Home » All My Posts » In Defense of Abdul Rahman and Truth

In Defense of Abdul Rahman and Truth

By the time I’ll post this entry, Abdul Rahman would have been released and reaching Italy where he would remain under asylum. His excommunication was not facilitated through a religious process which would set some meaningful precedent for times to come. Rather it was orchestrated through judicial twists under immense pressure of international community.

Abdul Rahman, the Afghani national who was recently put on trial for his conversion to Chirstianity has asserted in his first statement to court that he is not an apostate and still believes in Allah. There has been mixed reactions from the world from subdued whispering concerns to an attitude of utter nonchalance. It would provoke a much needed amuse if MMA of Pakistan choose to favor President Karzai’s government smelling a compliance of Shariah from his strangest remark that he would not intervene. Silver lining in this cloud enshrouding Abdul Rahman was the expression of tolerance by the trial judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah. The respected judge has all the right to throw a seemingly chesty yet undeniably tolerant statement that A. Rahman would be acquitted if he repents. He seems to be proud of the fact that he is ultimately going to decide whether the defendant has adequately defended himself to the point of turning apostate yet again – only this time, from Christianity.

Do we have some one among the ranks of ahl al-dhikr (people of knowledge) to tell these hate-mongers that they are plainly demanding ‘death’ for a Christian whose faith is 16 year old or trying to force him to commit intellectual apostasy. Is it the apprehension of going disloyal to dogmatism or lack of enough zeal, that stops the traditional Muslim scholarship to dig out their sources yet again. Especially in the light of the fact that they have been doing it in the past. I hope we are not on the verge of tearing pages from the book of history where the opinions of people like Ibrahim al-Nakha’i, Sufian al-Thawri and Ibn Taymiah are recorded?

The mere fact that there is no compulsion in religion and had Allah willed, all the people on earth would have belonged to same faith, is enough to debunk the notion that a man should be killed for sticking with what his intellect leads him to. But even from a strict pseudo-literalist perspective, if we execute a man for his conversion to any other religion, we are making a strong statement with utmost surity that he cannot come back to Islam ever again. In my opinion it is a subconscious claim for the station of omniscience for ourselves in some capacity. Anyway, the complexities are multitudinous and certainly hard to disembroil.

A running theme among the traditional Muslim clerisy is to seperate the application and the content of particular religious opinion with a big ‘BUT’. Here is a perfect outline. A bunch of Quranic verses and few ahadith from Prophet (pbuh) are usually quoted to establish the one liner ruling in the first para. The seeker sleeps well, clasping the ruling as a prized medal on his chest – persumably a nice addition to his collection of fatawa. However what he leaves behind are calm utterances that follows the ‘But’. The bass and pitch of these utterances can vary from issue to issue, and therefore the importance. Usually in case of apostasy, these utterances comprise mainly of an appeasing admonisher that only Caliph of an Islamic State can exercise this punishment and sometimes followed by a hype about a utopian Islamic environment. If they are unable to opine in favor of the ‘apostate’ due to fear of going against countless mugged up references from the past, directed towards the desired course book ruling, they can surely say ‘I dont know’, to keep alive the tradition of Imam Malik in giving religious opinions.

A contrastive motif is played by drumbeaters among skeptics, who come up with new ways to doubt everything that belongs to the tradition. Their unintentional bias usually make them escape with slogans like ‘Its not in Quran‘ or the hoopla about ‘Weakness in Hadith Chains (Isnaad)‘. Bringing about different outcomes depending upon their employment, some of these slogans are shared among the skeptics and our neo-Pharisee brethren.

