Muslims have been standing against apostasy laws for a century
Last week Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, 'called on leading British Muslims to support the right to convert from Islam to another religion'.
Whilst he is right that there is a need for Muslim leaders to speak out, it was very disturbing to observe the rather crass way that Lord Carey characterised Islam and its adherents by stating: “Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with Islam at its core that it cannot allow people to change their religion?”
His concern comes in the light of the tragic case of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a heavily pregnant Sudanese women, who a Sudanese Court recently deemed guilty of apostasy after she converted from Islam to Christianity. She was sentenced 100 lashes for adultery, as her marriage to a Christian man was deemed illegal, and to death for apostasy.
Lord Carey believes that in Islam it is ''accepted doctrine'' that apostasy is punishable by death. As a response he has called on Muslim leaders to say, ‘we allow Muslims to become Christians if they wish to’.
I, and other members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, were left dismayed by how unbalanced Lord Carey's comments were. Had he replaced the word 'Islam' with 'Sudan', then we would have been in complete agreement. The decision arrived at by the Sudanese court is clearly outrageous. It is sick. It is barbaric. It is inhumane. In short, it has nothing to do with the true teachings of Islam.
Lord Carey's divisive analysis assumes that the ruling of a Sudanese court both defines Islam and the beliefs held by Muslims. That simply is not true.
At its core, Islam is a religion based on the Qur'an, the recorded actions of the Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah) and his statements (hadith) – these form the textual and practical sources of the Islamic legal and moral code. Not a single verse in the Qur'an prescribes a punishment for apostasy and nor did the Prophet Muhammad ever punish anyone for leaving Islam.
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Furthermore, in the Qur'an and in the Prophet Muhammad's life we find no hostility directed towards Christianity or Christians. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. The Qur'an holds Christians as an honoured people, forming part of the 'People of the Book' and holds both Jesus and Mary in the very highest esteem. It furthermore enshrines freedom of religion within Islamic law, stating categorically that “There should be no compulsion in religion” (Q.2:257) and that each person has a right to leave Islam (Q.4:138) and to enjoy freedom of religious belief (Q.109:7).
Contrary to Lord Carey's rash assumptions, it is clear that pluralism and freedom of religion are at the core of Islam. No doubt, there are Muslims who have falsely interpreted Islam’s teachings to support their political and extremist ideologies, but they should not blind us from the fact that the vast majority of Muslims believe in peaceful values and are against extremism – in all its ugly forms.
And so the reality is that both Lord Carey and the average Muslim would have read about the case of Mrs. Ibrahim with equal heartache, devastation and frustration. Perhaps the emotions of Muslims are more heightened as their religion has here been clearly hijacked by extremists to hurt an innocent.
I agree with Lord Carey's call for more Muslim leaders to speak out against this affront on their religion. However, he should also recognise that many Muslim leaders and organisations have been campaigning against this abhorrent misrepresentation of Islam and the mistreatment of Mrs. Ibrahim.
For example, here in the UK the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (AMC) has been promoting freedom of religion and conscience for more than a century. In fact, the worldwide spiritual leader of the AMC, His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has been denouncing such notions and calling for pluralism at Mosques, public gatherings, and interfaith meetings, as well as to audiences made up of international political and civic leaders, on a weekly basis for more than a decade. From Westminster, to Capitol Hill, to Brussels he has travelled the globe to promote Islam’s peaceful teachings. He has called for peace and mutual respect at all levels saying:
“Islam does not permit cruelty or oppression in any way, shape or form. This is an injunction that is absolute and without exception. From every organ, every pore and every fibre of the Prophet Muhammad’s body gushed forth a spring of mercy and compassion for humanity. And so all people should be granted equal rights without discrimination or prejudice. This is the key to peace.”
Admittedly, there is much work to be done. Many remain silent due to apathy, poor education or a lack of courage. But that allegation cannot be made against every Muslim leader.
As a leader of millions, His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad has repeatedly called for freedom of religion or belief. He has repeatedly condemned apostasy. And so Lord Carey would do well to look closer at the teachings of Islam and to recognise that the Muslim community is far from mute on this issue or accepting of the mistreatment of minority communities.
Adam Walker holds degrees in both Law and Arabic. He serves as National Spokesperson of the London based Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, the oldest Muslim Youth Association in the United Kingdom.
Belfast Telegraph Digital