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by M. Zuhdi Jasser



At the center of the Rifqa Bary case is more than the plight of one teen. While we all like for our courtroom dramas to begin and conclude in a one hour timeframe including the commercials, the real world is not black and white. For this reason, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) has been very deliberate in our response to this case. Let us begin by saying that within some Muslim families and communities, belief in some type of punishment for apostasy is a very real threat. It may be dressed differently or given a different name, but it is still intolerance for apostasy. But also significantly, in my lifetime as a Muslim, I have not met Muslim parents who personally countenance punishments for apostasy. But I have met Muslim clerics who do (Islamists). That being said, as a father, the thought of anyone — let alone the courts — usurping the place of the parents in the decisions of a teen is chilling. If we take religion out of the mix in this a priori discussion and hypothetically state that the girl was a younger teen who had run away from her family to pursue an abortion, I believe we would be having a much different discussion. Rifqa's legal case is, however, particularly compelling in her favor due to her reports of prior abuse, verbal threats, and how close her age is to the age of majority of 18.

Addressing the issue of apostasy is a very real concern for AIFD and has been since our inception. I believe that the Bary case should be used as tool to bring to light many questions that Muslims should ask themselves. While I have never heard a Muslim directly or personally justify violence against another Muslim for the act of apostasy, there is a significant amount of pathology in the way many Muslims deal with apostasy from almost every level — from the familial to the tribal to the intellectual levels. What I will show here is that the preponderance of the intellectual evidence shows a systemic intolerance and, in fact, there is strong evidence for legal (Shar'iah-based) underpinnings for the intolerance, abuse, discrimination, and even at its worst, direct countenance of murder of apostates. I will also show that, thankfully, there is a disconnect between rational, moral, lay Muslims (the majority) and authoritative Islamic law as defined by the ulemaa (the theocratic scholars) who still, unfortunately, drive the ideas of a significant minority of Muslims in the West. This problem, as evident in Afghanistan's Rahman case[1] of March 2006 is magnified manifold in Muslim majority nations where there is far less influence of Western ideas of religious freedom upon Muslim interpretations of Shar'iah law and their treatment of apostates. But the evidence will show that even in the West, the majority of Islamic scholars still endorse some sort of Islamic punishment for apostasy with various and sundry apologetics. Some scholars provide the absurd qualification of "only under an Islamic state" or "only as apostasy is a war against Islam," which somehow makes that all right. And we will see that other texts in the West still basically endorse the death penalty.

Fathima Rifqa Bary

Many aspects of the Bary case are beyond troubling. From media reports, Fathima Rifqa Bary of New Albany, Ohio is the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants Mohammed and Aysha Bary, who reportedly came to the U.S. in 2000 seeking medical care for Rifqa. According to some reports,[2]

"Rifqa, a high-school junior, had been questioning her faith for several months, her father said. She attended one church with friends from school and later attended services at another church, Xenos Christian Fellowship, a megachurch that emphasizes small groups meeting at home."

She then apparently joined a Facebook prayer group and connected with the Lorenzs and their Global Revolution Church (GLC) in Florida online. She vanished from New Albany, Ohio[3] on July 19, 2009. Her parents filed a missing person report with the local police in Columbus, Ohio. Hopefully further court proceedings will clarify Rifqa's whereabouts from July 19th to August 9th and why there was a delay in connecting her with the Ohio missing persons report. Her whereabouts became known on August 11, 2009 after an interview with Rifqa surfaced and Pastor Lorenz of GLC reported her struggle. According to Fox News she testified in a custody hearing in Orlando on August 10, 2009[4] "that she'd recently changed religions and is worried her relatives will do something drastic, according to WFTV in Orlando and Central Florida News 13." Her parents denied the allegations.

Going on only what they knew to be the truth from the 17-year-old Rifqa, the Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) then quickly placed Rifqa with a foster family. A recent report from The Tampa Tribune[5] on September 5, 2009 reviewed some of the more salient facts and accusations in the case. While there is no denying that many of the blogs and news stories have been sensationalized from both sides of this issue, there is no escaping the fact that the pleadings of Rifqa Bary must be given the benefit of the doubt and due process. Regardless of the implications true or false to the community to which she belonged, thankfully individual rights trump those of the community in the United States. As Herb London[6] recently discussed, our Constitution and religious freedoms[7] which our government officials are sworn to uphold demand this. Another hearing took place on August 21, 2009 with the coalescing of a legal and media firestorm. Rifqa's parents were present and Judge Daniel Dawson ruled that his court does have jurisdiction and more time was required to gain more facts until the next hearing.

In this specific case with Rifqa Bary, the courts will surely demonstrate whether the physical threat to Rifqa is real. If there is any doubt whatsoever, I pray that she be protected. We must surely take Rifqa at her word[8] in her television interview that her father "would kill me or send me back to Sri Lanka...where they have asylums where they put people like me." Rifqa also[9] said that after learning of her conversion to Christianity, her father said, "If you have this Jesus in your heart, you're dead to me, you're not my daughter." She has said that "They have to kill me...I don't want to die," noting her fear of being a victim of honor killings. At this point in the case we also need to remember that America is founded upon the premise that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.

Is her fear real? Within her own family, the courts will have to decide. Globally, honor killings[10] are a reality for the fate of over 5,000 Muslim girls annually. The barbaric killings happen after conversion (apostasy), divorce, rape, extramarital sex and pregnancy, and a host of other actions which the male dominated family feels to have "dishonored" them. If the state cannot protect teens with this fear, then our state mandate for the protection of children at risk is meaningless. There are many layers to the sickness that results in honor killings. The deepest and most essential layer is the theological underpinnings which I will discuss in the next sections.

