Chapter III: Orthodoxy v Heterodoxy

From Muhammad bin Muslim who said, “I asked (Imam) Abu Ja`far (al-Baqir) about the murtad [infidel].” He said, “Whoever turns away from Islam and rejects what has been revealed to Muhammad after he had been a Muslim, then there is no repentance for him; rather it is obligatory to kill him; and his wife should separate from him, and his wealth should be distributed among his heirs (Sarwar 2007:256) .
This chapter examines the issue of polarisation within the Muslim community, analysing the internal dissenters in an orthodoxy-heterodoxy type-paradigm. This internal Muslim crisis will be highlighted through the fate of prominent dissenters, through opposition of Islamist Blasphemy laws – as demonstrated through the killing of Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer, through perceived heresy – as evidenced in the murder of Glasgow’s Ahmadiyyah Asad Shah and through apostasy; most notably in the current imprisonment of Saudi Arabia’s Raif Badawi, unusually propelling the issue of apostasy into the international media. Statistical data, in the form of surveys undertaken in the Islamic world will be utilised in order to show that the overwhelming support for the death penalty and Sharia law, a politicised Islamic jurisdiction system derived from a literal interpretation of the Quran, is not just adhered by Muslim nations. Instead, globalisation enables British Muslim communities to stay informed of the grievances or issues of salience in their countries of origin, perpetuating an attachment of Islamic ideals over British values throughout factions of Muslims, which essentially intensifies the Cultural Defence. Consequently, internal heterodoxy against the predominant orthodox nature of such Muslim communities is silenced, suppressed and in extreme cases, murdered.
3.1 The Internal Muslim Crisis
The religious fundamentalism behind the Cultural Defence has directly created the orthodoxy versus heterodoxy paradox, in which the former’s rigid and dogmatic belief that it remains fundamentally incompatible with differing ideologies, also applies to the internal Islamic structure. Whilst the purpose of inter-faith and multi-faith rhetoric and institutions is to engage Islamic beliefs with other religions across Britain and to encourage a better perspective of Muslims from an external standpoint; currently there exists a significant lack of understanding of the internal, differing Islamic ideologies – nor does a prolific and vastly-connected liaising forum function between the mainstream Sunni branch of Islam and alternative sects.
Kymlica (1995) posits a challenge to the correlation between the Cultural Defence and Orthodoxy/Heterodoxy paradox. In utilising Taylor’s (1994) Politics of Recognition he advocates a theory of cultural liberalism in contrast to a cultural defence in stating that ‘minority rights are compatible with cultural liberalism when a) individual freedom is protected within the group and b) they promote equality and not domination between groups’ (Kymlica 1995: 153). However, Kymlica’s (1995) reference to a cultural liberalism proves to be rather utopianist when applies to the British Muslim community; particularly when considering the conditions upon which the (Sunni) cultural defence was formed.
The feeling of being scapegoated by an external, imperialist, non-Muslim hierarchy, reinforces this Islamic sub-culture which is therefore arguably less tolerant of internal strife, such as acts or speeches deemed blasphemous to mainstream Sunni beliefs or cases of apostasy – all of which are perceived as threats to the attempt of uniting the Ummah. Microcosm realism therefore, in the form of community security politics takes precedent within this inflexible socio-religious framework, in which the determination of individualism is worth comparatively less against the wider autonomy of communitarianism. This runs parallel to ‘cosmopolitanism’ or ‘reflexive thinking’ (Giddens 1999) which espouses tolerance to all views and beliefs within the community.
The issue of blasphemy continues to remain highly topical and deeply contentious in not only the Islamic world but within the Muslim diaspora as evidenced in the European cartoon depictions of Muhammad and the Salman Rushdie affair. The latest Pew research centre analysis on the criminalisation of blasphemy reveals that 26% of the globe’s countries and territories hold anti-blasphemy laws and policies (Pew, 2016), concentrated across the Middle East and North African (MENA) regions and South Asia.
The Blasphemy Question is fuelled by deep intolerance and heightened sensitivity towards a perceived attack on Allah, Muhammad and/or the Koran, as demonstrated in the ‘US court order that Youtube remove the Innocence of Muslims film, due to its negative portrayal of Muhammad’ (The Legal Project, 2014) . In recent years, the violence now almost synonymous with the globalised anti-blasphemy campaigns, demonstrations and vengeance has gained momentum; whether witnessed in the 2014 torching of a Lebanese library ‘after pamphlets were found, insulting to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad’ (Spencer 2014:1 ), or in the ongoing Bangladesh blogger murders – the latest murder reported to be the hacking of Xulhaz Mannan in Dhaka, in April 2016 (Washington Post, 2016).
