Apostasy in Islam

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Countries with death penalty for the crime of apostasy

Apostasy in Islam (Arabic: ردةriddah, literally means: "relapse" or "regress" but usually translates to "apostasy", or ارتداد irtidād) is commonly defined in Islam as the rejection in word or deed of one's former religion (apostasy) by a person who was previously a follower of Islam. Islamic scholarship differs on the appropriate punishment for the apostate (or murtad مرتد ), which ranges from execution – based on an interpretation of certain hadiths – to no punishment at all as long as they do not rebel against the Islamic society or religion.[1] A significant minority of Muslim scholars hold to the traditional view that apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment until repentance, at least for adult men of sound mind.[2][3][4] The longstanding problem of the traditional position, as held by Classical jurists or scholars, can be explained and excused as not being able to see apostasy, an issue of pure freedom of faith and conscience, separate from treason against the community or the state. Most 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 [5][6] and more than several other contemporary Muslim scholars, including influential Islamic reformers have rejected this belief completely, arguing for religious freedom instead.[3][7][8][9] Converts from Islam to Christianity have likewise criticized the traditional position.[10] According to Islamic law apostasy is identified by a list of actions such as conversion to another religion, denying the existence of God, rejecting the prophets, mocking God or the prophets, idol worship, rejecting the sharia, or permitting behavior that is forbidden by the sharia, such as adultery or the eating of forbidden foods or drinking of alcoholic beverages.[11][12]

Variety of viewpoints[edit]

In medieval times, the four Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence held that apostasy by a male Muslim is punishable by death, differing on whether to execute the apostate immediately or grant the apostate an initial opportunity to repent and thus avoid penalty. They also differentiated between harmful and harmless apostasy (also known as major and minor apostasy) in accepting repentance.[13][citation needed] However, other scholars also held different views, such as that of Ibrahim al-Nakha'i (d. 715) and Sufyan al-Thawri and their followers, who rejected the death penalty and prescribed indefinite imprisonment until repentance. The hanafi jurist Sarakhsi also called for different punishments between the non-seditious religious apostasy and that of seditious and political nature, or high treason.[14][15]

Medieval Islamic scholars also differed on the punishment of a female apostate: death, enslavement, or imprisonment until repentance. Abu Hanifa and his followers refused the death penalty for female apostates, supporting imprisonment until they re-embrace Islam. Hanafi scholars maintain that a female apostate should not be killed because it was forbidden to kill women by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and because women are unlikely to take up arms and endanger the community.[15]

Almost all scholars hold the opinion that the punishment of apostasy is death penalty. This view point is held by all classical scholars and in the 4 schools of thought.

Contemporary reform Muslims such as Quran Alone intellectuals Ahmed Subhy Mansour,[16] Edip Yuksel,[17] and Mohammed Shahrour[18] have suffered from accusations of apostasy and demands to execute them, issued by Islamic clerics such as Mahmoud Ashur, Mustafa Al-Shak'a, Mohammed Ra'fat Othman and Yusif Al-Badri.[19][20][21] Despite claiming to have received death threats Edip Yuksel also believes that high profile apostates who are controversial should be killed. He wrote, “Apostasy is not what gets one killed. It’s a combination of being controversial and having a high profile.” [22]

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community completely rejects any form of punishment for apostasy whatsoever, citing hadith, Quran, and the opinions of classical Islamic jurists to justify its views.[23] Its National Spokesperson in the US (Harris Zafar) published a thorough explanation of apostasy in The Huffington Post, which clearly identifies the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's perspective of apostasy and why it is not punishable by death (or any other punishment). Of note, is the reference to the writings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – who wrote the following as a rebuttal to those Muslims who claim that punishment for apostasy or any violence to spread faith is allowed: "Religion is worth the name only so long as it is in consonance with reason. If it fails to satisfy that requisite, if it has to make up for its discomfiture in argument by handling the sword, it needs no other argument for its falsification. The sword it wields cuts its own throat before reaching others."[24]

Prominent recent examples of writers and activists killed because of apostasy claims include Mahmoud Mohammed Taha,[25] Faraj Foda,[26] Rashad Khalifa, Ghorban Tourani, Necati Aydin,[citation needed] Uğur Yüksel,[citation needed] and the Egyptian Nobel prize winner Najib Mahfouz was injured in an attempted assassination, disabling him until his death in 2006.[27]

The case of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who converted from Islam to Christianity, sparked debate on the issue. While he initially faced the death penalty, he was eventually released as he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.[28]

Scriptural references[edit]

Qur'an[edit]

It has been suggested that "The Qur'an states that God (in Arabic, Allah) despises apostasy, with severe punishment to be imposed in the hereafter, but not mentioning explicitly any earthly penalty for apostates. Except for 16:106–109, the verses that discuss apostasy all appear in surahs identified as Madinan, that is, they belong to the period when the Islamic state had been established." However, mainstream translations, such as those by Pickthall, Asad, Malik, Yusuf Ali and even Maududi, a 'liberal' translator[29] contradict this.

