Taking the findings of the dissertation into consideration, it is clear to see that the concept of freedom of religion, as espoused in the UNDR (1947), ECHR (1950) and ICCPR (1966) fundamentally exists in theory yet cannot be guaranteed in practice within a British context. This dissertation examined the relevance of religion in Europe in the 21st Century and upon recognising its salience to the modern, western world – as demonstrated through the rise of Islam, analysed the concept of the Muslim Cultural Defence; a reactionary affront to secularism in Europe and indeed Britain, as demonstrated in the general pattern of de-Christianisation throughout Europe. The fundamental Muslim resentment at the British, political, secularist reaction to the Salman Rushdie Affair polarised factions of Muslim communities, solidifying the Cultural Defence and regarding any heterodoxy within such communities as an attack on their Islamic way of life; of which apostasy is the worst offence. Through the case studies of British apostates and ex-Muslim, Christian converts, it is evident that freedom of religion exists but for a few, as if it truly existed in practice, the likes of Nissar Hussain would not feel compelled to set up safe havens for fellow apostates. Yet it is Nissar’s phrase ‘I may as well be living in Pakistan’ that annihilates the belief of freedom of religion, as the comparison of the United Kingdom to a country that continues to witness the killing of religious minorities, is indeed a dire blow to British values and promises of religious freedom.
You are shunned, treated as an apostate, a traitor. Your property is continually damaged. I have had physical assaults. You find yourself completely isolated, broken (Nissar Hussain in the Barnabas Fund 2016).
This chapter will examine the case of British Pakistani, Nissar Hussain, who emerged as Europe’s and Britain’s regional and national face for the ex-Muslim, Christian convert. The chapter highlights the persecution he and his family have endured from 2000 to present day, utilising excerpts from his daughter, Anniesa Hussain’s blog in which she documents her experiences as the child of an apostate; before examining the political police and legal failures in addressing the religious hate the family have endured, to conclude that there exists no freedom of religion for the apostate from Islam in spite of ratified Human Rights Legislation.
6.1 Leaving Islam, Embracing Christianity
Nissar Hussain has been the national face for Christian converts from Islam in Britain since 2001, when news circulating his apostasy throughout his local Muslim community in Bradford resulted in daily verbal and physical abuse that culminated in alerting local media, in order to address the innate suppression of ex-Muslims. Nissar officially converted to Christianity in 1996, where the trauma of his brother’s death left him soul-searching, leading him to find solace and truth in the example of Jesus Christ, where Islam had fundamentally failed. News of Nissar’s conversion soon spread, resulting in his disownment by immediate family and friends and his family endured daily harassment, initially in the form of daily emotional and verbal abuse; before resulting in damage to family property and physical assaults, forcing the family to flee to another part of Bradford in 2006. The family were approached by Channel 4’s Dispatches in 2007, interested in investigating the persecution ex-Muslim Christian converts and upon its release, resulted in a second wave of religious hate crimes, the most severe of which resulted in Nissar’s hospitalisation in November 2015.
6.2 Infidels Are Us
Anniesa, daughter of Nissar Hussain, set up the blog platform infidelsareus in 2014 in order to highlight the marginalisation of the ex-Muslim Christian convert. She recalls her childhood experience, growing up as the symbol of heterodoxy in the face of community orthodoxy. Anniesa has documented her life from life as a 6 year old (2000) up until the aftermath of her father’s attack on November 17, 2015.
‘Sustained Persecution of the Hussain Family 2000-2006’
From the time I was 6 years of age, my siblings and I endured daily verbal abuse, physical altercations, car and house window smashings. School playground hostility and school-mate deprivation. Death threats. Mob rule. Initial prevention of riding our bicycles in the neighbour common ground to then prevention of us playing on the street directly outside our property. I watched my father’s effort in erecting a 6ft fence in his backyard to protect his children become effectively decimated. I can’t ever imagine his pain, his helplessness when his fence still never stopped the glass bottles and bricks being hurled at his children as they played in their own back garden (infidelsareus 2015).
