* Apostates will not necessarily be killed but they might be. What a relief!
Death for apostasy?
AC Grayling and the Council of Ex-Muslims are distorting the picture and undermining efforts to bring change
Reading AC Grayling’sÂ latest articleÂ and listening to the protestations of theÂ Council of Ex-Muslims, you would think that the death penalty is being gratuitously and frequently applied to those who renounce Islam or harbour thoughts of apostasy.
* Nesrine Malik isÂ desperateÂ to prove that Islam stifles mental growth: read it if you must!
As a Muslim who has lived most of my life in Muslim countries, this picture is hard to recognise. I have several friends and family members who are non-believers and apart from some efforts to return them to the straight and narrow or at least go through the motions of religious observance, they have not come into any physical danger. A close friend â€“ hitherto religious â€“ only recently sent me a long, tortured email detailing his journey away from Islam and from all religion; he expressed no fears for his life or safety, merely trepidation at the prospect of acclimatising to this new God-free world view.
Although the Council of Ex-Muslims and AC Grayling depict the threat to life and limb as an indisputable fact, in reality there areÂ differences of opinionÂ among Muslim scholars (ostensibly the hard core of the religion) regarding the death penalty for apostates.
This is not to say that Muslim governments â€“ and Arab ones in particular â€“ have a tolerant view of apostasy but the death threat is invoked only rarely and more for political reasons rather than religion ones: to set an example or to save face as a proxy punishment for challenging the social or political status quo. While this is in no way acceptable, it is an extension of the general lack of enshrined civic human rights and evolved political institutions and processes â€“ a historical, social and geo-political reality in many Muslim countries that makes a mockery of any comparison to the experience of those renouncing Christianity or Judaism.
Nawal El Sadaawi, a prominent Egyptian writer and social activist, has clashed several times with religious authorities and has even dismissed some of the rituals of the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) as pagan, but I do not believe she lives in any fear for her life. Of course, there is always the possibility that violent individuals will take matters into their own hands, as in the case of the Nobel prize-winning writer,Â Naguib Mahfouz, but these are a minority found in all religions.
AC Grayling repeatedly refers to “Islamic states”, as if political Islam is a natural extension of state-sponsored Islam. If anything, political Islam is persecuted at home as much as it is reviled abroad. It is also a vehicle for dissent against repressive regimes â€“ violent Islam being its warped cousin.
This is where the primary lacuna becomes apparent: the conflation of politics and religion in the Muslim world. The “repressive and political social climate” that AC Grayling talks about cannot be reduced merely, or attributed entirely, to Islam. To discount the myriad of other factors in states that range from dictatorial monarchies in the Gulf to entrenched presidential dynasties in Egypt and Syria is absurd and undermines efforts to bring about change.
It is easy to appear churlish or insensitive when disputing the assertions of people who claim their lives are in danger but we must also consider the possibility that some will annex the emotive power of “death for apostasy” to serve their own ends, be they personal or political.Â Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-born ex-Muslim who has lived in the US for almost 20 years, became a hero of the neocons after claiming that someÂ casually dismissive wordsÂ from a cleric in a TV debate amounted to “a fatwa”. In due course, Time Magazine listed her as one of 100 influential people “whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world”.
Rejecting Islam and being anti-Islam are two different things, as are rejecting religion and being anti-religion. One is a spiritual lifestyle decision while the other entails some action, some campaign to eject religion from public life.
To call for religious freedom for all, including those who still believe, with the purpose of reform in mind is a noble endeavour. But claiming Islam is the root cause â€“ or in some cases the only cause â€“ of the Muslim world’s malaise, and crusading against it on that basis is both disingenuous and counterproductive. It serves only to frame the argument through the prism of western experience and alienates the real protagonists even further.
More of the same from Sweden:
On Swedish TV, a Muslim Woman Supports Stoning Adulteresses
by Baron Bodissey/Gates of Vienna
The following material is drawn from articles on the websites forÂ Sveriges TelevisionÂ (SVT, Swedish state television) andÂ KvÃ¤llstidningen Expressen. The translation is a joint effort by our Swedish correspondent LN and a Swedish reader who comments here occasionally as “Derailed Cluetrain”, and who is a regular contributor atÂ Falkblick.