However, it was the 2015 killing of Farkhunda Malikzada in Afghanistan, of which the accusation of burning copies of the Koran, culminated in a mob frenzied lynching and subsequent burning of her body; spilling across global headlines as yet another harrowing reminder of the intolerant attitude towards ‘dissenters’, or ‘blasphemers’ against the increased orthodoxy of factions of Muslim communities in the context of preserving the sanctity of Islam.
3.2 Tainted with Blasphemy: From Pakistan to the UK
A poignant example of the orthodoxy/heterodoxy paradox within the British Muslim community lies in the March 2016 murder of Glasgow shopkeeper, Asad Shah by Tanveer Ahmed of Bradford. The BBC (2016) investigation into the incident concluded that ‘the accused’s consistent and repeated account as to his motivation for murdering Asad Shah was that Shah claimed to be a prophet, which so offended his feelings and his faith that he had to kill him’ (BBC, 2016), yet context of the Sunni versus Ahmadiyya conflict is key to understanding the wider persecution of the minority Islamic sect, before addressing the implications of blasphemy which drove Ahmed to murder Shah.
The religious conflict between the Ahmadiyya Muslims and ‘main-stream’ Islam is as old as the establishment of this movement in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908) in the late nineteenth century and given its rejection of Muhammad as the final Prophet of Islam, have relentless persecution in Pakistan –‘ since 1974, the Ahmadi population in Pakistan has fallen from several million to 400,000 , including the massacre of approximately 100 people by the Taliban in Lahore in 2010’ (Guardian 2016). Contentions and internal strife between the two sects are ongoing, with the Sunni branch condemning the Ahmadi, so much so that in 1974, Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, introduced a constitutional amendment that declared Ahmadi to be non-Muslims.
In the wake of the Glasgow murder, Mezzofiore (2016), reporting in Mashable UK stated that representatives of the Glasgow Central Mosque and the Muslim Council of Scotland shunned the launch of an anti-extremism campaign in Scotland organised by Ahmadis, which the
Ahmadi claim that decision reflects a general attitude of scepticism in the Sunni Muslim community towards them… many in mainstream Islam still believe the group does not belong in extended family…the message of hate is spreading and affecting Ahmadi children. And sectarianism doesn’t just stop at Ahmadi, it also affects Shia and other Muslims sects. (Mashable UK, 2016).
Moreover, the April 2016 discovery of ‘kill Ahmadiyya’ (BBC, 2016) leaflets in Stockwell Green mosque, propagating Khatme Nubuwwat rhetoric –an established anti-Ahmadi ideological organisation is further indication of the intolerance towards heterogeneous Muslim sects within the wider Islamic framework. However, it is imperative to note that the murder of Shah very much remains a case of blasphemy, of which his killer’s motive must be placed in correlation with the institutionalisation of Section 295 of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Penal Code.
The infamous imprisonment of Pakistan’s Aasiya Bibi, originally jailed in 2009 for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad perhaps stands as the global symbol of Islamic blasphemy, as she awaits to potentially become the first nation’s first case of execution via the Penal code. Bibi’s imprisonment must be contextualised within the systematic application of the Penal code, examined by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a 1991 Amnesty International report, stating that ’34 people were charged in 2013 alone, with at least 16 people currently reported on death row for blasphemy and 20 serving life sentences’ (Amnesty International 1994: 15).
However, the reaction to the murder of Punjabi Governor’s Salman Taseer, an outspoken critic of the ordeal of Aasiya Bibi and Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws in 2011 and the following reaction to the hanging of the perpetrator is crucial to the understanding of Asad Shah’s murder in 2016. Taseer’s murder demonstrated the level of religiosity amongst Pakistani Muslims, as seen through Qadri being
‘showered with rose petals and kissed by lawyers at his first court appearance with the judge who convicted Qadri having to flee the country… a mosque in Islamabad was named in honour of Qadri and the country’s army chief at the time reportedly told western ambassadors he could not publicly condemn him because too many of his soldiers sympathised with the killer‘ (2016: 1) .
Ayesha Nasir, writing in the TIME newspaper stated Taseer’s opposition to the blasphemy laws was hugely unpopular among a large segment of Pakistanis, an example of which is evident through ‘a statement issued by Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, a prominent religious organization that represents the Barelvi movement of Sunni Muslims, urging Pakistanis not to express regret over Taseer’s murder’ (Nasir 2016: 1 TIME). Furthermore, Aljazeera (2016) cited the statement released by Tahir Iqbal Chistie, president of the Sunni Tehreek organisation:
“At this time, the sentiments of all Muslims have been injured, and our feelings have been badly hurt. For any Muslim believer – no matter what school of thought he belongs to…he sent to hell a person who showed disrespect for the holy Prophet. What he did was according to the orders of the Quran…’ (Aljazeera 2016).