I am unable to yield enough energy to put myself deep into the task of drawing even succinct comparison between few traditional texts that I have read directly or undirectly. But it is pertinent to draw readers’ attention towards some contemporary efforts to understand the religion better in present circumstances. Hashim Kamali in his book Freedom of Expression in Islam has dedicated a complete section to Freedom of Religion (al-Hurriyah al-Diniyyah). Though he did not aim it to be a detailed monograph on the subject, it serves the purpose of directing us to a number of traditional sources dealing directly with the issue of temporal punishment for apostates. He has compiled the valuable conclusions that have been drawn by various traditional and contemporary scholars. Kamali asserts that there are enough incidents from Prophet’s life where he has pardoned those who renounced Islam after pledging their allegiance to him. These include people like Abdullah ibn Abi Sarh, the foster brother of Uthman Ibn Affan. Ibn Taymiyah has even claimed non deliberate consensus (ijmaa) of Companions in relation to masses of people who turned apostate immediately after the death of Prophet [1]. A list of those whom Prophet pardoned can also be seen in Sirah of Ibn Hisham as Kamali cites.

According to Kamali, an unmistakeable implication can be drawn from this verse of Quran:

Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way (Al-Quran, 4: 137)

One truly wonders how Quran can accomodate the notion of repeated acts of apostasy if death is the prescription on first instance.

There are innumerable other issues directly related with the issue of dealing coercively with apostates. Again, I cannot dwell more into traditional discussions related to high treason (hirabah) and asking apostates to repent. I would just like to add that the most important point infront of Muslim jurists dealing with issue of apostasy is regarding how much time should be given to an apostate to repent and revert. Jurists take the offer for repentance in context with the re-presentation of Islam to the apostate. With how much force Islam should be posited before the apostate? For how long? and who will judge the veracity of his re-pronouncement of faith if he is eventually doing it in order to avert the obvious coercion?

These questions, in turn, create larger issues which are out of scope of this particular entry. However a hint is Imam Malik’s discussion of asking repentance from an apostate. He acknowledges the fact that the hadith ‘Whosoever changes his religion, kill him’ can be applied to a person who converts from Christianity to Judaism, if one chooses to remain perfectly literal. Abu Zahra has discussed Malik’s opinions in some length and can be found in his monograph on Malik and his methodology. This of course is must for an interested reader.

Perhaps it would be an apposite end of this brief defense of our Christian brother Abdul Rahman, whose faith we leave for Allah to judge with prayers that he may be shown the light of Islam once again, with a quote from Hanafi Jurist Shams al-Din Sarakhsi:

The prescribed penalties (Hudood) are generally not suspended because of repentance, especially when they are reported and become known to the head of state. The punishment of highway robbery, for instance, is not suspended because of repentance; it is only by the return of property to the owner prior to arrest{…}Renunciation of the faith and conversion to disbelief is admittedly the greatest of offenses, yet it is a matter between man and his Creator, and its punishment is postponed to the day of judgement. Punishments that are enforced in this life are those which protect people’s interest, such as just retaliation, which is designed to protect life…[2]

My feeling at the moment, if I am able to describe concretely, is a blend of utter sadness with optimism on fringes. Sorrow – to see humanity making unfathomable judgements against each other regarding matters which are beyond their realm and Optimism – because Allah has his own ways of bringing forth good from the worst. The canons of religion, without a smidge of doubt, are eternal. Yet the people who are ascribing to, deducing from and applying these canons are not eternal. No matter how subtle they seem to a skeptic eye, but there are methods in our traditional methodology which are a source of dynamism for all the times to come. It depends however on us whether we are ready to revisit some of the dogmas whose coarse ruling we keep so close to our hearts with its application and persumable advantage to society at our backs.
1. Ibn Taymiyah, al-Sarim al-Maslul ‘ala Shatim al-Rasul as cited by Kamali in Freedom of Expression in Islam.
2. al-Sarakhsi, al-Mabsut as cited by Kamali in Freedom of Expression in Islam.


3 thoughts on “In Defense of Abdul Rahman and Truth

  1. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves. (Kingdom of Heaven)

  2. Salam,

    Do you know of a place where I can find this book(that is Hashim Kamali’s Freedom of Expression in Islam) in Pakistan? Lahore more specifically …

  3. I hope you would be able to get it from Kazi Publications outlet on Nisbat Road, Lahore (insha’Allah).


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