‘An Abnormal Normality’
I never understood, walking out of the house hand-in-hand with a sister or father, why our walls and windows were scrawled with the words ‘Fuck you!’ ‘Jew Dogs’ ‘Fucking Christians’ ‘Christian Dogs’ in ugly, black and permanent graffiti – marked out for the whole world to see. I didn’t see why so many Pakistani children at my school could look me straight in the face and tell me ‘we can’t play with you because my parents said you’re a Christian’. Nor was it acceptable to me, when they set fire to our neighbouring abandoned property, in order for the flames to lick across our house beams and set our house alight. At least when we had to flee to a local vicarage for safety, we were afforded a few weeks of peace and calamity. I could never accept the verbal and physical attacks on my parents and will never forget as a seven year old, an attempt on my Father’s life (infidelsareus, 2014).
‘Round II: 2008-2015’
In 2008 did the second round of persecution begin to unfold. I refer to it as the ‘second round’ since our current residence is the second family home in Bradford under which we’re enduring persecution. We were instantly shunned and faced immediate hostility from the Pakistani families on our street. There are approximately six Pakistani Muslim families on our street and upon seeing the documentary, became aware that we were not the Muslim family they’d assumed us to be – worse yet we used to be that Muslim family- and their contempt continues to this day (infidelsareus, 2015)
‘Bradford Attack: 17/11/2015’
Nissar Hussain is a living example of an ex-Muslim and it is this factor that doesn’t swallow well with Muslim families such as those who attempted to orchestrate his demise. His stance, his desire to fight his Muslim oppressors in a non-Muslim country has gained him enough hatred which culminated in an attempt on his life. If you watch the cctv footage you can see the pick-axe aimed for Dad’s head…
… It has come at a great cost but I think even Dad has finally accepted that one man is incapable of changing a system geared against apostates such as our family. So as we undergo a time of review and reflection as to where to move away from Bradford please continue to bear our family in prayer during the uncertain and uneasy transition. After almost two decades of sustained persecution, every single one of us has simply had enough. We want peace and stability, we want the ability to walk outside our property to a car that hasn’t been smashed, a father that doesn’t get brutally beaten. We need to be able to breathe and move freely (infidelsareus, 2015).
6.3 The political implications behind the persecution of the Hussain family
In his 2008 doctorate thesis, No Place to Call Home: Experiences of Apostates from Islam & Failures of the International Community , Meral (2008) situates the plight of the Hussain family within a political Cultural Defence framework:
Muslim diaspora communities tend to regard apostasy as a betrayal of their ongoing struggles with identity within their host countries. The more distant the culture of the host country is from an Islamic and Middle Eastern culture, the more intense the imperative becomes for maintaining Islam identity. When identities are precarious, their enforcement will take an aggressive form. This helps to understand why apostates face an equally dangerous situation, even when they are born and raised in a Western country (Meral 2008: 63).
The anti-Muslim discrimination organisation, Tell-Mama UK , re-quotes Meral in his allusion to this inherently political opposition to apostates from Islam, additionally also referring to the case of Nissar to deny any religious undertone to the persecution of his family, in stating:
A deliberate conflation overlooks the intricate dynamics of countries whose intolerance of apostasy is often political and not religious in nature… In 2001 (the year of the Bradford Riots), relations between the Asian communities and others were poor. So a conversion away from Islam was also viewed by some as a deep community betrayal. In that context, it might explain why the Hussain family suffered broken windows and street harassment (Tell-Mama, 2014).
Yet, whilst it is correct to highlight the political tensions and the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ paradigm as one result of racial/religious frustrations; it should also important to highlight the political correctness and fear of being labelled ‘racist’, or ‘Islamophobe’ provides the very grounds in which religious intolerance towards apostates from Islam and the very religious persecution directed towards the Hussain family is allowed to continue. It is also imperative to point out and include the overt failures of the Bradford police force and Bradford west local councillors and Members of Parliament (MP), as a political factor in the continuation of the persecution of the Hussain family.