Superimposed upon the theological apologetics and their real "slippery slopes" of intolerance and oppression towards apostates lies a compounding effect of tribalism, misogyny, illiteracy, and cultural depravity. In the United States, while far rarer, there seems to be an increasing incidence. We are now seeing cases among Muslim immigrants in the U.S. We should not forget cases of recent well-publicized honor killings[11] in Texas, Ontario, and New York. For example, in Lewisville Texas, Egyptian-born cab driver Yaser Abdel Said allegedly murdered his two daughters, Sarah and Amina because, according to the Dallas Morning News, he felt "Western culture was corrupting the chastity of his daughters." While their mother denies it was an honor killing, evidence stated otherwise.[12] Mr. Said remains at large[13] to this day, wanted for their murder.

The Texas case was preceded by what appeared to be another honor killing in Mississauga Ontario of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez[14] last December. Aqsa was another young woman who was not allowed to live a normal American life by her abusive father, Muhammad Parvez. Aqsa fought with her father about wearing hijab and ran away from home a week before she was attacked. She did return home and was then strangled by her own father in an honor killing.[15] Aqsa's 26-year-old brother Waqas was also charged with obstructing police. Both of these cases, while rare among American Muslims, cannot help but make us take Rifqa's fears seriously. As Cinnamon Stillwell[16] notes, those cases were responded to with irresponsible apologetics like that from an ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) imam, Alaa El-Sayyed, who claimed "it's a domestic violence issue." We are seeing similar responses unfold from leading Islamists in the Bary case. Also, do not forget the horrific plight of Aasiya Hassan, the wife of so-called moderate[17] CEO of Bridges Television network Muzzamil Hassan, who was found beheaded in their studios after she asked for a divorce. Her case was also preceded by warning signs of physical abuse by her husband. Mr. Hassan was arrested for her murder and his case is still pending in court.

The Bary case is much different in one very significant way — it is actually addressing the problem before the fact under suspicion that a murder may happen. An ABC News story[18] notes that Rifqa alleges significant physical abuse from her father and sexual abuse from an uncle. The evidence may confirm Rifqa's claim of abuse though her parents deny that. The other honor killings also had evidence of previous abuse.[19] If this is true, it makes the case for her placement away from her parents real and compelling.

As we wait for due process and evidence, the rule of law additionally mandates that while we ensure the safety of children, we also not prematurely convict or malign her parents or the community of a crime — both before a crime has been proven to have occurred within this family and before due process has finished. The challenge here is that in our legal system individuals have a right to be innocent until proven guilty. The state must protect Rifqa while maintaining respect for this fact with all those involved. Most importantly, by the words and fears of Rifqa, neither Florida nor Ohio have room for error, since Rifqa may not have a second chance. And as with any child protective services case, there are both the rights of the child and the rights of the parents that our legal system need to respect.

At this point the Florida or Ohio courts will hopefully do what's right for Rifqa's best interests and safety.

Many of those concerned about Rifqa's safety have correctly pointed to concerns regarding the status of apostates according to prevalent interpretations of Islamic law (Shar'iah). Those fears are justified as long as the adjudication of the case proves such an understanding, behavior (i.e. abuse), and intent of her parent(s). The other important aspect to this case is the fact that Rifqa is quite near the age of maturity and in many medical cases, for example, is free to make her own decisions free of her parents. This is not to mention being easily emancipated if pregnant. Curiously, one must ask, if the parents look at all these options and the limited time until she is 18 anyway, why they do not just publicly voice her freedom and ask her to come home as she wishes but not by mandate of the court.

The Realities of Islamic Law and the Treatment of Apostates

The very important debate over the theological underpinnings for the mistreatment and abuse of apostates in some Muslim communities and families around the world is real and long overdue. This case and others highlight the dire need for modernization and reform which many of us have been championing for some time now. As a devout Muslim, I do believe that it is about time that Muslim leadership demonstrates unmistakable clarity in addressing apostasy laws — both academically and free of apologetics. There can be no gray areas.

We either stake out a position against any and all laws endorsing any punishment whatsoever for apostasy or we end up deservedly being tarred as excusing those Muslims who act to punish their children for apostasy.

A careful review of the interpretations of Shar'iah of experts around the world will show the need for deep seated reform. This reform can only happen when there is a "separation of mosque and state." In the short term, we must remain credible and approach honor killings or the threat thereof with the protection of victims while approaching apologetics for apostasy with a methodical, forceful, and persistent rejection. The contest of ideas is between American universal principles of religious liberty and established Shar'iah interpretations which countenance the punishment and at times murder of apostates. The scholars I will review are not marginal ones. These are popular scholars among many American mosques and Islamist groups like ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) and CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations).

Muslim leaders, especially Islamists, may be growing tired of assumptions and sensationalism. But their efforts have only provided empty apologetics. Non-Muslim Americans need answers to these questions and more.

What is the House of Islam's response to Religious Freedom in the context of apostasy? Who and what is really being dishonored in "honor killings?" If the Islamic state can prove it is dishonored by an apostate, doesn't that countenance punishment for apostasy? This is what Jamal Badawi and Imam Yusuf Qaradawi say. What is the consensus of Islamic scholars (ulemaa) on all this? Do the opinions of most Muslims who we have heard speak out on this and other cases related to "honor killings" matter at all if they are non-scholars? Who can do ijtihad (reform through modern reinterpretations) on apostasy laws and punishments? Unfortunately, those Muslims who deny the realities of the legal treatment of apostates are preventing any reform and shirking their Islamic responsibility to repair ourselves. We cannot succumb to the consensus (ijmaa) of the scholars (ulemaa). If we do, we are going to continue to blindly ignore the deeper root cause of militancy, barbarism, and other pathologies which lead to violence and acts which punish apostates in the name of our Islam.

