains of the Palestinian issue or secular juntas of the Arab east, patterned after European fascist or socialist political systems (the Baath Party of Iraq is an example) than by Islam and its laws. Then compare that with Spanish extermination and expulsion of Muslims and Jews, sanctioned and approved of by Rome. There's more to cite, like the Catholic "response" to the early followers of Martin Luther; the conquerors in the New World, who were given the right to "subdue" the natives in the "name of Christ," which was permissible because the natives were unclean "infidels"; the slaughter of Mormons (heretics according to mainstream Protestant churches) in early American history; and others, not the least of which are Messianic inspired dramas of our day.

But that was history, and these minority communities in the Muslim east were originally of the Christian and Jewish milieu, although it’s well known that there were converts among them from Muslim ranks. (Personally, I know of Christian Arabs who were once Muslim, who made the choice for a variety of reasons. And they live unmolested in the Arab world.)

Now back to Afghanistan, a nation smitten in recent history by invasions, revolutions, extremists, and entrenched tribal logic. Anyone who has any sense and awareness of the country will know that, like the so-called “honor killings” of India and Pakistan, this episode of apostasy "ruling" is informed not by Islamic sacred law or paradigms, but by a people poorly confronting their own ignorance and psychological blights. Just like the destruction of the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, which existed for centuries unmolested by the Muslim authorities that ruled the region (which once contained many centers of high learning, if one can imagine that), this Afghani fellow, a Muslim turned Christian, just may be another victim of the contemporary Muslim "funk" and, a lesser issue, may add to the misunderstanding of Islam and lend further credence to questionable theories of civilizations and their inevitable clashes. (The devil wonders how many in the vocal bleachers are cheering to see this man become a martyr who would then inspire many a troubadour to sing elegies by which the missionaries do their work.)

Now to preach: I'm not sure how these things happen, but they are damned when they do. There's hardly anything more dangerous than the mixture of religion with simplemindedness, or any people-moving philosophies mixed with the loss of intellectualism and critical thinking. Somehow the spiritual equation has been inversed. Too many folk interpret rigidity and strictness as signs of religious commitment and piety. Spiritual security, however, always leads to flexibility, lenience, and mercy, the qualities that ushered so many into Islam in the first place. A show of religiosity by way of gesture, a stage play of piety, is obnoxious and, on a larger scale, a disaster. One wonders where's the Muslim world clerisy on this underlying issue. Or is there one to speak of, an authentic intelligentsia cleansed of the automatic verbiage of expired "movements"?

Note: There are many academic treatises on the topic of apostasy rulings in Islamic law, and clearly there are ranging opinions among scholars of the classical age and modern. The intransigence of the Afghani “judge” of this controversy is out of step with the very legal tradition he believes he’s upholding—a tradition that has survived because of important degrees of plasticity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent points. This was a great post. And you're an amazingly deep writer. Sometimes i have to reread the sentence because i dont want to miss your gems!

Keep it coming.

3/24/2006 10:30 AM  
Anonymous Candide's Notebooks said...

What Anonymous said. This'll be one of the two featured posts in the Best of Blogs segment over the weekend at Candide's Notebooks (

3/24/2006 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well spoken. There are some Muslims who feel "defeated" in the face of Western cultural and military power. They have no confidence in the beauty of Islam, and no belief in the power of Allah to penetrate a culture, even Western culture, and transform it for good. So, these people want to seperate themselves from the global phenominon of Western culture. Their problem is that most Muslims in their own countries like most of what Western culture brings. So, how can they create the seperation they long for, a seperation allowing them to rule using Sharia law? The answer is the "skunk effect". Groups seeking such seperation can't get their own people to hate the West enough, so they turn it around and try to get the West to hate Muslims, because then they can point at the West and say -- "See, they hate you!" I sure wish these guys trying to create seperation between the West and Islam would put half as much effort into making Islam a beautiful religious option for Westerners. Maybe they need to remember Umar's example when the Muslim empire was spreading. He heard that people in Persia were aghast that theives hands were cut off, and ordered that the practice be stopped in places where it was not culturally accpeted. In our modern world, every such action is a global phenominon. Muslims need to realize that the world is watching and start focusing on doing things that bring credit upon our faith rather than dragging out ancient and unused Sharia laws (that are dubious anyway-- as your article effectively argues) to subvert the global perception of Islam. Our goal must be to engage Western culture, not seperate from it, because our goal is to bring a message of peace and hope to a world that needs Allah.

3/27/2006 3:11 AM  
Anonymous Baraka said...

Salaam 'alaykum,

Excellent perspective & analysis.

Am linking to this article in the hopes that even more will read it.



3/27/2006 7:22 PM  
Anonymous بندر Bandar said...

I just want to point out that - Christians and Jews - blame us "muslims" if we killed this man, though if they read their holy book they will be amazed by having it stated there:

From the Old Testament:
The Book of Deuteronomy
Chapter 17:

17:2 If there be found in the midst of you, within any of your gates which Yahweh your God gives you, man or woman, who does that which is evil in the sight of Yahweh your God, in transgressing his covenant, 17:3 and has gone and served other gods, and worshiped them, or the sun, or the moon, or any of the army of the sky, which I have not commanded; 17:4 and it be told you, and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire diligently; and behold, if it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is done in Israel, 17:5 then you shall bring forth that man or that woman, who has done this evil thing, to your gates, even the man or the woman; and you shall stone them to death with stones. 17:6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he who is to die be put to death; at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. 17:7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first on him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from the midst of you.

a short arabic version:
سفر التثنية
الإصحاح السابع عشر
إذا وجد في وسطك رجل أو إمرأة، يفعل شراً و يعبد آلهة أخرى .. قد عمل ذلك الرجس في إسرائيل، فأخرج ذلك الرجل أو تلك المرأة، و أرجمه بالحجارة حتى يموت .. فتخرج الشر من وسطك

هذا بعض مما عندكم يا أهل الكتاب

so, why do they ask us not to kill this man? while it is in their book???

they for sure have no idea that it is written in their book... they have no idea about their religion.

قُلْ فَأْتُواْ بِالتَّوْرَاةِ فَاتْلُوهَا إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

4/04/2006 10:13 AM  

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