Barnabas Fund published a letter written by Nissar to his local and current MP, Naz Shah, highlighting his precarious situation and the failures of the police, in addition to asking for her assistance in the matter:
Dear Naseem Shah MP,
Can I congratulate you on behalf of myself and family on your stunning victory and we can’t express our delight as our newly elected MP for the Ward of Manningham and wish you every success for the future. On a serious note can I express our utter misery and dire situation as Christian converts from a Mirpuri/Muslim background since 1996… when I had reported it to Police prior to this happening the Police sergeant’s response was: “Stop trying to be a crusader and move out!” In short the Police had wilfully failed us so as not to be labelled racists or seem to cause the Muslim community offence at our suffering and expense… I cannot express in words the Police failure over the years which has led to our suffering and have no confidence in them whatsoever and am desperate for your help (Barnabas Fund, 2015).
Furthermore, Wilson Chowdhry, chair of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BCPA) told the Catholic Herald that “apostasy crime” – committed against Muslims who convert to Christianity – needs to be more widely recognised in Britain. Regarding Mr Hussain’s case, he stated: ‘Police officers seemed oblivious. They didn’t put it down as a hate crime. They had it down as a neighbourhood dispute. That to me was atrocious’ (Catholic Herald 2015).
Police inaction and Shah’s failure to respond to this letter and lack of absence during repeated meetings Nissar set up to discuss his situation in more depth, must be analysed politically. Bradford’s issue with fundamentalism initiated with the public burning of the Satanic Verses , a key turning point being the 2001 riots which polarised factions of the Pakistani community in an already highly concentrated ‘ghettoization’ community structure; of which Nissar’s conversion is deemed treacherous to the wider Islamic Cultural Defence, perceived as opting out of identifying with ethnicity not just religion. This is evident through the National Secular Society’s interview with Anniesa who stated:
‘I realised we were different. Mum got asked in the playground, ‘‘why are you wearing salwar kameez, why aren’t you wearing a mini skirt now you’re not a Muslim?’’ Christianity is equated to whiteness. [Mum] said ‘‘my colour is still the same, I’m still a Pakistani woman’’ (National Secular Society 2015).
It is also important to note that, the necessity to avoid repetition of another Bradford riot and the re-election imperative of the local MPs voted in primarily through the Pakistani bloc-vote; the ‘Birardari’ –clan politics – (BBC 2015) system, which are crucial factors in the dismissal of the Hussain case as a religious hate crime by both the police and Naz Shah.
Nissar was interviewed by the Telegraph & Argus following his hospitalisation in which he stated:
“Our lives have been sabotaged because of our faith yet the police have never labelled it as a religious hate crime. It has come to this and the police have failed us. I have no confidence in them .We are under the cosh and classed as blasphemers. The Muslim community are largely decent people but because of the taboo of converting to Christianity we are classed by them as scum and second-class citizens. Most of the Muslim community here have turned a blind eye to what we are going through, there are some who have condoned it but there are also those who are directly committing hate crimes against us. Their objective is to drive us out again. We can’t go on like this. The plan is to move but we can’t do it overnight (Kathie Griffiths in the Telegraph & Argus 2015).
The same article also reported that the November attack was now being treated as a religious hate crime, with ‘Detective Inspector Andy Howard, of Bradford District CID, said initial investigations suggested is was a targeted attack and it is being treated as a religious hate crime’ (Telegraphy & Argus 2015). Yet the timing of police classification of the Hussain ordeal as religious hate coincides with the proliferation of interest in the Hussain case, as demonstrated in the tirade of media releases, such as the Daily Mail’s October 2, 2015 article entitled ‘Muslim family are driven from their home… after they converted to Christianity: Neighbours vandalise car and call them ‘blasphemers’ and the 19th November 2015 article, ‘CCTV catches terrifying moment Christian father-of-six was brutally set upon by hooded thugs with a pickaxe handle who targeted him as a ‘’blasphemer’‘ because he converted from Islam’, the Times’ 19th November 2015 article ‘Bradford father ‘living in fear after converting from Islam to Christianity’ and the Yorkshire Post’s 19th November 2015 article entitled ‘Terrifying video shows Bradford dad attacked by pickaxe thugs ‘for converting from Islam to Christianity’ to cite a few examples.
