Apostasy and freedom of conscience

apostasyJANDMOMaryam Namazie was at Birmingham University on 26 February speaking on apostasy and freedom of conscience for the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society’s Reason Week. Of course, there were  complaints about her speaking there (yes it is very controversial to defend the rights of apostates not to die!). The Society was even asked to record her speech in case of further complaints. Here it is:

Punishing apostates is a long-standing and fundamental feature of all major religions. Repudiating religion is deemed to be the worst of crimes.

And in Islam it’s no different except that Islamism is this era’s inquisition and totalitarianism.

To the degree it has power, that is the degree it controls every single aspect of people lives and society via its Sharia laws – from what people wear, who they have sex with, what music they listen to – even what they are allowed to think.

One of the characteristics of an inquisition is the policing of thought. Freethinking and freedom of conscience are banned. Even for Muslims, a ‘personal’ religion is impossible under an inquisition. You can’t pick and choose as you’d like. You don’t want to wear the veil; acid in your face should teach you a lesson. You want to go to school; maybe we can gun you down on your way there. You want to be an atheist. Off with your head…

Islamists will kill, threaten or intimidate anyone who interprets things differently, dissents, thinks freely or transgresses their norms by living 21st century lives. Of course people resist day in and day out but that is a testament to the human spirit despite Islamism and Sharia.

If you look at the purpose of the Sharia ‘justice’ system, it is there to teach the masses the damnable nature of dissent and free thought. Where it has power, like in Iran, there are 130 offences punishable by death – from heresy, blasphemy, enmity against god, adultery, and homosexuality. But apostasy is the highest and most heinous crime.

Around 19 countries consider apostasy from Islam illegal and a prosecutable offence. Depending on the influence of Islamism and Sharia law, in places like Malaysia, Morocco, Jordan and Oman punishments vary from fines, imprisonment, flogging and exclusion from civil or family rights. In ten countries apostasy is punishable by the death penalty.

And whilst there are religious justifications for the execution of apostates, apostasy laws today under the Islamic inquisition are the ultimate means of political rather than religious control.

Of course, from a religious standpoint, apostasy is the unravelling of the entire system from within by those considered to be “members” of the imagined Muslim community (often out of very little choice of their own). Question one law, one hadith, one sura in the Koran, and you begin to unravel it all. To question and dissent denies the Islamic inquisitor the opportunity to feign representation. And it prevents the submission that they demand. If you are allowed to leave, you undermine it all.

Historically apostasy laws have always been used as a form of control. It’s no different today. Islamists use it as a means of political control. After all they represent god’s rule on earth and any opposition to their rule, is a direct affront to God himself.

Apostasy laws are the most convenient way for an inquisition to eradicate its political rivals, dissenters, and opponents. You don’t even have to renounce Islam in order to be branded an apostate. In fact if you look at those charged with apostasy, it could include anything from tweeting about Mohammad as Hamza Kashgari did in Saudi Arabia, challenging the Saudi state like Raif Badawi, or opposing the Islamic regime of Iran like Zanyar and Loghman Moradi.

The charge of apostasy is often coupled with other charges such as blasphemy, or enmity against god. With such charges, there is no need to prove anything in lengthy court proceedings or to meticulously gather evidence as any transgression can be deemed to be an act of apostasy –both a crime against god and political treason against his representatives on earth. Under Islamic law an apostate must be put to death.

There is no dispute on this ruling among classical or modern Islamic scholars, however, there is some controversy as to whether the Koran prescribes any punishment for apostasy in this world.

Again this goes to the heart of the problem with various interpretations of religious texts and why religion must be kept out of the state and legal system to safeguard people’s rights and lives.

Needless to say, it is those in power who decide the interpretation of the day and in an inquisition it is clear which interpretations take precedence. Plus many leading authorities interpret certain suras of the Koran to mean that the death penalty is proscribed for apostates.

Now even if there is disagreement on whether apostasy is punishable by death in this world according to the Koran, it is clear that such a punishment is called for in the Hadith, which are the sayings and actions of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet.

Whilst Islamists will often try to dupe the public by saying such and such is not ‘true’ Islam (at least in English) because it is not included in the Koran, they are being dishonest to say the least as they know full well that Sharia law includes not only what is in the Koran but also what is in the hadith and Islamic jurisprudence.

In the Hadith, there are many examples of the death penalty for apostasy. According to Ibn Abbås, for example, the Prophet said, “Kill him who changes his religion” or “behead him.”