Yet the lack of remorse felt by the Islamist factions of Pakistan is a sharp contrast to the outpour of outrage at Qadri’s death sentence in early 2016, with news of his hanging provoking thousands to protest and stand in solidarity as witnessed through the ‘#IamMumtazQadri , which became one of the top trends on Twitter on the day of his funeral’ (Kilji 2016:1). This detailed and recent contextualisation is imperative to note as the notion of this blasphemous mentality is not confined to Pakistan’s Muslims, rather it is accepted by factions of British Pakistanis as one example of the religious Cultural Defence.
For example, the National Secular Society highlighted the public affiliation of Bradford-based Imam Muhammad Asim Hussain with Qadri’s murder in his following Facebook post: ‘today is a dark day in the history of Pakistan; the day … Mumtaz [Qadri] was wrongfully executed and martyred in the way of Allah, when he did what he did in honour of the Prophet’ (National Secular Society 2016) generating nearly 4,000 likes out of his 100,000 followers. The timing of Quadri’s execution came one month prior to Bradford’s Tanveer Ahmed murder of Asad Shah, a blatant indication of globalised Islamic orthodoxy, which inspires killing in the of blasphemy and against heterodoxy in Muslim communities from Pakistan to the UK.
3.3 State reaction to Apostasy in the Muslim world
When engaged in the orthodoxy versus heterodoxy debate, the subject of murtad , or apostasy is fundamentally important since this act of the renunciation of the Islamic faith signifies the epitome of heterodoxy within the Islamic world or Muslim communities, demonstrating the blatant refusal to comply with the Islamic system of life and therefore an affront to the Cultural Defence. The issue of apostasy is generally unknown in the non-Muslim world in spite of significant Muslim minorities, most probably because the diaspora are typically unwilling to engage in what has generally become a taboo topic given the connotations of dishonour and embarrassment internal, Islamic disagreements introduce to communities striving for a united front; particularly in western/European political contexts in which factions of the Muslim community feel they are continuously striving to display positive imagery of Islam.
Whilst there is no explicit reference to murtad in the Koran, there are indeed scriptural implications which provide theological hostility and intolerance to dissenters or deserters of the Islamic message. For example, Sura 9:73 -74 states:
Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fire. They swear by God that they said nothing. Yet they uttered the word of unbelief and renounced Islam after embracing it.. If they repent, it will indeed be better for them, but if they give no heed, God will sternly punish them, both in this world and in the world to come
Furthermore, Sura 47:23-28 states:
If you renounced the faith, you would surely do evil in the land, and violate the ties of blood. Such are those on whom God has laid His curse, leaving them deaf and sightless…. Those who return to unbelief after God’s guidance has been revealed to them are seduced by Satan and inspired by him….
The selected verses of the Koran delivering instruction as to how renouncers of the faith should be perceived and the proclamation of predestined hellfire for those who do not share the same religious belief, provides the very theological contextual basis for Islamic polities globally. The idea that those who ‘renounce the faith would surely do evil in the land and violate the ties of blood’ is indeed a common insecurity for those Islamic states who pre-eminently criminalise apostasy or instil laws that officiate Islam as the sole religion; as evidenced in Malaysia and the Maldives for example. This sura versus also feeds into the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ paradigm, therefore enabling a perception that internal dissenters and/or apostates are traitorous and therefore a deep offence to the sanctity of Islam.
The Pew Research Centre conducted a survey predominantly across Muslim countries of most global regions, in order to gauge the level of strict adherence to a literal interpretation of Islam, one key tenet being the belief and desire to be governed by Sharia law; of which Hudud (death sentence) is currently proscribed to apostasy in the Islamic world . Figure 4 explicitly analyses the percentage of Muslims who believe in execution for apostasy to another religion. Such ‘measures were in effect in more than half the countries in the Middle East-North Africa region (11 of 20, or 55%) as well as in five of the 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (10%) and four of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (8%)’ (Pew Research Centre 2013: 55) only exempting Europe and the American regions.
The main findings of the report found that 84% of Pakistani, 82% of Bangladeshi, 99% of Afghan and 91% of Iraqi  participants believe that sharia law should replace the official law of their respective nations and this is crucial to note. Given that the primary focus of the dissertation aims to analyse the Apostasy from Islam situation in the United Kingdom, there are significant numbers of the ‘Pakistani (370, 779), Bangladeshi (142, 718) and Middle Eastern (178, 195) ‘ (The Muslim Council of Britain, 2011: 24) diasporas that despite residing in Britain, continue to revere sharia law albeit mostly within segregated Muslim communities. This will be illustrated through the case examples of British ex-Muslim experiences in Chapters 5 and 6. Specifically examining British Muslim opinion regarding Sharia law, the Policy Exchange think tank conducted a survey of 1,000 participants in 2007, concluding that despite 59% of Muslims who would prefer to live under British law, compared with 28% who would prefer to live under Sharia law, ‘37% of 16-24 year olds prefer Sharia compared with 17% of over-55s’ ( Mirza, Senthilkumaran, Ja’far 2007:5 ) .