Some Muslims[20] may try and dismiss those interpretations which are inconsistent with modernity as we sit comfortably in our residences here in America. The reality is that we need to look again at what exactly drives leading imams to opine (issue fatwas) against apostasy before they complain about being tarred and feathered by "sensationalism" in the media firestorm over the Bary case.

Islamist Groups Strategize for Islamism Rather than Rifqa

There have been reports[21] that Islamist groups like CAIR are employing a strategy which seeks to impugn the character of this 17-year-old teen and blame the Church for seeking her out through a prayer group on Facebook. Responses from CAIR thus far confirm this strategy. Ahmed Rehab from CAIR-Chicago chimed in to the Orlando Sentinel:[22]

"For those pundits who are pressured to reconcile the two, the escape clause then becomes, "American Muslims may seem admirable on the outside, but they are really stealth jihadists on the inside. And so Rifqa's parents are judged not by who they are but what the pundits say they are."

Note that Rehab makes no mention of the primary driver of this firestorm — the fears of a 17-year-old girl. He makes the assumption that she is being manipulated or that she is not credible. Note also that there is no mention of the realities of Shar'iah's prescription for apostasy. Note the significant absence from the Noor Islamic Cultural Center's leadership on the realities of Shar'iah. If they had the best interests of their "community" at heart, they would use this teaching moment to educate the community about the dangers of political Islam and a pre-modern Islam which carries and empowers these barbaric laws against apostates.

CAIR and other Islamist groups again prove how much of a liability they are for American Muslims. While some of us are gathering balanced assessments of how Muslims should respond to individual cases like that of Rifqa Bary, Islamist groups like CAIR prove that their whole victimization agenda is to serve only the furtherance of political Islam and the cause of Islamists and Muslim Brotherhoood front groups. In all their media discourse on the Bary case, I have yet to find a serious acknowledgement of either the fears of Rifqa or the real abandonment of religious freedom by many scholarly interpretations of shariah with regards to apostasy.

MPAC's Salam Al-Marayati responded at the Huffington Post[23] with more denials on apostasy laws in shariah. He stated,

"She argues "it's in the Quran". No it's not, sweet little Rifqa. It's not in the Quran. Whoever told you that is either ignorant or a liar. You should look it up yourself before claiming it's in the Quran."

For the life of me, as an American Muslim, I cannot understand the wisdom of a leading Muslim mimicking an argument over theology with a teen in a patronizingly sarcastic manner. The reality is that while he correctly states that the Koran does not address apostasy, according to some scholars (ulemaa) the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) does in fact say so, "the one who changes his religion kill him." (Sahih Bukhari, 9,83 and 9,84) which is then bolstered with Islamic texts I will discuss later. Now, some Muslims, including me, believe that particular Hadith (saying of the Prophet) to be falsified. But that knowledgeable — but yet lay — assumption has yet to become the overwhelming opinion of the scholars (ulemaa). Marayati later cites an appropriate distinction between treason and apostasy in Islamic history American Islamic Forum for Democracy discussed[24] more clearly during the 2006 apostasy trial of Afghani Abdul Rahman. But Marayati completely avoids any mention of the need for reform or modernization of these laws, as if his conclusions are standard for Islamic scholars which I will prove they are not. He also entirely avoids the central argument necessary which is the need to entirely delegitimize the Islamic state. For as long as the idea of the Islamic state exists and is put forth, apostasy punishments can never entirely disappear since departure from Islam and blasphemy will always be interpreted in one or another as weakening the sovereignty of the state.

The public relations strategy of Islamists thus far has been to their own detriment. Wahhabi media has advocated for islamists groups in this case calling Rifqa's advocates "hate groups"[25] as the Arab News (Saudi press) put out on September 13, 2009. Her parents are also pushing forth the story that "she was brainwashed."[26]

Lastly, CAIR-Ohio responded[27] on behalf of the Noor Islamic Center and Muslims in Columbus. CAIR-Ohio head, stated,

"In three years of worshipping at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center, Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin has never heard anyone promote violence or extremism. She said she was stunned when she heard that the attorney for a teenager who ran away from her Northeast Side home after converting to Christianity is alleging that the mosque has terrorist ties. "When we heard allegations about Noor that were so false and unbelievable, we decided it was important to counter the lies," she said.

Again, CAIR responds to criticism reactively, not proactively. Patrick Poole[28] has been chronicling the ties and ideologies of the Noor Islamic Center in Columbus for years. If CAIR and other local leading Muslims had any substantive responses they would have had the Noor Islamic Cultural Center publicly respond and distance themselves from the likes of Salah Sultan,[29] Ahmed Al-Akhras,[30] Christopher Paul,[31] Khalid Yasin,[32] Siraj Wahhaj, and Wagdi Ghoneim.[33] But they did not in the years of Poole's reporting. They did not have a response published anywhere to this report by Erick Stakelbeck[34] on NICC and central Ohio connections. CAIR-Ohio would have had an explanation as to why the Columbus Police Department[35] earlier this year permanently disinvited them from leading any training seminars with their squad. They do not. So the next time my fellow Muslims complain about the "sensational" reaction of the media and various activists about cases like Rifqa Bary, perhaps they can decrease that impact by actually addressing the ideological concerns rather than claiming hate and victimization.

