Apostasy from Islam – B

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

July 8, 2021

Apostasy from Islam – b

The prime minister of Great Britain, for example, has been appointed to lead a government because he represents all the political goals and aspirations of the political party that won the last election (mostly either Labour or Conservatives), whereas the chancellor of the exchequer is expected to administer a budget whose money is spent on all sections of the population regardless of their political affiliations.

Before the introduction of a unified national tax system, Jews and Christians were required to pay the so-called jizya, a head tax on free nonbelievers who lived under the rule of a Muslim-Believer.

This was seen as an equivalent to the tax (zakah, sadaqat) which the Muslim-Believers had to pay. The money the public treasury received in this way was spent in roughly equal terms in return on both Muslim-Believers and Muslim-Assenters. Today, modern tax law requires the state to collect taxes from all citizens equally, and yet it allows both Muslim-Believers and Muslim-Assenters alike to pay voluntary sadaqat to religious and charity organisations. This is money they can spend on the specific needs of their respective religious communities (e.g., for prayer rooms, schools, nurseries, interfaith centers, etc.).

The modern tax system is hence more dynamic and flexible and has made the old jizya head tax entirely redundant. The call for a reintroduction of the jizya tax ignores the fact the current economic and financial context of our tax system has changed to such a degree that any specific state tax collected from citizens according to their religion would make no sense whatsoever. It ignores the fact that in fiscal reality the religious sadaqat are no longer part of the monthly/annual state income and that non-Muslim-Believers already contribute to state revenues in the form of national income tax, VAT, and other taxes on consumer goods (such as petrol and tobacco, etc.).

To call for a return of the old jizya tax in the modern world is certainly as anachronistic as it is ignorant of the possibility that ancient terms can acquire new meanings when they have lost their old ones. What jizya signifies today is adequately expressed in the general tax laws that modern nation-states apply.

A return to the old system would create nothing but bloodshed and national disintegration.

Seen from a modern perspective, the followers of Muhammad operated on the level of state and government like a political party that was led by the Prophet. Institutionally and ideologically, this represented a dramatic change to the political scene on the Arabian Peninsula, which used to be organized around the principles and values of clan culture and tribal solidarity. Because of their early conversion to the new faith, the groups of the Muhajirin and Ansar formed a kind of political avant-garde that also enjoyed more privileges than others in terms of political posts and shares of war booty.

It certainly marked a progression to a higher form of political organization, which, regrettably, was abolished soon after the Prophet died.

The fact that Muhammad succeeded in establishing a centralized state led, however, to the unfortunate impression that his prophetical mission essentially included his role as a statesman, and that he was both prophet and king in one person. And yet, this is both theologically and historically inaccurate, as shown by Muhammad Sa’ed al-Ashmawi’s profound analysis in his book al-Islam al-siyasi.

In the political Arab-Muslim mind we come across two concepts:

first, whoever wants to found a state and become its head, thereby emulating the model of Muhammad, needs to be first a prophet, (i.e., needs to present his political aspirations in religious terms); second, whoever wants to seize leadership of the Muslim-Believers must wait until the founders of the state disappear. Both things have indeed, occurred in our history. The prophetical claims of al-Aswad al-Anasi, Musaylimah, and tulaihah bin Khuwaylid are examples of the first concept, because their religious rhetoric was in fact a tactical (political) tool to undermine the unity of the community and the authority of the state.

Religion was propagated in order to pursue political ‘apostasy’ and to disobey the government. Neither the Prophet nor, after his death, Abu Bakr could afford to tolerate a political schism, hence their orders to fight and kill the secessionist apostates. The occurrence of political opportunism after the seizure of Mecca in 630 is a good example of the second concept. After the Meccan opposition to Muhammad, led by Abu Sufyan and Amr bin al-‘uas, was defeated (in 630 when the Prophet seized Mecca), the Prophet’s former enemies quickly closed ranks with the Muslim-Believers and, in order to pursue their old goals in the disguise of the new faith, joined the party of the new religion. However, they had to wait until the first generation (i.e., the first rightly guided caliphs) which had established the state had gone, before Mu’awiya could restore the power and privileges of the old Meccan aristocracy (in 661), which had lost its influence in politics for some thirty years.

Let us repeat that a society cannot afford to tolerate apostasy (in the sense of ‘turning away’) from morality and civility and must introduce legislation that makes such apostasy punishable. If the apostasy is, however, from a religious creed, society must not interfere because it should tolerate freedom of choice on such personal matters. It should never be punished by death. Only in the case of political apostasy, whose aim is to undermine the unity of the nation and its territories as well as the authority of the state and its institutions, is the use of force and the shedding of blood justified.

The secessionist wars in the history of the United States are a good example of what we mean by political apostasy. When the states of the South (the separatists), declared their independence in 1860 (under the leadership of Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee) and thus threatened to undermine the territorial integrity of the USA, their secessionism was fought by the Union army under Abraham Lincoln in a long and bloody civil war that cost millions of lives; by the end of the conflict national unity was restored. If any religious community in the United States today, for example the Christian Right, threatened to withdraw from mainstream society in order to establish their own autonomous state which does not accept the authority of (secular) state law, the federal government in Washington would immediately respond to such a threat by forcefully suppressing any practical step in that direction.

The separation of Syria from Egypt in 1961 after three years of a political union (1958–1961, in the form of the United Arab Republic), was in fact a form of political apostasy. We know that President Nasser was given all the powers (including military force) to stop Syria’s secession but, in the end, shied away from using force and consequently the separation took place. Separatism can never be accepted, except when a nation reclaims territory that has been occupied by a foreign power (Tibet, Palestine) or has been denied territorial sovereignty (Kurdistan, Darfur) and on condition that its claim to an independent state are acknowledged by the United Nations and supported by the majority of countries worldwide.

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