The concern of Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester expressed in the Guardian article below may be legitimate, and is undoubtedly based on conflicting ideas about apostasy and Islam.
I am pleased that 50 out of 57 Islamic nations have chosen no capital punishment for apostasy; we have to work the other 7 to see the spirit of Islam.
Most Muslims understand this dilemma and have made a serious attempt to clarify the issue, so the next generation of Muslims and the members of the communities of world have a clear understanding.
Here is the scoop at www.ApostasyandIslam.com
Freedom of Faith
While affirming Islam as the way to Salvation, Muslims also affirm the Freedom of Faith, because Islam is by CHOICE. Recently, Muslims of diverse background issued a statement upholding the Freedom of Faith.
Muslim Academics/Scholars/Imams/Professionals uphold the Freedom of Faith and the Freedom to Change one's Faith
Apostasy (riddah) is a major issue that affects the understanding of, and perception about, Islam. Historically, Muslim scholars have not factored in the distinction between apostasy (changing one's faith, which is strictly a sin against God) and treason (strictly a civil offense against an established public order) when it is stated that Islam mandates capital punishment for riddah. That unnuanced perspective about apostasy has fueled negative propaganda against Islam and a negative image of Muslims. In recent years in some notable and well known cases, a fatwa (legal, non-binding opinion) was issued against alleged apostates and, at times, even a bounty was announced on their head.
Many Muslim scholars and academics have argued against the stated historical position as inconsistent with the Qur'an and on the grounds that killing someone for making a considered choice negates the very Islamic value and principle of freedom of choice, affecting Islam's position on universal human rights.
Freedom of choice in faith is central to Islam. This has been exemplified in the Qur'anic narrative regarding the choice made by Satan in contrast with Adam and Eve, and the broad agreement of Muslim scholars that only faith freely adopted is meritorious before God. Throughout history prophets and the communities of their believers have struggled to secure freedom of faith for themselves. Indeed it is a principle quintessential to both Islam and humanity.
Choosing a path in line with our beliefs about salvation has significant consequences in terms of our afterlife. In this world that freedom is bestowed upon us by God, which, by implication, must include the possibility of changing one's faith. Freedom of religion is meaningless without the freedom to change one’s religion. Denial of such reciprocal rights is also inconsistent with the principle of justice (adl/qist), as clearly enunciated in the Qur'an [4/an-Nisa/135].
The Qur'an does not specify any worldly punishment or retribution solely for apostasy. Similarly, there is no clear prophetic judgment on apostasy, nor examples that such punishment was meted out (during the time of the Prophet or in the period of the Righteous Caliphate) to someone solely for abandoning Islam as a creed, in contrast with apostasy-cum-treason, involving taking up arms against the Muslim community or the state.
Islam upholds the fundamental principle pertaining to freedom of faith ["Let there be no compulsion in Deen" 2/al-Baqara/256; also see 39/al-Zumar/41]. Thus:
We the undersigned Muslims from diverse backgrounds affirm:
The freedom of faith and the freedom of changing one's faith.
In light of the Qur'anic guidance and the Prophetic legacy,
the principle of freedom of faith does not lend itself
to impose in this world any punishment or retribution solely for apostasy;
thus there ought not to be any punishment
in the name of Islam or fatwa calling for the same.
In addiiton, we call upon:
• our esteemed scholars (ulama) and jurists (fuqaha), to address this inconsistency between the Islamic principle of freedom of faith and the position mandating punishment for apostasy, and to bring our legacy of Islamic jurisprudence and general Islamic discourse up-to-date for the times with reference to indisputable and categorical Islamic principles.
• our fellow Muslims, to be informed of Islam's position on apostasy and to uphold the principle of choice so that we may exercise tolerance towards those who have left the "straight path" and deal with their subsequent views and actions (even when they are against Islam) within the conext of human rights and civil liberties allowed by law.
• Imams and religious leaders, to educate and sensitize Muslim masses about notions of fairness and justice inherent in Islam and respond to apostasy in a dignified, constructive and patient manner.
• governments of Muslim-majority countries, to address this matter constitutionally as well as legally, and actively engage in a process that eventually discards any law entailing punishment for apostasy.
• Islamic organizations, to uphold universal human rights (not inconsistent with Islam) and to defend the rights of ex-Muslims in regard to apostasy.
Bishop warns that Muslims who convert risk being killed
Jamie Doward, home affairs editor
Sunday September 16, 2007
One of the Church of England's most senior bishops is warning that people will die unless Muslim leaders in Britain speak out in defence of the right to change faith.
Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, whose father converted from Islam to Christianity in Pakistan, says he is looking to Muslim leaders in Britain to 'uphold basic civil liberties, including the right for people to believe what they wish to believe and to even change their beliefs if they wish to do so'.
Some Islamic texts brand Muslims who convert to other faiths as 'apostates' and call for them to be punished. Seven of the world's 57 Islamic states - including Iran - impose the death penalty for conversion.
Now Ali, who some see as a potential Archbishop of Canterbury, has told Channel 4's Dispatches programme of his fears about the safety of the estimated 3,000 Muslims who have converted to other faiths in Britain.
'It is very common in the world today, including in this country, for people who have changed their faith, particularly from being Muslim to being Christian, to be ostracised, to lose their job, for their marriages to be dissolved, for children to be taken away,' Ali said. 'And this is why some leadership is necessary from Muslim leaders themselves to say that this is not what Islam teaches.'
The bishop warns that Muslims who switch faiths in Britain could be killed if the current climate continues. 'We have seen honour killings have happened, and there is no reason why this kind of thing cannot happen.'
In 2004, Prince Charles asked British Muslim leaders to renounce laws of apostasy and the death sentence for converts in Islamic countries, but no public statement was ever made.
Dispatches obtained Islamic texts sold in Britain that say the punishment for apostasy is death - according to all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence. One text called for Muslims to cut off the head of those who reject Islam.
The radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which some in Britain want to see banned, states in its constitution that in countries that practise Sharia law, apostates are to be executed. Its message is disseminated on university campuses across Britain and has found a following among a minority of young Muslims.
A poll of more than 1,000 British Muslims, conducted by the Policy Exchange think-tank this year, found that 36 per cent of Muslims aged between 16 and 24 believe those who convert to another faith should be punished by death.
Sheikh Mogra, a senior member of the Muslim Council for Britain, told Dispatches: 'We live in a country where we respect people's choices. It is not right for any British Muslim to harm in any way whatsoever; to bully them, to intimidate them, to threaten them, is all against Muslim law.'
One convert interviewed for the programme told how his local Muslim community in Bradford closed ranks against him after he switched to Christianity. 'They told me categorically had I been in an Islamic country - Pakistan, Middle East - that they would actually be the first to chop off my head,' he said.
'Dispatches: Unholy War' will be on Channel 4 at 8pm tomorrow.