Nissar himself confirms this to the BCPA in the following statement:
Yes, they [police] recorded the most brutal attack on me, which was actually attempted murder, as a religious hate crime, but only after the local media named it as such, but in all of the years beforehand, the police force have been downplaying our abuse as a ‘neighbourly dispute’ (BPCA 2016)
6.4 Taking a Stand as a Christian convert
The failure of the political and legal system and the lack of freedom of religion in his decision to leave Islam has inspired Nissar to advocate for a specific law guaranteeing the protection of ex-Muslims. The 2015 circulating of the ApostasyByChoice petition online is one example of this.
Moreover, Nissar’s statements of ‘I think multiculturalism has failed, I think David Cameron’s Big Society has failed and I think there is two laws, one for them and one for us’ (Telegraphy & Argus 2015) and ‘I might as well be living in Pakistan, this is not Britain as I know it’ (BBC Asian Network, 2015) provides the contextualisation for the launching of the Safe Haven Project by the Christian Concern organisation, aimed to provide secure relocation for British ex-Muslim Christian converts. Nissar, campaigner and co-founder of Safe Haven said of the initiative: ‘ I am determined not to hide my conversion to Christianity and to do all I can to help the many thousands of other former Muslims, who have either moved away from Islam or need a refuge to escape this type of tyranny’ (Christian Concern, 2014).
The organisation Friends in the West reports Nissar Hussain’s partnership with the BPCA, in meeting with the British Home office, in ‘calling for a Home Office review of hate crime towards so called ‘apostates’ and for such crime to be listed in the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006’ (Friends in the West, 2016), prompting a response from Karen Bradley, Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation & Crime documented in two letters dating 27th June 2012:
In an open letter addressed to Mark Burns-Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner of the West Yorkshire police force, she writes:
‘I recently met Nissar Hussain, a Bradford resident who was involved in a high-profile attack outside his home in November because of his conversion to Christianity…as you are aware, any crime perpetrated on the basis of the victim’s religion should be recorded as a religious hate crime. This includes crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s conversion to a particular faith’ (Home Office, 2016).
In conclusion, the extensive case of the Hussain family in Bradford is interesting to note, as it carries an explicit political undertone not just religious – political opposition from local MPs and police, in addition to political frustrations at the family’s apostasy from the local Muslim communities in which they have resided. Although the plight of the Hussain family continues, with ongoing investigations; the fact remains that in spite of police acknowledgment of targeted persecution towards the Hussains dating back to 2001, the police only officially recognised such criminality as religiously motivated in the immediate aftermath of Nissar’s hospitalisation in November 2015. Additionally, the joint call made by the BPCA and Nissar to insert a specific apostasy clause into British existing Race and Religious legislation, is indicative of the overt failures to guarantee religious freedom for Nissar and his family.
To them [Muslims], it doesn’t really matter if you do the praying stuff, because to them it seems that you just don’t care. But it’s a big deal if you say, ‘yeah I’m not a Muslim’. It changes nothing in your actions or in what you do. But to them it means everything. Because it’s an attack on their life. It’s not ‘Oh, he’s just a bad Muslim’ kind of thing. It’s like, ‘s***, he doesn’t believe’. (‘Hanif’ in Cottee 2005: 11)
The 2008 Channel 4 Documentary, ‘Dispatches, Unholy War’ stated that there is an estimated 3,000 underground ex-Muslims currently in Britain, yet the figure stands to be higher given that apostasy remains at the discretion of the individual. However, although the chapter examines the lives of a few British apostates, this is largely due to the stigma and shame attached to the renunciation of the Islamic faith and the necessity to maintain silence as an ex-Muslim living in the shadows. The chapter fundamentally will highlight and conclude that all case apostates do not feel free to state their apostasy openly, as doing so results in disownment, a sense of no belonging in wider society; leading to –in extreme cases- suicide.
