The way we were

Remember this, Entitled to Their Opinions, Yes. But Their Facts?:

Under “Muslim law as it is universally understood,” Luttwak wrote, Obama was born a Muslim, and his “conversion” to Christianity was an act of apostasy, a capital offense and “the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit.” While no Muslim country would be likely to prosecute him, Luttwak said, a state visit to such a nation would present serious security challenges “because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards.”

Luttwak wrote that given those facts, Obama was a Muslim and his mother’s Christian background was irrelevant. But Sherman A. Jackson, a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Michigan, cited an ancient Islamic jurist, Ibn al-Qasim, who said, “If you divorce a Christian woman and ignore your child from her to the point that the child grows up to be a Christian, the child is to be left,” meaning left to make his own choice. Jackson said that there was not total agreement among Islamic jurists on the point, but Luttwak’s assertion to the contrary was wrong.

Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, said the majority opinion among Islamic jurists is that the law of apostasy can apply only to individuals who knowingly decide to be Muslims and later renege. One school of thought, he said, is that an individual must be at least a teenager to make the choice. Obama’s campaign told The Los Angeles Times last year that he “has never been a practicing Muslim.” As a young adult, he chose to be baptized as a Christian.

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, a professor of law at Emory University, said that Sharia, or Islamic law, including the law of apostasy, does not apply to an American or anyone outside the Muslim world. Of the more than 40 countries where Muslims are the majority, he said, Sharia is the official legal system only in Saudi Arabia and Iran, and even there apostasy is unevenly prosecuted, and apostates often wind up in prison, not executed.

Several of the scholars agreed that, in classical Sharia, apostasy is a capital crime, but they said that Islamic thinking is evolving. Mahmoud Ayoub, a professor of Islamic studies and comparative religion at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., said, “Whether (apostasy) is punishable by death or not, there are different opinions.”

Last year, Egypt’s highest Islamic cleric, Sheik Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti, spoke out against killing apostates. He said punishment for those abandoning the religion would come in the afterlife.

All the scholars argued that Luttwak had a rigid, simplistic view of Islam that failed to take into account its many strains and the subtleties of its religious law, which is separate from the secular laws in almost all Islamic nations. The Islamic press and television have reported extensively on the United States presidential election, they said, and Obama’s Muslim roots and his Christian religion are well known, yet there have been no suggestions in the Islamic world that he is an apostate.

Now, Iranian pastor refuses to renounce Christianity, faces execution:

Authorities arrested Nadarkhani in his home city of Rasht in Oct. 2009 because he allegedly questioned obligatory religion classes in Iranian schools. In September 2010 the court of appeals in Rasht found him guilty of apostasy and in November issued a written confirmation of his charges and death sentence.

At an appeal hearing in June, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld Nadarkhani’s sentence but asked the court in Rasht to determine if he was a practicing Muslim before his conversion. The Supreme Court also determined that his death sentence could be annulled if he recanted his faith.

On Sunday (Sept. 25) in the first two and a half hours of the court, the judges determined that Nadarkhani indeed was not a practicing Muslim before his conversion to Christianity. The source said that in this time period things looked more promising for Nadarkhani, and that the court might reverse the sentence based on the findings.

In the end, however, the court declared that although Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim before his conversion, he was still guilty of apostasy due to his Muslim ancestry, the source told Compass.

Luttwak was wrong in the universality assertion. But it isn’t as if his coarse paraphrase was of an obscure variant of shariah. Many Muslims view their religion in a nationalistic sense. That’s why the common justifications for capital punishment for apostasy are couched less in terms of deviation from orthodox belief, and more as threats to the public order and treason against the state.

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