The only argument in the Hadith is over the nature of the death penalty. Don’t burn them as that is Allah’s job in the afterlife; in general, execution must be by the sword, though there are examples of apostates tortured to death, or strangled, burned, drowned, impaled, or flayed.

Also don’t forget the implications of being accused of apostasy. It means you are denied a proper burial, your family are often not even told where you are buried or you are buried in a place like Khavaran – which the Iranian regime calls the “place of the damned”. But of course Khavaran for many of us is a meeting place for remembering a slaughtered generation in Iran.

If the apostate is not executed due to Islamism’s limited influence or progressive social movement, many lose all civil rights – their property is taken, their right to inheritance is denied, they are forcibly divorced, lose child custody and so on.

Of course, Islamists will often say (in English at least) that “there is no compulsion in religion”. Again this is another one of their dishonest attempts at duping the public because this verse is applicable only to Christians and Jews who have not converted to Islam.

What they never tell you is that this verse is not applicable to Muslims. Muslims are not free to choose any religion other than Islam. A Muslim has to live and die with Islam whether s/he likes it or not.

It’s like the other verse they keep telling us about: “Whoever killed a human being shall be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind”. The supposedly noble sentiments are in fact a warning to Jews.

What become clear in all this at least for people of sound mind is that irrespective of one’s beliefs, apostasy and Sharia laws are incompatible with basic rights and freedoms.

They have to be challenged.

And this challenge is not as much a religious challenge as it is a political one.

A good example for this is Christianity which used to execute its apostates. It’s not that the tenets, dogma, and principles of Christianity have changed since the days of the inquisition but rather its social and political influence and its relation with the state, the law and educational system. A religion that has been reined in by an enlightenment is very different from one that has political power or is vying for power.

Challenging it means having the courage to think for oneself, as AC Grayling describes the Council of Ex-Muslims. It means asserting one’s freedom of conscience. It means reminding others that the right to religion has a corresponding right to be free from religion.

But most importantly it means pushing back and challenging a far-Right regressive movement – Islamism and its Sharia laws – that hang apostates as we speak.

Coming out as ex-Muslims, renouncing Islam publicly is breaking the taboo and challenging Islamism where it hurts most.

Some will say this is an unnecessary provocation. It’s a provocation, yes, but unnecessary, no.

Islamists tell us this all the time. Don’t say you are an apostate, don’t invite others to apostasy and there need be no killings.

If anyone believes that – and trust me there are still people who do – then they still don’t know Islamism …

They’ll say: don’t provoke. Don’t offend. Don’t criticise … and no one need get hurt.

But Islamists need no excuses.

Of course, in a favourable climate of multiculturalism and cultural relativism – where are all values and beliefs are equal and equally valid – and for western public consumption, Islamists like to blame victims and dissenters for their barbarity.

We are the ‘aggressive atheist ex-Muslims’ (compared at times with the Taliban no less) yet we are the ones who are being killed, imprisoned, threatened or forced to flee.

Throughout history barbarity has always been pushed back – not by tiptoeing around it, accommodating it, appeasing it, tolerating it but by facing it head on.

Pragmatism never changed the world but we intend to.

We can’t leave Islam? We can’t live 21 century lives? Watch us.

***

I ended my speech with Shahin Najafi’s song on apostasy. He’s the Iranian singer living in Germany who has had a fatwa for his death issued by an Iranian cleric. English lyrics are below.

A severed head in between your hands
my eyes on the broken clock
And sad and rebellious poems
and the wolf, unafraid of the gun
On my doubts of the origin of existence,
on choking loneliness when drunk
And longing and inhaling you,
and the depth of the tragedy not seeing you
The artery’s destiny is obstruction,
and your crime, a scream against the wind
The end of the story is always a bitter one,
and the poet whose conviction is apostasy
The good God sleeping in my book,
the dried semen on my bed
The good God of wrath, death, and fatwa,
and my cries over Yaghma’s poetry
Let me be like a cactus
Stay with me, as reading poetry,
next to you, with covenant with desert,
that our code is to die standing up
that our code is to die standing up
Tell them, our Hadith was a Hadith of blood,
contempt, born out of insanity
Tell them, how I did not give in
Tell them, how I died standing up
The good God sleeping in my book,
the dried semen on my bed
The good God of wrath, death, and fatwa,
and my cries over Yaghma’s poetry
Let me be like a cactus
Stay with me, as reading poetry,
next to you, with covenant with desert,
that our code is to die standing up
that our code is to die standing up
Tell them, my story was a tale of blood,
contempt, born out of insanity
Tell them, how I did not give in
Tell them, how I died standing up
that our code is to die standing up.

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