While no one is denying the profound stress teenage conversions can have on pious parents of any faith, this case highlights one of the cornerstone challenges which face the modernization of the Muslim community in America and the West. They can either hold blindly onto tradition, victimization, tribalism, and obfuscation or they can use these cases as teaching moments to highlight the reform necessary within our communities and quickly dismiss naysayers with an acknowledgement of the need to generate a new (ijtihad) consensus (ijmaa) on the complete equality of apostates. But don't hold your breath.


On July 26, 2008, our American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) was kindly invited to the Noor Islamic Cultural Center (NICC) in Hilliard by their director, Hany Saqr, to give a talk on any subject we wished. I asked to speak to them about "Upholding our Islamic Responsibility: Countering the Ideologies that Fuel Terrorism."[36] Take a look at short video excerpts (Part I,[37] Part II[38] of my talk to the Noor mosque, selected with some relevance to the subject of reform and apostasy. While our hosts were very cordial, polite, and gracious, we first found it very interesting that there was virtually no publicity about our visit — which was in stark contrast from previous speakers. They also completely avoided any media acknowledgement of our visit and message. AIFD worked to generate our own publicity of the event with an extensive pre-interview with the Columbus Dispatch. But interestingly, despite the reporter's keen interest, the Dispatch never attended the talk or published any parts of the interview only posting an announcement[39] of our visit. One cannot help but be suspicious of what influenced their absence particularly for a newspaper which has in the Bary case given more than adequate inches to the Noor Center's and CAIR-Ohio's side of the story. Interestingly, the Dispatch itself has had epiphanies about CAIR as Congressman Frank Wolf[40] (R-VA) recently pointed out on the floor of the House:

CAIR has waged a campaign to intimidate and silence anyone who raises alarms about the dangers of Islamic extremism. CAIR's rationale is that discussions of Islamic extremism lead to animosity not just toward those who twist Islam into a justification for terrorism but toward all who practice Islam. CAIR's concern is understandable, but its response is unreasonable. The group acts properly when it hammers home the point that only a small number of Muslims support religiously motivated violence and that targeting law-abiding Muslims is wrong. Where CAIR errs is in labeling anyone who discusses Islamic terrorism a bigot and hatemonger, an Islamophobe, to use CAIR's favorite slur.

Also note that even in Mr. Saqr's introduction[41] of me there was no real endorsement of our ideas but rather, a statement about the value of debate. In fact, opening a debate on reform with Muslim communities is our intention but before, during, and after our visit, there was absolutely no acknowledgement on their website or in their mosque literature about our visit. It was almost as if they checked the box of inviting an anti-Islamist and could go back to the comfort of their foundational Islamism and promotion of the likes of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi.[42]

In fact, in direct feedback from some who attended the talk, I was told "that the new Islamic ideas of modernity were a welcome outlook but I should have refrained from direct criticism of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi,[43] since he is so respected by many of the congregants." And some Muslims wonder what the real impediments to reform are? If these global Muslim Brotherhood icons cannot be criticized frankly and openly as I did in my visit to Noor, reform will never become a reality. The work of Patrick Poole locally has exposed documentation of NICC leadership connections to official Muslim Brotherhood leadership[44] structure in the West and to Al-Qaradawi. These speakers at Noor have previously raised concerns of their ideological mindset: Salah Sultan,[45] Ahmed Al-Akhras,[46] Christopher Paul,[47] Khalid Yasin,[48] Siraj Wahhaj,[49] and Wagdi Ghoneim.[50]

If Muslims cannot acknowledge as I did, publicly with the Noor audience, that Qaradawi and these other contacts of theirs are examples of deep seated moral corruption in the highest order, then Islamic scholarship will continue to be driven into the ground by Islamist apologists. Islamists will always compromise real moral clarity for an Islamist set of ethics in which the ends justifies the means (terrorism) and the Islamic state takes precedence over the secular system (Muslim supremacism).

In fact, these same leaders (spokespersons) who have now this month surfaced to defend the name of Noor Islamic Center and CAIR[51] were nowhere to be found during our visit to the Hilliard Muslim community despite months of advance notice. They remained silent in the face of an internal Muslim challenge from AIFD for reform. They did not follow up with us on one action item of reform. I discussed apostasy, Shar'iah, the Islamic state, and the root causes of terror vis-à-vis the Islamic state and Muslim supremacism with no follow through in a real contest of ideas.

As to the local families, mosques, and Muslim organizations, their greater overarching responsibility — not only in this case but, with respect to even the slightest chance that there are other Rifqas, Asmas, Aqsas, Saras, or Aminas out there — is for them to be leaders and set new standards with regards to Islamic teachings without drowning in denial.

Nowhere can I find in any of the statements of the Muslim leadership of Ohio or Florida an acknowledgment of the challenges and the plight of women under the tribalism and teachings of the current status of Shar'iah law. Do they really believe the accusations against the Noor Islamic Center would have had this much life in the media if that mosque had made a righteous stand against political Islam, the treatment of women under Shar'iah law, and the prescriptions for apostasy which remain basically unrefuted by Muslim leaders?

If the media went to the Noor Islamic Center's website[52] and saw a clear denunciation of the Hadith (Sahih Bukhari 9,83 and 9,84) which calls for killing apostates or saw statements on religious freedom which call for the reform of the concepts of murted (the name of a criminal apostate under Islamic law) the attitude against the mosque and other apologists may have been very different. But they did not. They simply have a generic statement[53] of denial which ignores reform.