Qur'an Surah 4. An-Nisa, Ayah 89 or Qur'an 4:89 [30] states that "They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks;-". This command to kill or slay is in all mainstream translations.[31] According to scholar Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, the verse commanded Muslims to kill (in self-defense) only those who persecuted them, and not non-believers as a whole.[32] Thus an apostate, now a combatant, who joins the persecution against Muslims (treason) is to be slayed. Furthermore it is Qur'an 4:89 that is often quoted in Sharia courts as justification for the execution of an Apostate. However, the following verse Qur'an 4:90 expands on this to "Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (of peace), or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (Guarantees of) peace, then Allah Hath opened no way for you (to war against them)."[33] In addition, the previous verse states that this verse refers to the hypocrites, "Why should ye be divided into two parties about the Hypocrites? Allah hath upset them for their (evil) deeds. Would ye guide those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way? For those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way, never shalt thou find the Way." Quran 4: 88.

Hadith[edit]

Within the different Hadith collections, there are references to worldly punishments for committing apostasy in Islam.

Within the Sahih al-Bukhari collection, worldly punishments are described in the following Hadith:

"2171. Narrated 'Abdullah: The Prophet said, "The blood of a Muslim, who confesses that Lâ ilâha ill-Allâh (there is no god but Allâh), cannot be shed except in three cases: 1. Life for life (in cases of intentional murders without right i.e., in Al-Qis̩âs̩ – Law of Equality in punishment); 2. A married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse; and 3. The one who turns renegade from Islâm (apostate) and leaves the group of Muslims. [9:17-O.B]"

Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:17 see also Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:260, Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:57 [34]

The Sahih Muslim collection, reiterates and confirms that which is in the Sahih al-Bukhari collection:

"(4152) 'Abdullah (b. Mas'ūd) reported Allah's Messenger as saying: It is not permissible to take the life of a Muslim who bears testimony (to the fact) that there is no god but Allah, and I am the Messenger of Allah, but in one of the three cases: the married adulterer, a life for a life, and the deserter of his Din (Islam), abandoning the community."[35]

Sahih Muslim, 16:4152 see also Sahih Muslim, 16:4154, Sahih Muslim, 20:4490

What constitutes apostasy in Islam[edit]

The orthodox conditions of apostasy are that the person in question (a) has understood and professed the shahada, (b) has acquired knowledge of those rulings of the shariah necessarily known by all Muslims, (c) is of sound mind at the time, (d) has reached or surpassed puberty, and (e) has consciously and deliberately rejected or consciously and deliberately intends to reject as untrue either the shahada (and what it is commonly known to entail) or those rulings of the shariah necessarily known by all Muslims.[36][37] Maliki scholars additionally require that the person in question (f) have publicly engaged in the obligatory practices of the religion.[38]

For example: if a sane adult Muslim, knowing and professing that God exists and is one, were to then declare that God does not exist, then this would constitute apostasy. Another example: if a sane adult Muslim, knowing that salat (prayer) is fard al-ayn (personally obligatory), were to then declare that it was not personally obligatory, then this would constitute apostasy. By contrast, for example: if a sane adult Muslim, knowing that consumption of alcohol is haram (forbidden), were to consume alcohol knowing and professing that it was forbidden, then this would merely constitute disobedience and not apostasy. Another example, if a sane adult Muslim carelessly and thoughtlessly makes a statement of unbelief, then this would not constitute apostasy.[39]

In traditional Islam, there is a distinction between private and public apostasy. Private apostasy is the satisfaction of the above conditions, but without any public declaration. For example, if a sane adult Muslim performed daily prayers, professed them to be obligatory, but personally believed them to not be obligatory, then this would constitute private apostasy. Or for example, if a person professed the shahada with knowledge of its meaning, but in their home secretly worshiped idols, then this would constitute private apostasy. Public apostasy is the satisfaction of the above conditions by means of public declaration.

