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Apostasy from Islam – C

July 8, 2021

Apostasy from Islam – c

Given this political history, it is peculiar to see a revival of Umar’s very narrowly defined view on apostates. He had labelled as apostates those renegade tribes who denied the Medinan central government the right to collect the official zakah tax from them. Those who claim similar things today forget that in spite of their religious pretexts these tribes were motivated by their ultimate goal of becoming financially, and eventually politically, independent from central government.

They refused to pay zakah not because they had doctrinal quarrels with an alms tax but rather because they wanted to spend the money on their own region. And yet, it was clear that the tribes’ refusal would have resulted in their secession from the central state, something which Umar countered through his campaigns against ‘apostasy’ (the term only reflecting the tribes’ religious rhetoric).

But whatever the political motivations might have been, Umar’s definition of apostasy has lost its relevance today because zakah is no longer collected by the state but rather voluntarily paid in order to support either charities and welfare organizations or the poorer relatives of one’s own family.

As for religious apostasy, it is shocking to notice a new kind of fanaticism amongst Muslim-Believers when they accuse one another of apostasy; sometimes only on the ground that someone has missed a prayer or has said something provocative or contradicting main political stream views. People get called apostates only because they dare to challenge the opinion of the scholars who deem themselves to be a kind of thought police who control and censor everything people say and do. Such zealousness has nothing to do with either Islam or Eman. In our eyes, it is an unfortunate return to the medieval inquisition where lists of heretics and apostates were circulated during the reigns of Abu Ja’far al-Mansur and al-Ma”mun bin al-Rashid.

Under the pretext that they must uphold religious orthodoxy for the will of God they had their (political) opponents’ heads cut off because these people dared to differ on sensitive issues. Under the same pretext today hundreds of innocent elderly people, women, and children are killed simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time when a suicide bomber strikes in the name of religious orthodoxy.

And still, no one seems to dare a complete revision of the old fiqh concept of apostasy that has imported the ancient values of inquisitionist fanaticism into our current times.

Why can we not have, like in France or Canada, the freedom to openly express our religious beliefs (or disbeliefs) without someone being allowed to harm them? Provided that the ethical and social behavior of apostates does not undermine public order and the general norms of moral decency, why can people not choose the religious creed they want (in particular if they are born into a community, they did not choose themselves)?

As long as their loyalty to their home nation cannot be questioned, what harm would there be in allowing a Muslim-Believer to leave Muhammad’s community and join the followers of Jesus (r)? Given that the Book prohibits ‘compulsion in religion’ (2:256), can we force people to stay in a religious community they have not chosen? We are told that ‘if it had been your Lord’s will, they would all have believed—all who are on earth!

Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!’ (Yunus:99). People should be permitted to differ in their opinions and practices, and as long as they do not undermine the general consensus on human rights and the highest moral ideals that the Book describes, they should be allowed to apostatize. It is vital that they should enjoy the same rights as those who apostatized during the time of the Prophet: they were left entirely unharmed because Muhammad strictly adhered to the Book’s prescription of religious tolerance.

After the death of the Prophet, his followers became divided into several different political blocs that later turned into different religious sects. This early split in Muhammad’s community had initially nothing to do with either the pillars of Islam or Eman, but it eventually led to a scholarly revisionism by which the pillars of Eman were given preference over the pillars of Islam.

Having learned the lesson from the political schism of Islam’s early history, we propose to establish a new basis on which we can strengthen the human, universal character of Islam which overrides all narrow interests of party politics. The truth of Islam does not lie in being capitalist or socialist or in promoting the manifestos of a Labor Party or a Conservative Party, before anything else, Islam promotes humanity. It does not favor one social class over another and it does not put the views of medieval fuqaha”, ulama”, and the Companions over anyone else. It does not accept the exclusivist notion of an Arab morality, nor does it believe in the existence of a non-Arab morality. There is only one morality, which is the morality of humanity.

-What appears as Arab or non-Arab are rather customs and traditions that can be overcome, albeit with difficulty and only over a long period of time. Let us finally come to the frequently discussed clash between tradition and modernity that modernist discourse proposes. For us, it is a clash of two different epistemologies; one based on modern methods of historicism, historic al-critical research, and dialectical, philosophical thinking, and one that is based on medieval terminologies which have come to us as empty signifiers that have lost their meaning.

The semantic content of these terms that once fitted nicely into the politic al-historical context in which they were created has become entirely anachronistic in our different, modern context. Unlike modern epistemologies that have their origin in the study of reality, these traditional epistemologies avoid reality by remaining in a past that disappeared a long time ago. This is the terminology of fiqh, kalam, tafsir, and hadith.

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