The Realities of the Status of Apostates according to Islam's Scholars: Islamist Dissimulation

The Islamist literature is rife with examples of apologetics about the punishment for a murted (the Islamic designation for an apostate) as prescribed by Islamic law. Common apologetics for laws in Shar'ia against apostasy have been extensively published globally by well-known professional Islamist "rock stars" like Jamal Badawi,[54] Yusuf Estes,[55] Yusuf Qaradawi,[56] and Tariq Ramadan.[57] Also prominently weighing in are Dr. Mohammed Al-Haj Aly,[58] a Wahhabi of the Assemby of Muslim Jurists of America and countless other apologist scholars from ISNA and elsewhere, usefully chronicled by Islamist Mohamed Farooq at this blog.[59]

Responding to all of their commentaries would need an entire dissertation. But in the setting of the Bary case, it is exceedingly important for us to begin to understand the realities of current statements by Islam's scholars on laws about apostasy. Suffice it to say that most of their statements are painful circuitous explanations, which leave readers far more confused than they were before they read them. What is clear is that Islamists dissemble on apostasy. Some will try to deny to a Western audience that laws against apostasy exist, yet they still maintain the role of the state in protecting the faith of Islam from apostates. Thus, blasphemy laws by any other name are still a form of apostasy laws. Leaving exceptions for the protection of the "Islamic state" is still a potent use of the oppressive state to prevent apostasy and blasphemy over any semblance of religious freedom. Others like Qaradawi will simply put forth the argument for the death sentence hysterically qualifying it with a "rare" need for application.

Some explanations, like that of Yusuf Estes[60] (who actually lectured[61] in Columbus, Ohio at OSU in 2002), are absolute gibberish. It is dissimulation at its best. He wants readers to believe that anyone "is free to make that choice" (to leave Islam) while he also conveys a supremacist undertone to his Islamist interpretations. He had the temerity to dismissively summarize his opinion at the end stating:

Conditions are really what bring about the different rulings on dealing with those who enter Islam and then leave it, with the clear intention of bringing about dissention and unrest amongst the people. Also, those who seek to convert people away from Islam into other faiths or to destroy the Islamic government would naturally be considered as traitors and then dealt with as such.

Thus, the opinions of Islamists vary whether they are a minority or a majority. And therefore, the laws of apostasy vary whether it is an "Islamic state" or not. This proves that Muslims can only legitimately set aside apostasy laws if they are actually able to separate mosque and state. Islamists like Estes try to put a benevolent face on the travesty of religious freedom under Shar'iah and the truth is revealed in their attitude about the Islamic state. As long as the concept of the Islamic state exists all their dismissals of penalties for the murted are disingenuous.

Sheikh Muhammad Tantawi[62] a prominent recent head[63] of Al Azhar University stated that,[64]

"A Muslim who renounced his faith or turned apostate should be left alone as long as he does not pose a threat or belittle Islam. If the Muslims were forced to take action against the apostate, he said it should not be because he or she had given up the faith but because he or she had turned out to be an enemy or a threat to Islam."

This was felt by Dr. Farooq at his ridiculously apologetic blog to somehow be a denunciation of apostasy. Give me a break. This absurd logic simply transports the same issue and violence from one of leaving Islam (murted) to one of blasphemy against Islam. There is a reason the free world always considers freedom of religion and freedom of speech together. They are inextricably wedded. The oppression of one leads to the oppression of the other. It is absurd for these Islamists to think that a renunciation of apostasy laws can be expressed in conjunction with an endorsement of blasphemy laws. And then these so-called scholars wonder why lay Islamist Muslims respond violently to cartoons against the Prophet Mohammed or against apostates who exercise their freedom of speech.

The axis of the crime of apostasy rests upon the legitimacy of the Islamic state and the mandate of the Islamic state to defend Islam. As long as the state derives its legitimacy from clerics and the Constitution and state laws are dependent upon the Koran and Hadith, it is entirely impossible to truly reform apostasy laws.

In fact, Tariq Ramadan[65] the most popular Islamist in Europe who has thus far been prohibited from coming to the U.S. admits on his website[66] that,

"In the Islamic legal tradition, "apostasy" known as "ridda" is related to changing one's religion and its injunction is mainly based on two prophetic sayings (ahadith) both quoted in sahih Bukhari (9,83 and 84): "The one who changes his religion, kill him" and another tradition noting that among the three categories of people who can be killed is "the one who leaves the community". The great majority of the Muslim scholars, from all the different traditions and throughout history, have been of the opinion that changing one's religion is prohibited in Islam and should be sanctioned by the death penalty."

Ramadan states that some scholars "question the absolute authenticity of the two prophetic traditions quoted in Bukhari. "Question the absolute authenticity?" Again, give me a break. He needs to completely dismiss that Hadith as a forgery. But Ramadan does want to offend his co-Islamists like Qaradawi. His dissimulation is slick as Caroline Fourest[67] has pointed out before. He even gives good examples of Muslims who left Islam at the time of the Prophet Mohammed who were not killed and maintain good relations with Muslims. But, perhaps revealingly, Ramadan does not cite the centrality of the Islamic state in empowering apostasy laws or blasphemy laws and the need to dissociate citizenship from being Muslim for "crimes of apostasy" to truly be intellectually buried. His explanation also falls far short. By his trademark, he makes no acknowledgement of the anti-Islamist movement needed for real reform if the concept of murted (criminal apostate) is to truly disappear.

Jamal Badawi,[68] a darling of ISNA, and prominent theologian on Muslim Brotherhood sites like Islamonline, also dissembles on the topic of apostasy with the best of them. His review is actually one of the more scholarly ones of Islamists but as a result, incriminating to the reality of Islamic theology, Shar'iah and its intolerance for apostasy. For if the status of apostates was so truly benign under common scholarly interpretations of Islamic law, he wouldn't have needed pages and pages of explanation.