5.1 Confessions of an ex-Muslim
The publication of Simon Cottee’s (2015) The Apostates: When Muslims leave Islam broke the tide of silence and ignorance enveloping the Apostasy Question in academic literature and policy making, through releasing the first major study of apostasy from Islam in a Western, secular context. Cottee (2015) examines the apostate ordeal primarily through a sociological lens, yet there largely remains a stifling of the internal struggle ex-Muslims undergo within the wider framework of Muslim orthodoxy. Cottee’s (2015) publication must be also placed in the context of the rise of ex-Muslim forums, most notably in Mina Ahadi’s January 2007 founding of the Central Council of ex-Muslims in Germany, Maryam Namazie’s June 2007 co-founding of the Council of ex-Muslims in Britain (CEMB) and Imtiaz Sham’s co-creation of Faith to Faithless; which propelled these formerly marginalised figures into the limelight, thus publicly breaking the taboo of even addressing the Apostasy Question and establishing both public and underground channels of communications for fellow ex-Muslims to share their individual experience and be encouraged in the knowledge they are not alone.
The British ideologue and boasts of freedom of religion was severely destabilised and doubted in the publically documented suicide of 22 year old Pakistani Irtaza Hussain, who abandoned Islam when arriving to the UK for staunch atheism upon the discovery of rationality and science. As an active member of the CEMB he wrote:
Islam quite simply did not provide enough answers at all and was fairly credulous. What is absolutely appalling is the state of ignorance within Muslims and how many of them make claims about Islam’s monopoly on knowledge, yet still being miles away from having a proper appreciation of academia (Irtaza Hussain CEMB, 2013).
Cottee (2015) recounts his personal interview with Irtaza, recalling his statements preceding his suicide: ‘I hate not having psychical company…I hate how I’m completely alienated from society and will never find a way to fit in’ (Cottee 2015: 12). The overwhelming lack of acceptance and subsequent loneliness was sensed by Cottee, throughout the case-study interviews he conducted, prompting him to state:
There is a lot of pain and torment in the lives of ex-Muslims, This is to do, in part , with feelings of shame: the sense that they’ve failed their families and the wider Muslim community, that they’re not right, that they’re wrong. Not normal. To do, also, with feelings of alienation, a sense of being out of place. Not belonging (Cottee 2015: 13).
Irtaza’s final Facebook post in 2013, entitled ‘Just a Jump Away’, depicts him sitting in a tree, his camera lens pointing downwards and a rope in the distance. Faraz Talat, facebook friend to Irtaza, highlights the lack of freedom of belief for those who abandon the Islamic faith in his reminiscent tributary post:
22 year old Irtaza Hussain, an ex-Muslim, had cried bitterly for months about being alienated and rebuked by his ultra-conservative British Muslim family. The abuse and unremitting depression led him to his death, while his online friends and I tried helplessly to support him. Battling Islamophobia is a very worthy thing to do, but our empathy is usually too limited to reach deep to the minorities-within-minorities; those we leave behind in the dark, because we can’t figure out a politically correct way to address a situation where a minority community is also an oppressor in some way; not all of them, obviously, but that brutal culture clearly persists. (Faraz Talat Facebook, 2015).
Vice News is one of the very few News channels and websites that documents the individual ex-Muslim experience within Britain. In his article Leaving Islam Behind Is a Scary Prospect for Britain’s Ex-Muslims, Kesvani (2013) cites the ordeal of former Muslim Shahid Abbas (pseudo name) in which he forced himself to supress his doubts concerning Islam, as he succumbed to family pressure; particularly his father who encouraged him to become an Imam. However,
“after studying a lot of continental thinkers, as well as more contemporary work about scientific rationalism, there came a point when I realised how flawed Islamic justifications were. I tried to talk about these concerns with the Islamic society, and even the local Imam. But both were very dismissive – they said that the Shai’taan [devil] was trying to manipulate me.” (Kesvani 2013: 1)
Abbas’ decision to keep up appearances in relation to the Islamic faith, for fear that his family would disown him is a reoccurring factor within British apostasy. The Independent reports the case of British-Somali, Amal Farah who not only left Islam for atheism but also married a Jew.
