Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Murad On Islam (Newsweek/WashPost)

I make it no secret that I am of the opinion that there is hardly anyone more eloquent and erudite in speaking about Islam and its various "affairs" than Abdal Hakim Murad, at Cambridge (UK). So again I'll link to an article of his, this time published in the Newsweek/Washington Post series. He speaks of jihad and sundry hot topics.

About apostasy, Murad says:
Traditional human communities believe that truth leads to salvation, and error to damnation. It is probable that very many religious people in a variety of denominations still believe this. Historically, religiously-faithful princes have therefore seen it as necessary to use the coercive power of the state to forbid apostasy. One of the most powerful and persistent manifestations of this understanding in history was the Inquisition, which was definitively abolished in 1834. Protestant countries also respected this drastic principle; in fact, the first converts to Islam in Britain were impaled on stakes. In a Hindu context, ‘apostasy’ was often classified as violation of caste rules and boundaries, and similarly drastic consequences could follow. After the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1253, Buddhists who converted to Islam were routinely put to death.

The four canonical schools of Sunni Islamic law, and also most pre-modern Shi’a jurists, recommend similarly drastic penalties, although the judge is enjoined to ‘look for ambiguities’ in order to avert the death penalty wherever possible.

The Ottoman Caliphate, the supreme representative of Sunni Islam, formally abolished this penalty in the aftermath of the so-called Tanzimat reforms launched in 1839. The Shaykh al-Islam, the supreme head of the religious courts and colleges, ratified this major shift in traditional legal doctrine. It was pointed out that there is no verse in the Qur’an that lays down a punishment for apostasy (although chapter 5 verse 54 and chapter 2 verse 217 predict a punishment in the next world). It was also pointed out that the ambiguities in the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) suggest that apostasy is only an offense when combined with the crime of treason. These ambiguities led some medieval Muslims, long before the advent of modernisation, to reject the majority view. Prominent among them one may name al-Nakha’i (d.713), al-Thawri (d.772), al-Sarakhsi (d. 1090), al-Baji (d. 1081), and al-Sha’rani (d.1565). The debate triggered by the Ottoman reform was continued when al-Azhar University in Cairo, the supreme religious authority in the Arab world, delivered a formal fatwa (religious edict) in 1958, which confirmed the abolition of the classical law in this area.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


With regard to Dr. Kamali's article on apostasy, it has been severely
criticized by Dr. G.F. Haddad with respect to accuracy in quoting and reporting the positions of the medieval scholars mentioned therein. Please note that the point of contention here is the accuracy in reporting and the methodology used to get to the conclusion. Dr. Haddad writes:
"The Prophet, upon him peace, spelled out the condition for killing the apostate: that he be a muharib i.e. a vocal or active enemy of Islam:

"The blood of a Muslim is illicit to shed except for one of three reasons: a married adulterer must be stoned; one who wilfully commits murder must be put to death; and a man who comes out of Islam and fights Allah and His Prophet must be put to death or crucified or banished from the earth."

It is narrated with transmission chains of trustworthy narrators from `A'isha by al-Nasa'i and Abu Dawud in their Sunan and al-Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubra. This hadith explicitly makes "fighting Allah and His Prophet," i.e. fighting Islam and Muslims, a condition sine qua non for punishability by death. For then the murtadd becomes the same as an enemy soldier in wartime (muharab), i.e. an enemy of Islam on the battlefield."

I don't want to (and do not have the qualifications for) get into any kind of debate on the issue. However, I do think that we should be concerned about the methodology used to derive modern rulings. Would you agree?


7/31/2007 11:56 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

I agree about methodology, but I simply don't see a sign of it in your comment. It's not the function of comments to offer any, but given the gravity of the inference, you really must have one. Simply citing the oft-quoted, over-quoted, over-linear G.F. Haddad and your fantastic leap in logic of a murtad to a warrior against Islam is a severed thing to mention, especially followed by the double copout of not wanting to debate and making your comment anonymous--again, even in the context of a "blog" and "blog comment" to boot. There are light years between those who are nuanced and those who deny nuance exists or who hold it to be euphemistic for “compromise.”

8/01/2007 6:14 AM  
Blogger Anaz said...


Sidi, I (only) didn't want a direct debate on the issue of apostasy.

My contention was with the mentioning of certain medieval scholars in Dr. Kamali's essay and the opinions attributed to them along with their possible misrepresentation.

The point, Sidi, is not whether modern ijtihad is needed on the issue of apostasy, or any other issue for that matter. I cannot comment on that. But, Dr. Kamali seems to be implying that some medieval scholars asserted positions similar to the ones he is making. This 'retroactive attribution' of nuance (as you put it) to medieval scholars is quite questionable. If these scholars had questioned the ijma' on the issue, there would have been a debate about it from other scholars, their students, etc. Where is such debate recorded?

The oft-quoted Dr. Haddad (and you could show him some respect; may I remind you that you are also quoting positions and scholars that YOU like!) seems to be right about the actual positions of those scholars mentioned. He gives sources and shows that the interpretation made by Dr. Kamali is probably a misreading on his part. This is supported by direct quotations on the issue of apostasy from those medieval scholars from other pages or works. Am I wrong here? I am amenable to correction, Sidi. I am looking for an answer here, too. But I want an honest appraisal of our tradition.