In Badawi's commentary on Islamonline[69] from April 26, 2006, he basically reiterates the same old Islamist apologetics that death for apostasy is an incorrect interpretation. But then he hysterically states, "Apostasy is a capital crime as it threatens the integrity and stability of the Muslim community and state." And we are to take this as a modern condemnation of apostasy laws? This is quite the contrary. Again note, the Islamic state is dependent upon a supremacist legal system which allows government to maintain its own interests above that of the individual. This is the antithesis of Western governments and especially of our First Amendment and our Establishment Clause. Badawi actually cites Yusuf Qaradawi[70] as "eloquent," and points readers to Qaradawi's defense of apostasy laws wherein Qaradawi states,[71]

"As for hadiths specifying the death penalty for apostates, they have been proven to be authentic. Besides, they were put into effect by the Companions in the era of the Rightly-Guided caliphs."

Then, Qaradawi actually not only teaches Muslims that apostasy laws and their punishments are part of Islam but blasphemy laws should also be taught since blasphemy is more dangerous to Islam:

"Third, some early Muslim scholars are of the opinion that the following verse refers to how to deal with apostates. The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is execution- (Al Maidah 5:33). We have referred to Ibn Taymiyah's opinion to the effect that waging war against Allah and His messenger by speaking openly against them is more dangerous to Islam than physically attacking its followers and that moral mischief in the land is more hazardous than physical mischief."

The rest of this morally defunct commentary by Yusuf Al-Qaradawi on apostasy[72] which was endorsed by Badawi reads like a theocratic supremacist manifesto of the Islamic state for Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood. Note that in my comments to Noor Islamic Cultural Center of Columbus, I also highlighted the significance of calling out Qaradawi due to his level of influence and direction upon global scholarly interpretations of Islamic law. Note also that this is extraordinarily relevant to the American Muslim community and mosques like the Noor Islamic Cultural Center. Qaradawi's books are prominently featured by Islamic Horizons — for example, the magazine of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which Noor Mosque hosted last year in their annual convention.

Let's now look at domestic commentary on apostates. In the United States for example, legal Islam is led by the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America.[73] This organization's site (a consortium of global Wahhabi clerics focused upon the American scene) had recently featured, for example, on its homepage a rather seditious repudiation of the Pledge of Allegiance[74] and a plethora of legal defenses for the Islamic state against the Western secular state. As long as the Islamic state exists it will derive its power from Islamic law and clerical interpretations. With that power it will be impossible to separate treason from the state versus apostasy from Islam.

In fact, incredibly, in a religious opinion (fatwa) from April 2006, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Haj Aly[75] interestingly an attending pediatrician at Albert Lea Medical Center of Mayo Health System[76] in Albert Lea, Minnesota makes it rather clear that apostasy is a capital crime, according to his own "American" juristic interpretation of Islam with the full endorsement of his Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (an apparently Wahhabi front based out of Egypt and California[77] with leadership[78] from Wahhabi schools of thought). He states,[79]

As for the Shari'ah ruling, it is the punishment of killing for the man with the grand Four Fiqh Shari'ah scholars, and the same with the woman with the major Shari'ah scholars, and she is jailed with Al-Hanafiyyah scholars, as the prophet, prayers and peace of Allah be upon him, said: "Whoever a Muslim changes his/her religion, kill him/her", and his saying: "A Muslim's blood, who testifies that there is no god except Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah, is not made permissible except by three reasons: the life for the life; the married adulterer and the that who abandons his/her religion".

It is frightening and insulting to me, as an American Muslim, that this organization, its website, and Americans like Al-Haj Aly claim to represent American Islam. Note that many well known American imams belong to this organization — including, for example, the head of their executive committee, the lead flying imam from Phoenix, Omar Shahin.[80] Shahin is also head of the North American Imams Federation and cannot be dismissed as a marginal figure among American Islamic clerics. AIFD exposed the real story[81] behind American Islamism and the flying imams.

Finally, all of these opinions do not change the textual treatment of apostasy (riddah) in textbooks of Islamic law. One of the most common and accepted texts of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is The Reliance of the Traveler and Tools for the Worshipper: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law[82] by Ahmad Ibn Naqib Al-Misri (died 1368 AD) and translated by Sheik Nuh Ha Mim Keller. It is of the Shaf'ii school of thought from Sunni Islam. However, As Dr. Al-Haj Aly stated, the four schools are basically the same on apostasy. I would ask other Muslims here in America who feel that they are being tarred and feathered with concern over the fate of apostates in Islam to be more academically rigorous and purchase this text and others to find out what if any authoritative textual refutations of the laws described in The Reliance of the Traveler have ever been refuted convincingly. Here is what this text, endorsed by leading American clerics at ISNA and IIIT, states with respect to "Apostasy from Islam-Ridda" (o8.0, Reliance of the Traveler):

O: Leaving Islam is the ugliest form of unbelief (kufr) and the worst. It may come about through sarcasm, as when someone is told, "Trim your nails, it is sunna," and he replies, "I would not do it even if it were," as opposed to when some circumstance exists which exonerates him of having committed apostasy, such as when his tongue runs away with him, or when he is quoting someone, or says it out of fear.)

o8.1 When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.

o8.2 In such a case, it is obligatory for the caliph (A: or his representive) to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.

o8.3 If he is a freeman, no one besides the caliph or his representative may kill him. If someone else kills him, the killer is disciplined (def: o17) (O: for arrogating the caliph's prerogative and encroaching upon his rights, as this is one of his duties).

o8.4 There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (O: or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die).

o8.5 If he apostatizes from Islam and returns several times, it (O: i.e. his return to Islam, which occurs when he states the two Testifications of Faith (def: o8.7(12))) is accepted from him, though he is disciplined (o17).

o8.6 (A: If a spouse in a consummated marriage apostatizes from Islam, the couple are separated for a waiting period consisting of three intervals between menstruations. If the spouse returns to Islam before the waiting period ends, the marriage is not annulled but is considered to have continued the whole time (dis: m7.4).)