‘“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done – telling my observant family that I was having doubts. My mum was shocked; she began to cry. It was very painful for her. When she realised I actually meant it, she cut communication with me,” said Ms Farah. “She was suspicious of me being in contact with my brothers and sisters. She didn’t want me to poison their heads in any way. I felt like a leper and I lived in fear. As long as they knew where I was, I wasn’t safe (Independent 2014).
The BBC interviewed Ayisha (pseudo name) ,who was 14 when she began doubting Islam after reading the Koran. Her initial battle to wear the hijab culminated in the decision to leave Islam, thus endangering her life at home:
“My dad threatened to kill me by getting a knife and holding it against my neck and saying: ‘We might as well do it if you’re going to bring this much shame to the family… when I came out to my family my auntie told me my brothers and sisters wouldn’t be able to get married because their honour would be tarnished. And it would all be my fault. I used to live in Bradford for a time and I’d be very quiet about it because there are Muslims everywhere. I still have this innate fear, it’s hard to explain. You just want to keep quiet about it. It’s just safe to stay quiet (BBC 2015).
In its 2016 documentary Rescuing ex-Muslims: Leaving Islam, Imtiaz Shams, one of the six participant apostates stated that he was unaware he could even leave Islam but upon the revelation that he wanted to, started the London underground Faith to Faithless ex-Muslim network in which they deal with apostates suffering from
emotional abuse, people getting kicked out by their families, a lot of psychological trauma – as an example, in this last Ramadan I had to deal with five different suicide attempts. On the extreme side, things like kidnappings, forced marriage [occur] and risk from the family or wider community (Imtiaz Shams, Vice News 2016) .
To conclude, the fact that there are only a few, select apostate cases to report on and the fact the Apostasy Question is poorly understood and underreported is that it heavily relies on the apostate him or herself to overcome their paralysis of fear, in order to leave not just a religious ideology but a systematic way of life – everything they have ever known. The utilising of freedom of religion is almost oxymoronic, as the case studies demonstrate a lack of freedom for those apostates who reveal their faithless status to their families and wider communities; forcing them hide or flee and use pseudo names when publically discussing their experiences, for fear of the repercussions on their personal security should those who are intolerant of their decision should ever find them.
This notion of ‘coming out’ -this departure from the Islamic faith as an apostate carries the same undertones and connotations of shame and dishonour as the issue of open homosexuality, another taboo across Muslim communities. The case studies highlight the fear, ostracisation, and abandonment apostates commonly feel, driving them to feel alone, ashamed and deprived of a sense of belonging, resulting in suicide in extreme cases. These individual apostate experiences directly contravene Britain’s guaranteeing of freedom of religion and instead is indicative that perhaps the Muslim Cultural Defence prevails over British and European human rights ideals, which seem to be shunned in the orthodoxy-heterodoxy paradigm of the Islamic communitarian beliefs.
In order to understand Islamic doctrinal basis for the opposition and intolerant attitude to apostates from Islam, it is essential to examine Islamic scripture, doctrine and theological opinion; in order to understand where the justification for persecution – and in extreme cases death – originates from. This chapter aims to present the relevant verses pertaining to apostasy, from the Quran and Hadiths – Islam’s first and second Holy sources. The widely approved and recognised literature on the Hadith by Sahih-al Bukhari, heralded by all Muslim authorities including the spiritual heads of Mecca and Medina , Islam’s first and second holiest shrines will be utilised in order to establish the Prophet Muhammad’s beliefs regarding apostasy. Volume 9 of the Hadith is predominantly littered with examples of Muhammad addressing the fate of apostates.