Differences of opinion[edit]

Of public apostasy, traditional scholars can differ in their opinions as to whether there are different 'grades' of seriousness. Some scholars make distinctions between apostates who declare a loss of belief (i) only after being directly prompted, (ii) without any prompting but do not seek to spread their disbelief, and (iii) seek to spread their disbelief (by preaching). Especially after the Mihna by the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma'mun in 218 AH/833 CE, traditional scholars have strongly discouraged the practice of directly questioning a person's current beliefs, thereby avoiding false and unjust accusations of apostasy derived from direct questioning. In the Shafi'i school, it is an act of apostasy for a sane adult Muslim to accuse or describe another as an unbeliever (unless it established beyond any doubt).[40]

Of public apostasy, traditional scholars can also differ in their opinions as to when the required conditions of (a) understanding of the shahada, (b) 'necessary knowledge' of the sharia, and (c) 'sound mind' are satisfied in order for a valid ruling of apostasy to be made. For example: if a person were to profess the shahada but was not taught its meaning and so continued to worship idols, and if on being correctly informed of the meaning of the shahada did not accept it as true, then he or she may be judged to have never been a Muslim in the first place, and therefore not an apostate. Another example: if a person believed pork to be halal (permissible), the judgement of apostasy (as opposed to mere ignorance) would be dependent upon whether he or she were deemed to be adequately taught the essentials of the shariah. Another example: under Mamluk rule in Egypt, scholars ruled that anyone declaring themselves to be a new Prophet – thereby denying by implication that Muhammad was last prophet – was deemed to be insane and exempt from any judgement whatsoever.[41] This opinion later came to be favoured by the Hanafi Ottoman scholars. Before the Mamluks, the declaration of Prophethood was automatically deemed to be proof of apostasy. Hanifi and Shafi'i also disagree on whether ridiculing (Islamic) scholars is an act of apostasy.[42]

Some Muslims ascribe additional requirements to disbelief to constitute apostasy, such as joining the enemies who are at war with Muslims, or as in Qur'an (Qur'an [Quran 5:33]) "those who wage war against God and His Apostle",[13] however, what constitutes "war against Allah and His Apostle" for those Islamic Scholars varies widely, ranging from simply declaring disbelief in Islam to explaining reasons and arguments for that disbelief.

Punishment for apostasy[edit]

"Execution of a Moroccan Jewess (Sol Hachuel)" a painting by Alfred Dehodencq

Execution[edit]

Legal opinion on apostasy by the Fatwa committee at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, concerning the case of a man who converted to Christianity: "Since he left the Islam, he will be invited to express his regret. If he does not regret, he will be killed pertaining to rights and obligations of the Islamic law." The Fatwa also mentions that the same applies to his children if they entered Islam and left it after they reach maturity.[43][44]

[verification needed]

In Islamic law (sharia), the view among the majority of medieval jurists was that a male apostate must be put to death unless he suffers from a mental disorder or converted under duress, for example, due to an imminent danger of being killed. A female apostate must be either executed, according to Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), or imprisoned until she reverts to Islam as advocated by the Sunni Hanafi school and by Shi'a scholars.[45] A minority of medieval Islamic jurists, notably the Hanafi jurist Sarakhsi (d. 1090),[14] Maliki jurist Ibn al-Walid al-Baji (d. 494 AH) and Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328), held that apostasy carries no legal punishment.[46]

Contemporary Islamic Shafi`i jurists such as the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa,[47][48] Shi'a jurists such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri,[49] and some jurists, scholars and writers of other Islamic sects, have argued or issued fatwas that either the changing of religion is not punishable or is only punishable under restricted circumstances, but these minority opinions have not found broad acceptance among the majority of Islamic scholars.[1][50][51][52]

View of Mahmud Shaltut[edit]

Mahmud Shaltut, the late Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University argued that a worldly punishment for apostasy was not mentioned in the Qur'an and whenever it mentions apostasy it speaks about a punishment in the hereafter.[53]

Applying law in the Muslim world[edit]

Most countries of the Middle East and North Africa maintain a dual system of secular courts and religious courts, in which the religious courts mainly regulate marriage and inheritance. Saudi Arabia and Iran maintain religious courts for all aspects of jurisprudence, and religious police assert social compliance. Sharia is also used in Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Some states in northern Nigeria have reintroduced Sharia courts. In practice the new Sharia courts in Nigeria have most often meant the reintroduction of relatively harsh punishments without respecting the much tougher rules of evidence and testimony of regular courts. The punishments include amputation of one/both hand(s) for theft, stoning for adultery, and execution for apostasy. In 1980, Pakistan, under the leadership of President Zia-ul-Haq, the Federal Shariat Court was created and given jurisdiction to examine any existing law to ensure it was not repugnant to Islam[54] and in its early acts it passed ordinances that included five that explicitly targeted religious minorities: a law against blasphemy; a law punishing the defiling of the Qur'an; a prohibition against insulting the wives, family, or companions of the Prophet of Islam; and two laws specifically restricting the activities of Ahmadis, who were declared non-Muslims.