Also note — very relevant to an apostasy case with regards to parents — this Shar'aiah text states refers readers to the section on "Disciplinary Action (Ta'zir) (o17.0)

o17.4 (describes punishment): "A father or grandfather (and on up) is entitled to discipline those under his care when they commit an act that is unbecoming. And so may a mother with her child. a husband is entitled to discipline his wife for not giving him his rights (def: m5.1). A teacher may discipline a student. (A:Spanking a student, for example, is permissible if there is a valid lawful purpose to be served thereby, and the student's guardian has given the teacher permission.)

One should note that some of the scholars I reviewed above may try to dismiss Shaf'ii school as more radical but in reality, there are often little differences in major Islamic rulings between the four major schools of thought in existence today. Note also the certification of this text at a very popular Islamic bookstore[83] (Amana Publications) lists even the so-called "moderate" International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) as endorsers of the validity of this text for the orthodox Sunni community by Dr. Taha Jabir Al-Alwani in December 1990. This center was, unfortunately, recently allowed to establish an endowed chair in Islamic studies at George Mason University,[84] a Virginia taxpayer-subsidized institution.

Real reform will need the development of a whole new school of thought beyond the four Sunni and other Muslim schools. Suffice it to say that ISNA has allowed this text to be sold at its conventions and one can find this text on most Islamic bookstore sites.[85] Most importantly, this text has no clear public repudiation from authoritative Islamic scholars in America or replacement to supersede any or most of its offensive and oppressive rulings. For example, if anything the previous scholars I reviewed may disagree with the clarity with which this text of Shar'iah says to kill the apostate and they may modify the punishments or circumstances related more to the state than the individual. But that is dissimulation. The bottom line is that there has not been any wholesale academic repudiation and castigation of the mistreatment of apostates and the whole dangerous slippery slope upon which most Islamist scholars and this text base their non-condemnation of punishments for apostasy. Intolerance for apostasy can have no qualification. Individuals are either entirely free to practice or reject faith and religious law or they are subjects of the state and slaves. Islamist apologists want to have it both ways.

CAIR, MPAC, ISNA, and other Islamist groups can protest the unfair brush with which they are painted on the issue of apostasy all they want. But when leading American Muslim organizations post opinions like ours here without academic opposition, engagement or approval, it stands to reason that lawyers defending Christians like Rifqa Bary will raise legitimate legal concerns about their safety. What Tariq Ramadan dissimulates and easily dismisses as an illegitimate Hadith is endorsed by most American Muslim leadership. If apostasy laws were such a sensational concern, why does it take Muslim scholars (ulemaa) pages upon pages to refute them?

The Noor Center and CAIR Ohio has done nothing publicly to refute any of these scholars. If the Noor Islamic Center was really interested in teaching and modernizing Islam through critical thinking it would have openly addressed this whole debate. We actually tried to give them an opportunity to do so last summer and nothing happened (see video excerpts at Part I[86] and Part II[87]). Our message of responsibility fell on deaf ears. Moreover, our subsequent offer to return to continue the discussion was ignored and rebuffed.

There is no doubt that the official scholarly position on apostasy needs clarification and needs to be part of a greater movement to defeat the ideology of the Islamic state. Anything short of separating mosque and state will fall far short of putting an end to the discrimination and violence against non-Muslims, apostates, blasphemers, heretics, and women to name a few groups are the real victims of many predominant interpretations of Shar'iah.

This discussion on apostasy also falls short of addressing some of the even deeper tribal pathologies which lead to abuse and even murder in retribution for "honor." When the scholars I discussed are able to teach Muslims to "honor" religious freedom and liberty for all individuals equally, regardless of faith and when they can "honor" the secular state over the Islamic state while dismissing tribal attempts to immorally honor their own family, the real fears of apostates like Rifqa will begin to disappear.

Time for a Muslim Reality Check on Apostasy- A possible Muslim exegesis

At AIFD we have laid out a position on apostasy[88] long before the Bary case. There was great media attention to an apostasy case of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan in 2006. If apostasy laws and Rifqa's fears were not real, then why would Abdul Rahman have presented before the court in Afghanistan[89] for the high crime of leaving Islam in March of 2006?

At the inception of Islam, there was a mixture of citizenship, military enlistment, and faith. I believe that the laws interpreted by Islamists as being against apostasy were intended by the Prophet Mohammed to apply only to those Muslims who deserted the Muslim military since there was an Islamic state which was in a state of war and operated under a full mixture of religion and government. So just as our U.S. military will convict those who desert, so too did the Muslim military. The Islam I was taught relegated any discussion of those who left Islam to a limited time in Islamic history related to those belonging to the military at the time of the Prophet Mohammed. This may not be the current consensus (ijmaa), but is a viable ideology for rational Muslims to put forth into modernity. Islamists who believe in the ascendancy of the Islamic state will never be able to truly separate citizenship from faith. But once Muslims can separate mosque and state[90] and get Shar'iah out of government then denials on the penalties for apostasy will be believable.

We should certainly take all Muslims (laity and scholars) at their word about their own personal belief about religious freedom in Islam. We should never forget that they are our best hope against Islamist supremacism. I was certainly taught the universality of religious freedom as a child and as a devout Muslim. But I did not learn that through the Islamist lens but rather through the separation of mosque and state. Most Muslims I have met have abandoned the concept of riddah and do not believe in identifying those who leave Islam as murted (apostates who are deemed criminal). However, the same is not true for most imams (teachers of Islam).