The chapter will then outline prominent Islamic Schools of Thought and key Islamic figures throughout the Muslim world and diaspora communities, highlighting the debate between literalist and liberalist interpretation , the polarisation of which plays out in the current ‘Islam versus Islamism’ debates and rhetoric; of which the Cultural Defence has emerged from the latter. Although there is a fierce defence of the death penalty for apostasy, the chapter concludes that the majority of modern day Islamic thinkers believe apostasy to be taken out of context and irrelevant as coercion of belief is not permissible in Islam. The theological implications of scriptural verses pertaining to Islam will therefore subsequently be put to the test through the treatment of prolific ex-Muslims in a British context, in order to gauge whether freedom of religion truly exists, yet this will be discussed in Chapters 5 and 6.
4.1 Quranic verses pertaining to apostasy
The Muslim scholar Dr Muhammad Hamidullah (1957) states in his book Introduction to Islam that the custodian and repository of the original teachings of Islam is derived from the scripture of the Quran and Hadith – ‘the Quran and the Hadith are the basis of all Islamic law’ (Hamidullah 1957: 163). Furthermore, although
the Quran does not present the reader with a systematic theology on apostasy, its teachings on the seriousness of apostasy, and on non-Muslims became more severe in the verses revealed later in the Medina period. These verses differ from the earlier, Meccan period, which are more tolerant towards non-Muslims. It is widely believed that these later verses have abrogated the earlier ones (Meral 2008:20).
Quranic verses pertaining to apostasy
1. [Your enemies] will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his faith and die as a denier of truth- these it is whose works will go for nought in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide (2:217).
2. How would God bestow His guidance upon people who have resolved to deny truth after having attained to faith, and having borne witness that this Apostle is true, and [after]4all evidence of the truth has come unto them? For God does not guide such evildoing folk. Their requital shall be rejections by God, and by the angels, and by all [righteous] people (3:86-87).
3. Truly, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted: for it is they who have truly gone astray (3:90).
4. They would have you disbelieve as they themselves have disbelieved, so that you may be all like alike. Do not befriend them until they have fled their homes for the cause of God. If they desert you seize them and put them to death wherever you find them. Look for neither friends not helpers among them… (4:89).
5. But as for him who, after guidance has been given to him, cuts himself off from the Apostle and follows a path other than that of the believers- him shall We leave unto that which he himself has chosen, and shall cause him to endure hell… (4:115).
6. They swear by God that they said nothing (evil), but indeed they uttered blasphemy and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was (their) only return for the bounty with which God and His Apostle had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), God will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: they shall have none on earth to protect or help them (9:74).
Quranic verses permitting freedom of religion
1.Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects Evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things (2:256).
2. And if they surrender themselves unto Him, they are on the right path; but if they turn away- behold, your duty is no more than to deliver the message (3:20).
3. Means of insight have now come unto you from your Sustainer [through his divine writ]. Whoever, therefore, chooses to see, does so for his own good; and whoever chooses to remain blind, does so his own hurt. And [say unto the blind of heart]: ‘I am not your keeper’ (6:104).
4. It rests with God alone to show you the right path: yet there is [many a one] who swerves from it. However, had He so willed, He would have guided you all aright (16:9).(Source Meral 2008: 20-33)
Hadith verses pertaining to apostasy
1. Allah’s Apostle said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims (Volume 9, Book 83, Number 17).
2. Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to ‘Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn ‘Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him’ (volume 9 Book 84, number 57).
3. Behold: There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu’adh asked, “Who is this (man)?” Abu Muisa said, “He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism.” Then Abu Muisa requested Mu’adh to sit down but Mu’adh said, “I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed (volume 9 Book 84, number 58).
4. No doubt I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith) and will go out from (leave) their religion as an arrow goes out of the game. So, where-ever you find them, kill them, for who-ever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection (Volume 9, Book 84, Number 64)
Leading Mujtahid (Jurists’) Interpretation on Apostasy
The three main Islamic schools of thought – Malik, Hanbali and Hanafi schools categorically uphold the death penalty as the ultimate consequence for apostasy from Islam. The Malik school espouses that
‘whoever changes his religion should be executed. As far as we can understand this command of the Prophet means that the person who leaves Islam to follow another way, but conceals his kufr and continues to manifest Islamic belief, as is the pattern of the Zindiqs and others like them, should be executed after his guilt has been established. He should not be asked to repent because the repentance of such persons cannot be trusted. But the person who has left Islam and publicly chooses to follow another way should be requested to repent. If he repents, good. Otherwise, he should be executed’ (Malik 1994: 317).