Derailed Cluetrain gives us some background on the principal figure in this controversy:
Cherin Awad is a “professional Muslim” who has made a career out of representing her faith in Swedish media and establishment venues, with a resumÃ© that includes writing forÂ Svenska Dagbladet(national Swedish daily),Â the “Ramadan blog”, holding lectures about multiculturalism and Muslims for police students at the VÃ¤xsjÃ¶ University and the Swedish state department, frequent appearances as a guest on Swedish talk shows, and now finally as a host for the SVT (Swedish Television, the national broadcaster) program “Halal-TV”.
Since this issue became public after bloggers raised it, SVT has removed from their web site the program description text described in the translation below, without any explanation of why they chose to do so. It should be noted that Ms. Awad was 19 years old, a law student, and already a well-established talking head representing the Muslim population in Sweden at the time, which makes the efforts by her defenders to portray her statement as “youthful exuberance” dubious at best.
And LN summarizes the “Ramadan Blog”:
A diary of three young Muslims writing a lot of uninteresting stuff under captions like these:
- First Day of Eid
- Joy and gratitude
- An unforgettable day
- Happy Eid
- Now it’s Eid!
- Take the custom where you come
- Muslim for a day
- Thank you for yesterday
- Some questions are more than just stupid
- Succeed in convincing yourself about who you are
Now for the translation fromÂ Expressen:
Cherin Awad takes back her declaration that it is OK to stone unfaithful women
Cherin Awad, Dalia Azzam Kassem, and Khadiga el Khabiry are three Swedish Muslim young women who look at Sweden and Swedishness on Halal-TV, shown here together with Mona Sahlin.
Recants her opinion on death penalty
One of the participants in a new venture called “Halal-TV” on Swedish Television (SVT) show, has said that it is right for women who have been unfaithful to be stoned to death.
Three weeks before the start of the series, Cherin Awad is backing away from her statement.
– – -Â –Â – – – – –
“It’s regrettable that I expressed myself in that way,” she tells Expressen.
In November, SVT starts broadcasting the program “Halal-TV”, in which three Muslim women give their perspectives on Sweden. One of them is Cherin Awad, a lawyer, lecturer and writer onÂ the “Ramadan blog”Â ofSvenska Dagbladet.
“She is one of three leading ladies. There is no host, just three women doing a travelogue on their country,” says Gunnar Hofverberg, the project leader for “Halal-TV”.
Stoned to death
In December 2003, Cherin Awad appeared on SVT’s program “Existens”, which deals with lifestyles and social issues, that particular show being dedicated to an unmarried women in Nigeria who risked being stoned to death because she gave birth to a child.
After the feature a studio debate followed, in which the host asked Cherin Awad if she thought it was right to stone an unfaithful woman.
She replied that it was “virtually impossible” to be sentenced to stoning, because juridically it requires so much evidence for such a penalty to be imposed. Such evidence must be that the woman confesses, or that there are four witnesses to the infidelity.
Capital Punishment is Right
But she did not answer the question about whether the punishment is right or wrong.
“The penalties are harsh, because God shows us human beings that it is incredibly appalling to behave in such a way,” said Cherin Awad.
The host followed up with another question:
“But if the criteria are met, if you have four witnesses, if a woman or a man confesses to adultery, according to you, would it (stoning to death) be the correct punishment?
“Yes,” Cherin Awad responded without hesitation.
SVT’s own description on the program schedule, which SVT recently removed from its website, described her position:
“According to her, the evidence requirements are so strict that the sentence can never be applied in practice. But if she has to choose, God’s law always precedes man’s law. And the penalty for adultery is death.”
But according to Gunnar Hofverberg, the schedule text is unfair.
“It’s been spun fairly hard,” he says.
When Expressen contacted Cherin Awad, she said she regrets her statement, explaining that she felt pressured by the situation.
“It’s regrettable that I expressed myself that way. I am against capital punishment, and was even then. But unfortunately I expressed myself in a manner that I regret,” she said.