It is time for mosques to lead a movement to obliterate any justifications for such a concept. It is time for mosques in the spotlight like the Noor Islamic Cultural Center instead of having nothing on their homepages, to have a frontal assault against apostasy laws and the apologetics of their Islamist friends around the world so that there can be no doubt about where their community stands on laws of riddah, the murted, and apostasy.

With the media firestorm NICC squandered another opportunity to make it clear where they stand on apostasy and condemn the apologetics. The courts will, I pray, fairly address Rifqa's safety and her parents' rights. But with regard to Islamic attitudes on apostasy, Muslims need to realize it's time for a reality check.


At the outset, I made the assertion that most Muslims who are rational, moral, humble, and God-fearing ignore or are unaware of the suggestions and mandates of the realities of Shar'iah law when it comes to the so called crime of apostasy in Islam. Hopefully, this piece will bring such ignorance to an end. As we pray for Rifqa's safety and a just resolution to her case, it highlights now more than ever the need for lay Muslims to empower themselves in a new religious freedom movement. Muslims need to demand that our scholars and leaders start from scratch and sign petitions and write new law (ijtihad) protecting the equality of apostates which is endorsed by religious scholars in position of leadership or guidance in American mosques and American Muslim organizations. These petitions, opinions (fatwas) and new laws (Shar'iah) need to send to the dustbin of history any hint whatsoever of an Islamic punishment for apostasy. They should unequivocally repudiate any scholars (some of whom I named above) who give exceptions to the rule of equal human rights for all before the state and family. They should make it clear that apostates deserve the same full rights as Muslims. This can only happen through a separation of mosque and state and a defeat of the idea of the "Islamic" state.  



[2] local_news/stories/2009/08/14/z-apoh_runawayconvert_ 0814.ART_ART_08-14-09_B2_0CEP22I.html

[3] story_teenager.html?sid=102


[5] na-couple-say-teen-was-terrified/

[6] na-couple-say-teen-was-terrified/




[10] 2008/01/23/cstillwell.DTL

[11] 2008/01/23/cstillwell.DTL

[12] 2008/01/10/human_sacrifice_in_dallas_no_o.php




[16] 2008/01/23/cstillwell.DTL

[17] id.2543/pub_detail.asp


[19] latestnews/stories/011008dnmetteenskilled.7ba7cc6.html

[20] rifqa-and-the-reverand_b_261571.html


[22] 08/mike-thomas-orlando-sentinels-advocates-for-honor-killing-the-rule- of-law-will-send-rifqa-back-to-oh.html

[23] rifqa-and-the-reverand_b_261571.html


[25]§ion=0&article= 126370&d=13&m=9&y=2009

[26] 14/z-apoh_runawayconvert_0814.ART_ART_08-14-09_B2_0CEP22I.html

[27] local_news/stories/2009/09/03/noor_defense.ART_ART_09-03-09 _B1_O2EV2TE.html?sid=101


[29] Salah%20Sultan

[30] cairs-ahmad-al-akhras-set-to-flee.html

[31] ARTID=31442

[32] bbc-exposes-columbus-mosque-speaker.html

[33] Siraj%20Wahhaj

[34] 6eLqbNiP45k&eurl= 198541.php&feature=player_embedded--

[35] columbus-police-kick-cair-to-the-curb xxxxxxx

[36] dr-zuhdi-jasser-to-speak-at-noor-center.html

[37] 2/Ox3_ZWbbBhA

[38] 1/AlC6Rn_NoIU

[39] EPIC_shim.php?story=cal/evinfo.asp&EID=1108660&tp=&sc= &rg=&wn=twk&radiobtn=®type=1§ion=arts

[40] us-rep-frank-wolf-who-is-cair

[41] Ox3_ZWbbBhA

[42] 6eLqbNiP45k&eurl= 198541.php&feature=player_embedded--


[44] muslim-brotherhood-in-central-ohio.html

[45] label/Salah%20Sultan

[46] cairs-ahmad-al-akhras-set-to-flee.html

[47] ARTID=31442

[48] bbc-exposes-columbus-mosque-speaker.html

[49] search/label/Siraj%20Wahhaj

[50] search/label/Siraj%20Wahhaj

[51] local_news/stories/2009/09/03/noor_defense.ART_ ART_09-03-09_B1_O2EV2TE.html


[53] 786cd407-f0b3-49f7-9aad-caf99ceae7ed

[54] 2006/04/Article02.shtml Contemporary/2006/04/Article02.shtml

[55] answers-to-questions-mainmenu-26/92-apostasy.html





[60] mainmenu-26/92-apostasy.html

[61] Does-Islam-Equal-Terrorism




[65] Doublespeak-Ramadan/dp/1594032157


[67] Doublespeak-Ramadan/dp/1594032157


[69] Contemporary/2006/04/Article02.shtml


[71] 2006/04/article01c.shtml

[72] 2006/04/article01c.shtml










[82] Islamic-Al-Salik/dp/0915957728

[83] amana_bestsellers.shtml


[85] amana_bestsellers.shtml

[86] uploads-all/2/Ox3_ZWbbBhA

[87] uploads-all/1/AlC6Rn_NoIU




M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and Chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix Arizona. He is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, a physician in private practice, and a community activist. He can be reached at

Part I of this article appeared September 21, 2009 in Family Security Matters (FSM)
( pub_detail.asp).
Part II appeared September 22, 2009 in FSM
( pub_detail.asp).


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