Friday, February 18, 2005

Accusing Muslim Intellectuals of Apostasy

By Aluma Dankowitz*
From MEMRI

Introduction

Marking the 16th anniversary of the Fatwa calling for author Salman Rushdie's death issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards announced: "The day will finally come when the apostate Salman Rushdie will receive his due punishment for his disgraceful and slanderous move against the Qur'an and the Prophet [Muhammad]." Iran's Leader Ali Khamenei stressed that the death sentence following the publication of Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses' "is irrevocable."(1)

The accusation against Muslims - particularly intellectuals, artists, and writers - of "unbelief" (an accusation known as "takfir") recurs in the Muslim world. The traditional punishment for an apostate (murtadd) set in early Islam was capital punishment. This punishment was implemented on a large scale in the period following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, when Muhammad's successor Abu Bakr fought the ridda wars against the tribes that abandoned Islam. In modern Muslim history too, there are several cases of charges of apostasy against intellectuals who deviated from the dictates of Islamist circles.

Section 228 of Iran's Islamic Penal Code states that a "criminal" should be exonerated "if it is proven to the court that the blood of the victim was permitted." An example of the implementation of this law is the cash prize of over $2 million set for the murder of Salman Rushdie, who was accused of apostasy. Other prominent examples include the 1985 execution of Sudanese Sufi philosopher Muhammad Mahmoud Taha on charges of ridda and the 1992 assassination by Islamists, following similar accusations, of secular Egyptian intellectual Faraj Foda. When Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali was asked for his view on this assassination, he simply said that "the sentence for ridda that the [country's] ruler refrained from carrying out has now been implemented." In 1994, Islamists made an attempt on the life of Egyptian Nobel Prize laureate Nagib Mahfouz.(2)

In other cases, conservative Muslim activists exploited the Hisbah law enabling anyone to file suit in a court of law against anyone else in the name of society. Thus, the charge of ridda was filed against several intellectuals; if found guilty, the court could force them to divorce their spouses [tafriq], because if one party to an Islamic marriage became an apostate, the marriage was nullified. Thus, in 1995 an Egyptian court forced Dr. Nasser Hamed Abu Zayd, an intellectual who had published critical research on the Koran, to separate from his wife. In 2001, a similar suit was filed against feminist Egyptian author Nawal Al-Sa'dawi; however, the prosecutor-general, who, according to a 1996 amendment, was the only one who could decide whether such a suit was warranted, rejected the claims against her.


Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Advocates Implementing the Ridda Death Penalty

In an interview with the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, one of the most prominent clerics in Sunni Islam and among Islamist circles and a spiritual leader for the Muslim Brotherhood movement, discussed the view of modern religious law on carrying out the punishment for ridda, and permitted the murder of free Muslim intellectuals whose views differ from those of Islamist clerics.

Asked, "In Muslim society, has an individual the right to change his religion as he wishes?" Al-Qaradhawi drew a distinction between two types of ridda: "One of the freedoms that Islam does not accept is the freedom of ridda that expands [from the realm of the individual to that of the group] and threatens the social fabric and its foundations. [On the one hand,] there is limited ridda, and [on the other,] there is ridda that expands [from the individual to the group].

"Limited ridda is the ridda of the individual who switches religion and is not interested in others. According to Islam, the punishment for this individual is [Hell] in the world to come...

"But [the other] ridda, which expands [from the individual to the group], is a ridda in which the individual who abandons Islam calls [upon others] to do likewise, [thus creating] a group whose path is not the path of society and whose goal is not the goal of the [Muslim] nation, and whose allegiance is not to the Islamic nation. Such [individuals] endanger the social fabric, and they are like the murtaddoon [apostates], who were fought by [the first Caliph] Abu Bakr together with the Companions of the Prophet [the Sahaba]. Those murtaddoon falsely claimed that they were prophets with the same inspiration as was given to the Prophet Muhammad..."

Asked what the view of the modern Muslim sage should be about the danger of ridda, Al-Qaradhawi replied: "The gravest danger facing the Muslim is the one that threatens his spiritual existence - i.e., that threatens his belief. Therefore, apostasy, or unbelief after having been Muslim, is the gravest danger to society...

"In our generation, Muslim society has been subject to violent invasions and severe attacks aimed at uprooting it, and these were manifested by the invasion of Christian missionaries that began with Western colonialism and is continuing in the Islamic world and among the Islamic communities and minorities [outside the Muslim world] ... [and by] the Communist invasion that destroyed entire Muslim countries in Asia and Europe and made every effort to eliminate Islam and remove it ultimately from people's lives ... and by the third and worst invasion, the secular invasion that is continuing to this day in the heart of the Islamic world, sometimes openly and sometimes covertly, and which persecutes the true Islam...

"For Muslim society to preserve its existence, it must struggle against ridda from every source and in all forms, and it must not let it spread like wildfire in a field of thorns. This is what Abu Bakr and the companions did when they fought the people of ridda who followed the false prophets... There is no escape from struggling against and restricting the individual ridda so that it will not worsen and its sparks scatter, becoming group ridda... Thus, the Muslim sages agreed that the punishment for the murtadd [who commits ridda] ... is execution..."(3)

In his book 'Islam and Secularism,' Al-Qaradhawi explains: "The Muslim sages agreed unanimously that anyone who denies something that is known in the religion ... is an apostate who abandons his religion. The Imam must demand of him to repent, and recant his deviation from the righteous path, or the laws regarding the murtadd will apply to him."

The progressive Egyptian intellectual Sayyed Al-Qimni, who cited the above quote in an article in the Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Yousef, explained what it meant: "According to Al-Qaradhawi, [the ridda] punishment does not apply only to someone who decides freely to leave Islam for what satisfies his heart and his conscience - whether this be another religion or nothing at all. It applies in principle [also] to the Muslim who clings to the laws of his religion ... but disagrees with those who have appointed themselves the priests of Islam and who call themselves religious sages ... especially when the disputes concern the understanding of a particular matter in Islam ... because [the priests of the religion] have determined that their understanding of the holy scriptures is the only [permitted] understanding and the absolute truth, and anything else is absolute falsehood... Any attempt at new thinking in reading the scriptures is thrust away [on the pretext] of [accusations of] abandoning the religion ... and the punishment for new thought or expressing a different opinion is death."(4)

The issues of ridda, takfir, and tafriq are a constant concern in the Muslim world. To view the full Inquiry & Analysis, visit http://memri.org/bin/opener_latest.cgi?ID=IA20805 .

*Aluma Dankowitz is Director of MEMRI's Reform Project.

Endnotes:
(1) IRNA (Iran), February 12, 2005.
(2) See article by liberal Tunisian intellectual Al-Afif Al-Akhdhar, http://www.rezgar.com/debat/show.art.asp?t=2&aid=8336, July 1, 2003.
(3) Al-Ahram Al-Arabi (Egypt), July 3, 2004.
(4) Roz Al-Yusouf (Egypt), September 17, 2004.

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The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East. Copies of articles and documents cited, as well as background information, are available on request.

MEMRI holds copyrights on all translations. Materials may only be used with proper attribution.
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