Dr. Sherman Jackson (is he over-linear too?) comments in a review of Dr. Kamali's 'Freedom of Expression in Islam': "Similarly, the Islamic legal tradition is invoked to support the idea that the many freedoms Kamali cities [sic] have always been recognized in Islam. But the sources he relies on tend to detract from this claim". Also, "In most cases, the substance of these conclusions is convincing (especially Kamali's own views on apostasy, heresy, and blasphemy). But this vacillation, along with his choice of sources and jurists, raises questions about how much currency some of the views in this book could have enjoyed among the majority of Muslims over the centuries." He goes on to praise the work and say, "Today's innovation, in other words, can become tomorrow's precedent."
Int. J. Middle East Stud. 31 (1999).

And my contention is also with the sources and jurists chosen to 'prove' that some medieval scholars held these views, whatever the necessity of a modern ijtihad on this issue. I hope I have made my point clear.

Have you actually read carefully the article that I linked to above? Or did you simply dismiss it? Sidi, the quote I included in my first comment was not an argument against Dr. Kamali. It was intended to show that my linking the article was to point out the possible misattribution of opinions to medieval scholars and not to argue against the necessity of modern ijtihad, ie, Dr. Haddad himself points out that there were CONDITIONS for a murtadd to be punished as set by the Prophet (Peace be upon him). The murtad BECOMES a muharab (did you miss it?) IF he "comes out of Islam AND (note the AND) fights Allah and His Prophet". My idea was to point out that Dr. Haddad may not be against such a nuance, but he is certainly against misreading traditional sources. I wish you would read it carefully, that is, if you haven't already done so.

I usually use my screen name, Sidi, which is no more closer to identifying me as does "Anonymous", but requires logging in, which is a pain with slow connections. However, I have given you my real name here. My intention was not to piss you off, but to point out that Dr. Kamali's enlisting of medieval scholars is problematic. Perhaps you can suggest to me some other studies done on this issue; I would be glad!

I wish you well! :)

PS:- Please note that I hold Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (r) in the greatest esteem, and that I agree with what you have to say about him.

8/02/2007 12:55 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Anaz, I didn’t read the article you linked to, nor did I dismiss it. It is off road to my post. What I brought up in my comment had nothing to do with anger nor a reference to another article on this topic. It was about you leaving a rather lengthy comment about a tiny side point that Murad made in his article and which I left out of my quote (fair usage, I hope). That’s the methodology I saw lacking in your comment. You mentioned nothing really about Murad’s point nor about what I had pasted. To be candid, I’ve read in Kamali’s book(s), but that was many years ago, about ten or even more. So reading a refutation of Kamali is not something I want to pursue, whether from G.F. Haddad, a person whom I’ve never met nor do I disrespect at all. God bless him. I’ve read articles of his that I felt were, again, linear. I’m sure he is very knowledgeable and has excellent facility with sources. But again, neither my post nor Murad’s article pertains to Kamali nor Haddad’s refutation. When I see irrelevant points brought up, they tend to be ideological insertions, rather than “on-topic,” hence my problem with your post.

But either way, I'm grateful that you read my blog and offer your comments. Thank you.

8/02/2007 3:18 PM  
Blogger Anaz said...


I see where I wasn't clear. Sidi, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad mentions five pre-modern scholars who were supposed to reject the hadd for apostasy. These are the very same scholars that Dr. Kamali mentions in his work. Shaykh Abdal Hakim also refers to Dr. Kamali's work ('the best discussion of this controversy') and recommends it in the essay you blogged about. Shaykh Abdal Hakim has mentioned the same scholars and Dr. Kamali in an earlier discussion on this topic on the IslamOnline website. This leads me to believe that he is using Dr. Kamali's work as a reference to quote these pre-modern scholars and their opinions. But these quotations and attributions have been criticized by Dr. Haddad. So you see why I brought it up? I could be wrong though. Perhaps Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad has done original research on these scholars and knows something that has not been covered by Dr. Kamali or Dr. Haddad.

I did not know that the Shaykh al-Islam of the Ottoman Caliphate had ratified this shift from the earlier consensus. I wish to learn more about that.

[The above two sources are the (only) ones mentioned by Shaykh Abdal Hakim in the essay you linked to. So wouldn't my comment make sense in this context?]

It is good to see that Shaykh Abdal Hakim and other well-known traditional scholars are on the 'On Faith' website.

I see your point about 'ideological insertions'. Honestly, I am not sure whether this was why I commented on your blog. I have found many bloggers quoting the Kamali essay and they do not appear to have read Dr. Haddad's clarifications. Since you have blogged about apostasy more than once on your blog, I thought you might like to know some of the details on the ongoing discussion on this topic, if you didn't already know. Or, if you already knew, you could have offered some clarification that could be beneficial to me. I didn't mean to be rude or overbearing. Sorry!

I like your blog! Keep up the good work!


8/02/2007 9:31 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

I really don't need the last word, but I have to say thanks for your candor. Also, it's good to think that the folks we cited are capable of independent thought and research. Remember, this was a NEWSWEEK article.

8/03/2007 7:55 AM  

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