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Rifqa Bary, Islam, Muslims, Shar'iah, and Apostasy (Part One of Two)
by M. Zuhdi Jasser
At the center of the Rifqa Bary case is more than the plight of one teen. While we all like for our courtroom dramas to begin and conclude in a one hour timeframe including the commercials, the real world is not black and white. For this reason, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) has been very deliberate in our response to this case. Let us begin by saying that within some Muslim families and communities, belief in some type of punishment for apostasy is a very real threat. It may be dressed differently or given a different name, but it is still intolerance for apostasy. But also significantly, in my lifetime as a Muslim, I have not met Muslim parents who personally countenance punishments for apostasy. But I have met Muslim clerics who do (Islamists). That being said, as a father, the thought of anyone – let alone the courts – usurping the place of the parents in the decisions of a teen is chilling. If we take religion out of the mix in this a priori discussion and hypothetically state that the girl was a younger teen who had run away from her family to pursue an abortion, I believe we would be having a much different discussion. Rifqa's legal case is, however, particularly compelling in her favor due to her reports of prior abuse, verbal threats, and how close her age is to the age of majority of 18.
Addressing the issue of apostasy is a very real concern for AIFD and has been since our inception. \ I believe that the Bary case should be used as tool to bring to light many questions that Muslims should ask themselves. While I have never heard a Muslim directly or personally justify violence against another Muslim for the act of apostasy, there is a significant amount of pathology in the way many Muslims deal with apostasy from almost every level – from the familial to the tribal to the intellectual levels. What I will show here is that the preponderance of the intellectual evidence shows a systemic intolerance and, in fact, there is strong evidence for legal (Shar'iah-based) underpinnings for the intolerance, abuse, discrimination, and even at its worst, direct countenance of murder of apostates. I will also show that, thankfully, there is a disconnect between rational, moral, lay Muslims (the majority) and authoritative Islamic law as defined by the ulemaa (the theocratic scholars) who still, unfortunately, drive the ideas of a significant minority of Muslims in the West. This problem, as evident in Afghanistan's Rahman case of March 2006 is magnified manifold in Muslim majority nations where there is far less influence of Western ideas of religious freedom upon Muslim interpretations of Shar'iah law and their treatment of apostates. But the evidence will show that even in the West, the majority of Islamic scholars still endorse some sort of Islamic punishment for apostasy with various and sundry apologetics. Some scholars provide the absurd qualification of "only under an Islamic state" or "only as apostasy is a war against Islam," which somehow makes that all right. And we will see that other texts in the West still basically endorse the death penalty.
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