Under traditional Islamic law[55] an apostate may be given up to three days while in incarceration to repent and accept Islam again and if not the apostate is to be killed without any reservations.

Opposition to execution[edit]

In a book on the issue, Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed argue that Islamic law that calls for death for apostasy is in conflict with a variety of fundamentals of Islam. They contend that the early development of the law of apostasy was essentially a religio-political tool, and that there was a large diversity of opinion among early Muslims on the punishment.[56]

Medieval Muslim scholars (e.g. Sufyan al-Thawri) and modern (e.g. Hasan at-Turabi), also have argued that the hadith used to justify execution of apostates (see below) should be taken to apply only to political betrayal of the Muslim community, rather than to apostasy in general.[57] These scholars argue for the freedom to convert to and from Islam without legal penalty.

Other prominent Islamic scholars like the Grand Mufti of Cairo Ali Gomaa have stated that while God will punish apostates in the afterlife they should not be executed by human beings.[58] Ali Gomaa later clarified that leaving Islam without punishment was not what he meant; "What I actually said is that Islam prohibits a Muslim from changing his religion and that apostasy is a crime, which must be punished."[59]

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, an Islamic scholar, writes that punishment for apostasy was part of Divine punishment for only those who denied the truth even after clarification in its ultimate form by Muhammad (see Itmaam-i-hujjat), hence, he considers it a time-bound command and no longer punishable.[60]

Qur'an[edit]

S. A. Rahman, a former Chief Justice of Pakistan, argues that there is no indication of the death penalty for apostasy in the Qur'an.[61]

W. Heffening states that in Qur'an "the apostate is threatened with punishment in the next world only", adding that Shafi'is interpret verse [Quran 2:217] as adducing the main evidence for the death penalty in the Qur'an.[62] Wael Hallaq holds that "nothing in the law governing apostate and apostasy derives from the letter of the holy text".[63] The late dissenting Shia jurist Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, a significant Shi'a religious authority, stated that the Quranic verses do not prescribe an earthly penalty for apostasy.[49]

Islamist author Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi argued that verses [Quran 9:11] of the Qur'an sanction death for apostasy. However, scholars such as S. A. Rahman reject Mawdudi's interpretation, concluding "that not only is there no punishment for apostasy provided in the Book but that the Word of God clearly envisages the natural death of the apostate. He will be punished only in the Hereafter…"[64] He continues and says that there is no reference to the death penalty in any of the 20 instances of apostasy mentioned in the Qur'an.

In his book on Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, Rahman declares the verse [Quran 2:256] which contains the explicit language, "Let there be no compulsion in religion...", to be "one of the most important verses of the Qur'an, containing a charter of freedom of conscience unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind…". He goes on to criticize the attempts by Muslim scholars over the ages to narrow its broad humanistic meaning and impose limits on its scope in their attempts to reconcile it with their interpretations of Muhammad's Sunna.

Hadith[edit]

Writing in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Heffening holds that contrary to the Qur'an, "in traditions [i.e. hadith], there is little echo of these punishments in the next world... and instead, we have in many traditions a new element, the death penalty."[54] Wael Hallaq states the death penalty was a new element added later and "reflects a later reality and does not stand in accord with the deeds of the Prophet."[63]

The Hadith record cases for which Muhammad allowed apostates to live:

Jabir ibn `Abdullah narrated that a Bedouin pledged allegiance to Muhammad for Islam (i.e. accepted Islam) and then the Bedouin got fever whereupon he said to Muhammad "cancel my pledge." But Muhammad refused. He (the Bedouin) came to him (again) saying, "Cancel my pledge." But Muhammad refused. Then he (the Bedouin) left (Medina). Muhammad said, "Madinah is like a pair of bellows (furnace): it expels its impurities and brightens and clear its good."[13]

Ayatollah Montazeri holds that it is probable that the punishment was prescribed by Muhammad during early Islam to combat political conspiracies against Islam and Muslims, and is not intended for those who simply change their belief or express a change in belief. Montazeri defines different types of apostasy. He argues that capital punishment should be reserved for those who desert Islam out of malice and enmity towards the Muslim community, and not those who convert to another religion after investigation and research.[49]

Historic[edit]

According to Muslim Islamic scholar Cyril Glassé, death for apostasy was "not in practice enforced" in later times in the Muslim world, and was "completely abolished" by "a decree of the Ottoman government in 1260AH/1844AD."[65] In the west this decree was named the Edict of Toleration.