Furthermore, out of the 1,000 participants, ‘86% of Muslims feel that religion is the most important thing in their life, with 36% of 16 to 24-year-olds believing that should a Muslim convert to another religion, he/she should be punished by death, compared with 19% of over-55s’ (Mirza, Senthilkumaran, Ja’far 2007:5). Placing these results (albeit slightly outdated) into the larger context and more recent Pew findings of the orthodoxy versus heterodoxy paradigm, it is evident that the attachment and preference for religiosity – of which Sharia law is one tenet of such – indicating therefore the severe plight of especially apostates in their ultimate renunciation of the faith.
3.4 The case of Apostasy in the international media
The phenomenon of apostasy remains largely unknown in particularly the non-Muslim world, only recently transitioning into the spotlight mainly through human rights groups, religious advocacy or non-governmental organisations. Very rarely do cases of apostasy break out into the national and international spotlight, primarily because of the blatant offence, dishonour and ostracisation of those apostate individuals.
The infamous Lina Joy versus Majlis Agama Islam (2007) Malaysian case is an excellent example of the orthodoxy versus heterodoxy struggle with specific regards to apostasy. The constitutional definition of the Malay race is synonymous with Islamic belief, thereby making the act of conversion to another religion illegal; or at the very least exceptionally difficult. Yet Malaysia’s constitution ‘does not impose any restriction on a person’s right or capacity to accept or reject any religion, including the religion of Islam, as religious freedom enshrined under Article 11 (1) of the Constitution is available to Muslims and non-Muslims alike’ (Saeed & Saeed 2004: 153). The legal implications of Joy’s case suggests otherwise.
Joy’s (whose original birth name is Azlina Jailani), conversion to Christianity required authentication by the state, in applying ‘ first to the National Registration Department (NRD) and then the Court of Appeal to remove “Islam” (as her official religion) from her identity papers’ (Catholic News, 2007) in order for her marriage to her Christian boyfriend to become legitimised in accordance with state law.
However, the application of Sharia law upon all Islamic matters denied Joy the right to remove Islam from her religious identity card. In concluding the case, Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim stated that ‘you can’t at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another,’ (Reuters 2007). The implications of the case set a precedent for apostasy from Islam in a Malaysian context, where the latest Sharia Hudud Bill that passed in the Kelantan state in March 2015, proved that apostasy, in addition to other Islamic ‘crimes’ could now in extreme cases enact the death penalty.
Perhaps the prevailing example of heterodoxy within a Muslim context is the 2012 imprisonment of Raif Badawi, who is heralded as the symbol of apostasy through the international furore and human rights led opposition and outcry at his ordeal by the Saudi government, as he awaits his possible execution. Badawi’s Free Saudi Liberals blog, ‘violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought’ (Raif Badawi Foundation, 2012) through espousing liberal/secular rhetoric such as ‘you have the right to express and think whatever you want as you have the right to declare what you think about it, it is your right to believe or think, have the right to love and to hate, from your right to be a liberal or Islamist’ (Independent, 2015).
The International Business Times reported a facebook statement by Badawi’s family :
Due to a new regulation issued by the Supreme Judicial Council on 19th September 2014 , the Penal court has now jurisdiction over major cases, which are punishable by the death penalty, amputation and stoning. We have reasons to believe without any doubts that the judge has again asked the Head of the Court of Appeal to charge Raif with ‘Apostasy’ (International Business Times, 2015).
In conclusion, it is evident that heterodoxy within a Muslim context is largely unacceptable. The cases of Malaysia’s Lina Joy and the ongoing deliberations concerning the fate of Raif Badawi are two examples of the extremity of intolerance of heterogeneity against the systematic governance and application of orthodoxy in the Muslim world. Yet it is important to note that this psyche of Islamic religiosity is not confined to Muslim countries, as the creation of the Cultural Defence within a Western context holds its roots in this very psyche and application of strict, Sharia practices. Fundamentally, apostasy is a globalised phenomenon, existing as the extremity of heterodoxy throughout Muslim communities yet it is fundamentally a rare phenomenon and a taboo, partly silenced by the overarching orthodox hierarchy and partly silenced by the potentially brutal consequences individuals face, should news of his/her renunciation of faith and/or conversion to another religion surface.

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