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Blasphemy and Apostasy Must be Legal

By Pamela K. Taylor

Hard on the heels of Abdul Rahman – an Afghani man, formerly Muslim, who faced imprisonment and potential execution for his conversion to Christianity – comes the case of liberal Danish MP, Naser Khader. Khader has been threatened by radical imams who “jokingly” suggested a suicide bomber might be headed his way because of his support for the integration of Europe’s Muslim community.

The Danish cartoonists and eleven Arab journalists who dared support their freedom of expression. Authors like Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, Arab-American poet Mohja Kahf, and African-American scholar, Amina Wadud, who address controversial topics. Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh who paid with his life for a movie criticizing Islam’s treatment of women.

Who will be next?

It is time for the world to stand up – Muslims and non-Muslims united – and declare that enough is enough. To insist that intimidation, threats, and violence are not acceptable ways to deal with differences of opinion, and that the right to change one’s religion, the right to question basic tenets of one’s religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of religious practice must be protected. National, state and local blasphemy and apostasy laws should be repealed. Efforts by the Organization of Islamic States to include anti-blasphemy language in a UN resolution should be rejected.

The Quran is perfectly clear – “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Chapter 2, verse 256.) And again, “If it had been the will of your Lord that all the people of the world should be believers, all the people of the earth would have believed! Would you then compel mankind against their will to believe?" (Chapter 10, verse 99). Why then this righteous indignation, this furious ire over someone’s belief or lack thereof? Why then the rush to judge, label and punish?

Clearly, there is widespread ignorance in the Muslim world of what the Quran actually says. Or, perhaps, there is a wholesale abandonment of verses that do not serve the divisive ends of radicals and extremists. How ironic, that the very people who claim to be the protectors of the Holy Book themselves do violence to it with their selective readings, their pick and choose methodology, and their twisted interpretations.

Not only do they make a mockery of the verses prescribing freedom of conscience, but they ignore verses condemning murder and aggression: “Do not commit aggression, for, verily, God does not love aggressors.” (Chapter 2, verse 190) and “If anyone slays a human being, except for murder or spreading crime throughout the land, it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; and, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” (Chapter 5, verse 32)

They also violate a cardinal principle of Islamic jurisprudence: that the Quran, the word of God, is the primary basis of legislation and other sources – narrations from the Prophet’s life, extrapolation and independent reasoning – are only secondary. Unable to support their position with the Quran, proponents of death for apostates turn to a narration purported to come from the Prophet: “Three acts permit the taking of a person’s life: a soul for a soul, the adultery of a married man, and renouncing religion while severing ties with the community.” The contradiction with the Quran invalidates this account both as a sound narration and as a source of jurisprudence. Again, we see either woeful ignorance or willful disregard for basic Islamic principles.

The US and Europe were right to intervene on behalf of Abdul Rahman, but it is not sufficient. We should pressure our allies – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt – and those countries with whom relations are less cordial – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya – to protect religious freedoms. Members of minority religions – the Copts, the Druze, Bahais, Christians, Jews, Shi’ites within Sunni majority populations, and Sunnis within Shi’ite majority populations – must not only be free to practice their religion of choice, but also to do so without fear of repercussions, discrimination, violence or murder from their neighbors or their governments.

Even more important, Muslim governments need to revise their laws and ensure safety for all their citizens equally. Muslim leaders, scholars, and clerics must advocate tolerance and reject violent reactions to differences of opinion. We must stand up to murder, intimidation and terror. Moderate, liberal, and progressive Muslims should hold our governments and our co-religionists responsible for their unacceptable actions, and act to prevent further violence. We must clearly and loudly advocate for secularism – as the only way to achieve harmony in our multi-faithed societies, and also as the only way to implement the Quranic teachings about freedom of conscience and belief.