Effects on Islamic learning[edit]

The English historian C. E. Bosworth argues that while the organizational form of the Christian university allowed them to develop and flourish into the modern university, "the Muslim ones remained constricted by the doctrine of waqf alone, with their physical plant often deteriorating hopelessly and their curricula narrowed by the exclusion of the non-traditional religious sciences like philosophy and natural science," out of fear that these could evolve into potential toe-holds for kufr, those people who reject God."[66]

Apostasy in the recent past[edit]

Background[edit]

The violence or threats of violence against apostates in the Muslim world usually derives not from government authorities but from individuals or groups operating with impunity from the government.[67] An example is the stabbing of a Bangladeshi Christian evangelist (a "murtad fitri" or Muslim-born apostate) while returning home from a film version of the Gospel of Luke.[68] Bangladesh does not have a law against apostasy, but some Imams encourage the killing of converts from Islam. Ex-Muslims in Great Britain have faced abuse, violence, and even murder at the hands of Muslims.[69] There are similar reports of violent intimidation of those electing to reject Islam in other Western countries.[70]

Other examples of persecution of apostates converting to Christianity have been given by the Christian organisation Barnabas Fund:

The field of apostasy and blasphemy and related "crimes" is thus obviously a complex syndrome within all Muslim societies which touches a raw nerve and always arouses great emotional outbursts against the perceived acts of treason, betrayal and attacks on Islam and its honour. While there are a few brave dissenting voices within Muslim societies, the threat of the application of the apostasy and blasphemy laws against any who criticize its application is an efficient weapon used to intimidate opponents, silence criticism, punish rivals, reject innovations and reform, and keep non-Muslim communities in their place.[71]

Similar views are expressed by the 'non-religious' International Humanist and Ethical Union.[72]

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found relatively widespread popular support for death penalty as a punishment for apostasy in Egypt (84% of respondents in favor of death penalty), Jordan (86% in favor), Indonesia (30% in favor), Pakistan (76% favor) and Nigeria (51% in favor).[73]

Afghanistan[edit]

In March 2006, an Afghan citizen Abdul Rahman was charged with apostasy and could have faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity. His case attracted much international attention with Western countries condemning Afghanistan for persecuting a convert. Charges against Abdul Rahman were dismissed on technical grounds by the Afghan court after intervention by the president Hamid Karzai. He was released and left the country to find refuge in Italy.[67]

Two other Afghan converts to Christianity were arrested in March 2006 and their fate is unknown. In February 2006, yet other converts had their homes raided by police.[67]

Iran[edit]

Salman Rushdie is a prominent[74] contemporary figure accused of apostasy. In 1989 a fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the ruler of Iran at the time, calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for the blasphemy of authoring the book The Satanic Verses.

According to US think tank Freedom House, since the 1990s the Islamic Republic of Iran has sometimes used death squads against converts, including major Protestant leaders. Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the regime has engaged in a systematic campaign to track down and reconvert or kill those who have changed their religion from Islam.[67]

15 Ex-Muslim Christians[75] were incarcerated on 15 May 2008 under charges of apostasy. They may face the death penalty if convicted. A new penal code is being proposed in Iran that would require the death penalty in cases of Apostasy on the Internet.[76]

At least two Iranians – Hashem Aghajari and Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari – have been arrested and charged with apostasy in the Islamic Republic (though not executed), not for self-professed conversion to another faith, but for statements and/or activities deemed by courts of the Islamic Republic to be in violation of Islam, and that appear to outsiders to be Islamic reformist political expression.[77] Hashem Aghajari, was found guilty of apostasy for a speech urging Iranians to "not blindly follow" Islamic clerics;[78] Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari was charged with apostasy for attending the 'Iran After the Elections' Conference in Berlin Germany which was disrupted by anti-regime demonstrators.[79]

Youcef Nadarkhani is an Iranian Christian pastor who has been sentenced to death for apostasy.

