Islam and Apostasy

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by Rafiq Clarkson

I embraced Islam over 15 years ago. I feel humbled that Allah had chosen me for this beautiful and enriching experience. As well as a gift, becoming a Muslim was also the acceptance of a task. Allah was asking me to give my all to better Islam and the whole human race.

In that time I have seen many others convert. All have their various reasons. My closest friends are others that were not born into Islam but entered it as adults. Their lives have changed and they have become better fathers, mothers, sons and daughters from the guiding light.

Sadly in that time I have also seen some leave Islam. They left either due to ignorance, the prejudice of others, or their own inability to accept the mercies (as well as the requirements) of the way. The events of September 11 were cataclysmic and catalyzing. Some were spurred onto greater Islamic knowledge. Others could no longer bear the same name as those who would wage war. I also know some who were born Muslim who have now left… at least in their heart if not in name. While living in the west they realised that there were many ways to live. Previously they knew only of Islam. They feel cheated by their culture, that they were not told of the wonders of the western life. For them, Islam is a backward and ignorant religion that is out of step with rational and peaceful thinking. How do I make sense of these experiences? Why do I embrace Islam and yet others leave? More perplexing is when some lose their humanity and become cold-blooded when they convert to Islam and yet others leave Islam and become more peaceful and closer to Allah? Essentially, what is the purpose of humanity and what is the role of Islam and other religions in fulfilling the purpose of humanity? In my searching I read these words and they are like the songbird greeting the sun:

“We sent down the Torah which contains guidance and light… Later, in the train of prophets We sent Jesus, son of Mary, confirming the Torah which has been send down before him, and gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light. …Unto you [O Muhammad] this writ (Koran) and a way and a pattern of life, confirming what were revealed before… Unto everyone of you have We appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed He could surely have you all made one single community professing one faith. But He wished to try you and test you. So try to excel in good deeds” (Qu'ran: 5:44-48).

Some Muslims understand other religions as 'previous', old and outdated ideas that were superseded by Islam. As each new revelation occurs it renders the previous unnecessary. If this were true, then the logical conclusion is that Allah would have wanted one religious community. May Allah forbid such thoughts! Instead Allah's will is that the various religious traditions should try and outdo each other in good deeds. We hear more of Allah's will for the human race in the following ayat

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things) (Qu'ran: 49:13)

Allah wants us to fully know each other. He wants us to know everybody, which means all the different cultures, Western and Eastern ideas, and different languages; and not despise any of it.

Essential to both of these verses is that people will change their opinions and beliefs as they interact with others that are different to themselves. This is Allah's will and we should celebrate it. A worthy metaphor is of a sporting competition where we all barrack for different teams. If a star player is transferred from one team to another we may feel disappointed and a little betrayed, but we can still wish them well in their new club and hope they contribute to the enjoyment of the game. We may see them become better in the new environment and wonder at their accomplishments. They may also struggle and we will feel sad for them, but not vindictively gloat over their suffering.

Let us not forget the goal of our game - not a trophy at the end of the season, but doing good work in the world. It should be even easier for us to cheer the other team if they can do more good than us and it should motivate us to do even better next time!!

In this context the issue of apostasy and what our reasonable response becomes clear. The reference to apostasy requiring capital punishment should be understood to refer to a particular social and political context where the act of apostasy is equivalent to being a traitor to the state. In this situation, essentially the rule of self-defense is being applied, rather than any apostasy law. Although the rule of self-defense is one possible response, theway in which it has dominated many Muslim responses (to people leavingthe faith) is perverse. This narrow emphasis has distracted Muslims from the clear revelation of Allah's will as outlined above. We should be concerned about how we can know each other and encourage each other to do good works. If someone wants to leave to join another religion we should be concerned that they do so in such a way that they are likely to do the least harm and the most good. We should also learn why they have left, so that we can improve ourselves. Each challenge of a person leaving a culture, tribe or religion for another is a divine instruction for us to get to know each other better.

May Allah guide us all.

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