Similarly, the Hanbali School adheres to the interpretation of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal who states that ‘any adult and rational man or woman who renounces Islam and chooses kufr should be given a three day period to repent. The person who does not repent should be executed’ (Mawdudi 1994: 17). The Hanafi School, followers of Imam Abu Hanifah offers no possibility for remorse for those well versed in Islamic doctrine: ‘the person who understands Islam well and deliberately renounces Islam, should be executed without any invitation to repentance’ (Mawdudi 1994: 17).
The Contemporary Islamic Scholarly debate on Apostasy
Islamic debate concerning the Apostasy Question dates back to the time of Muhammad yet there remains no single accepted consensus as to the treatment of ex-Muslims. Instead, the fate of apostates is contingent upon the literalist versus liberalist interpretation and contextualisation of Islamic doctrine pertaining to apostasy, a struggle that remains contemporary to the Muslim world.
The literalist interpretation of the Quran and Hadiths in relation to apostasy is adhered to by al-Shafi’i (767- 820 CE), who understands Quran (2: 217) as justification for the death penalty. Similarly, Abdul Ala Mawdudi (1903-1979), one of the founders of the Indian Islamic and politically conservative organisation Jamat-i Islami , stated in his book The Punishment of the Apostate that Islamic scripture permits the killing of those who desert the faith.
This literalist approach conflicts with liberal scholarly rhetoric, espoused by figures such as Shakyh Muhammad Sayyid Tantani, Grand Imam of al-azhar since 1996, in believing that those Muslims who renounce their belief should be left alone – unless he poses a threat to Islam. Additionally, the Islamic department of al-azhar university ‘has called for the penalty for apostasy to be null and void’ (Subhani 2005: 25), extending the timeframe in which the apostate can repent and revert to Islam, from three days to the apostates’ lifetime. Technically speaking therefore, this allows the apostate to renounce his faith repeatedly then revert back whenever he wishes to over the course of his life. Furthermore, Sheikh Gamal al-Banna, Egyptian thinker, author and journalist states in an article entitled No Punishment for Ridda: Freedom of thought is the backbone for Islam: ‘these verses are clear with regard to ridda in Islam; they make no mention of any torture, punishment for the murtadd in this world…the only dreadful and terrifying punishment is the rage of Allah’ ( Council of American-Islamic Relations 2015:1 ) .
Renowned European Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, furthers this liberalist interpretation through highlighting case examples of Muhammad’s tolerance towards those individuals who left Islam during his lifetime, ‘such as Hisham and Ayyash, or who converted to Christianity such as Ubaydallah ibn Jahsh’ , indicating therefore that ‘the one who changes his or her religion should not be killed’ (Berkley Centre 2007:1). Moreover, the British anti-extremist Muslim think tank, Quilliam Foundation in its 2013 No Compulsion in Religion: Islam & Freedom of Belief report repeatedly asserts that the act of renunciation is between man and God, therefore the notion of an earthly punishment is against the teachings of Islam.
In conclusion, it is evident that a strong case for the death penalty emerges for apostates, particularly demonstrative in the acts of killing as outlined in the Hadith. Since there is no clear, structural passage on apostasy, those verses that address the issue of apostasy appear to contradict, some upholding the necessity to kill the disbeliever, whilst others upholding freedom of belief; it is essential then to turn to scholars of such Scripture to provide coherency and correction to confusion and confliction of Islamic doctrine concerning the fate of the apostate. Despite the majority of scholars opposing the death penalty for the ex-Muslim, the persecution of apostates continues to rise in the orthodoxy-heterodoxy context; thereby initiating doubt as to whether freedom of religion toward the apostate truly exists.