Bahá'ís in Iran, the nation of origin of the Bahá'í Faith and Iran's largest religious minority, were accused of apostasy in the 19th century by the Shi'a clergy because of their claim to a valid religious revelation subsequent to that of Muhammad. These allegations led to mob attacks, public executions and torture of early Bahais, including the Báb.[80]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

According to the "Online Saudi-arabian Curriculum مناهج السعودية الألكترونية",[81] taught at schools, we read under the title "Judgements on Apostates أحكام المرتدين" the following (in Arabic):[82]

"An Apostate will be suppressed three days in prison in order that he may repent ..... otherwise, he should be killed, because he has changed his true religion, therefore, there is no use from his living, regardless of being a man or a woman, as Mohammed said: "Whoever changes his religion, kill him", narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim."

Algeria[edit]

On 21 March 2006, the Algerian parliament approved a new law requiring imprisonment for two to five years and a fine between five and ten thousand euros for anyone "trying to call on a Muslim to embrace another religion." The same penalty applies to anyone who "stores or circulates publications or audio-visual or other means aiming at destabilizing attachment to Islam."[67]

Egypt[edit]

The Mohammed Hegazy case, shows the huge problems in that country for those wishing to leave Islam and be recognised as a member of another religion — where Hegazy has suffered death threats from family and prominent Islamic figures alike. A Judge ruled "He (Hegazy) can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he can't convert." He is the first Egyptian Muslim convert to Christianity to seek official recognition of his conversion from the Egyptian Government.[83]

In February 2009, a second case came to court, of convert to Christianity Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary, whose effort to officially convert to Christianity, faced opposing lawyers who advocated he be convicted of "apostasy," or leaving Islam, and sentenced to death.

"Our rights in Egypt, as Christians or converts, are less than the rights of animals," El-Gohary said. "We are deprived of social and civil rights, deprived of our inheritance and left to the fundamentalists to be killed. Nobody bothers to investigate or care about us."

El-Gohary, 56, has been attacked in the street, spat at and knocked down in his effort to win the right to officially convert. He said he and his 14-year-old daughter continue to receive death threats by text message and phone call.[84]

In 1992 Islamist militants gunned down Egyptian secularist Farag Foda. Before his death he had been declared an apostate and foe of Islam. During the trial of the murderers, Al-Azhar scholar Muhammad al-Ghazali testified that when the state fails to punish apostates, somebody else has to do it.[85]

In April 2006, after a court case in Egypt recognized the Bahá'í Faith, members of the clergy convinced the government to appeal the court decision. One member of parliament, Gamal Akl of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, said the Bahá'ís were infidels who should be killed on the grounds that they had changed their religion, thus ignoring the historical nature of the conversion and the fact that most living Bahá'í have not, in fact, ever been Muslim.[86]

A 2010 Pew Research Center poll showed that 84% of Egyptian Muslims believe those who leave Islam should be punished by death.[87]

Other countries[edit]

In December 2005, Nigerian pastor Zacheous Habu Bu Ngwenche was attacked for allegedly hiding a convert. In January 2006, in Turkey, Kamil Kiroglu was beaten unconscious and threatened with death if he refused to deny his Christian faith and return to Islam.[67] In a highly public case, the Malaysian Federal Court did not let Lina Joy to change her religion status in her I/C in a 2–1 decision.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain is the British branch of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims, who represent former Muslims who fear for their lives because they have renounced Islam. It was launched in Westminster on 22 June 2007. The Council protests against Islamic states that still punish Muslim apostates with death under the Sharia law. The Council is led by Maryam Namazie, who was awarded Secularist of the Year in 2005 and has faced death threats.[88] The British Humanist Association and National Secular Society sponsored the launch of the organisation and have supported its activities since.[89]

Ehsan Jami, co-founder of the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims in the Netherlands has received several death threats, and due to the amount of threats its members received, the Committee was dismantled.[90]

A 2007 poll by Policy Exchange revealed that 31% of British Muslims believed that leaving the Muslim religion should be punishable by death.[91]

Universal Declaration of Human Rights[edit]

Laws prohibiting religious conversion run contrary to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states the following:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."[92]

Islamic scholar Dr. Fathi Osman has stated that in modern times, leaving the religion of Islam is within the rights of an individual.[93] Dr. Osman was a representative of the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]