‘If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee….’ (Surah, 10, Yunus, verse 94)
Freedom of choice regarding religion is one of the most fundamental human rights. The objective of this article is to find out what Islamic and Christian teachings have to say on the subject. It will then be explored whether these directions are being followed by the adherents of the two faiths.
‘Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the trustworthiest handhold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things.’ (Surah 2, Al Baqarah, 256)
The Tafseer Usmany, one of the most respected Muslim commentaries on the Quran explains the verse: ‘When the arguments of Tauhid have been described clearly that the Kafir (unbeliever) is left with no excuse, then what is the need of converting anyone to a Muslim by force?’
However, the teaching of there being no compulsion in religion does not apply to the growing number of Muslims who decide to leave the religion of Islam. Allah will curse them:
‘How shall God Guide those who reject Faith after they accepted it and bore witness that the Apostle was true and that Clear Signs had come unto them? But God guides not a people unjust. Of such the reward is that on them (rests) the curse of God, of His angels, and of all mankind.’ (Surah 3, Al-Imran, 86-87)
Based on this verse and others alike (2:161-162, 16:106) the punishment for apostasy, Al-Riddah, is described in Hadith Bukhari, volume 9, number 17:
‘Abdullah narrates that Allah’s Apostle said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.”
‘The punishment by death in the case of apostasy has been unanimously agreed upon by all the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence.’ (‘Shariah: The Islamic Law’ by ‘Abdur Rahman I. Doi, Ta Ha Publishers, London UK, 1984, page 264)
Furthermore, an apostate is forbidden to get married: ‘It is not lawful that an apostate marry any woman, whether she be a believer, an Infidel, or an apostate, because an apostate is liable to be put to death; moreover, his three days of grace are granted in order that he may reflect upon the errors which occasion his apostasy; and as marriage would interfere with such reflection, the law does not permit it to him.’ (AL-HEDAYA Vol. I, Hanafi Manual, number 3332)
‘In a case of apostasy, separation takes place, without divorce.’ (Ibid, number 3342)
In practice a male convert can suddenly finds himself living in adultery with his very own wife. She could even be stoned to death, if she refuses to leave him.
‘An apostate’s right over his property is suspended, and not destroyed until his decease.’ (Ibid, Vol. II, number 4135
‘Upon an apostate dying, his property acquired in apostasy becomes forfeited to the state; and the rest goes to his heirs.’ (Ibid, Vol. II, number 4136)
‘(Jesus) the true light, which gives light to every man, was then coming into the world. He was in the world, the world that came into being through him, but the world had no knowledge of him. He came to the things that were his and his people did not take him to their hearts. To all those who did so take him, however, he gave the right of becoming children of God–that is, to those who had faith in his name: Whose birth was from God and not from blood, or from an impulse of the flesh and man’s desire. And so the Word became flesh and took a place among us for a time; and we saw his glory–such glory as is given to an only son by his father–saw it to be true and full of grace.’ (Joh 1:9-14)
God, according to Christianity, loves all peoples and wants them to love him and to continue to do so, not by force but by free choice. As soon as a relationship is forced upon someone, love is excluded. How much more so when it comes to our relationship with God! Love, by its very nature demands freedom of choice.
In Islam anybody who is born into a Muslim family automatically becomes a Muslim. He may be looked at as good or bad, depending on whether or not he practices his religion, but he will generally remain a Muslim nevertheless. It is very important to realise that this is not the case in Christianity. There God has no ‘grand children’. Only those who personally believe that Jesus died for their sins and rose again on the third day will be saved from God’s wrath. Out of thankfulness that they are saved, people who individually or as families decide to follow Jesus will make it their goal in life to please God by following his commands. While salvation comes through faith alone, the faith that saves is never alone! Therefore there is no such thing as a Christian nation since not every single citizen chooses to follow God’s way. However, when leaders are practising Christians they will aim to create systems and laws reflecting their beliefs. The principles of democracy, such as human dignity and human rights, was firmly rooted in the Biblical truth that ‘God created man in his own image, male and female he created them.’ (See Genesis 1:27) Robert A. Seiple, US ambassador at Large for international religious freedom wrote in the ‘U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999,’ released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Washington, DC, September 9, 1999:
‘At the heart of universal human rights lies a powerful idea. It is the notion of human dignity–that every human being possesses an inherent and inviolable worth that transcends the authority of the State. Indeed, this idea is the engine of democracy itself. It flows from the conviction that every person, of whatever social, economic, or political status, of whatever race, creed, or location, has a value that does not rise or fall with income or productivity, with status or position, with power or weakness. Every human being declares the Declaration, is ‘endowed with reason and conscience;’ reason and conscience direct us to the source of that endowment, an orientation typically expressed in religion. ‘Everyone,’ affirms the Declaration, ‘has the right to freedom, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship or observance'(Article 18). Thus while religion can be a source of conflict, religious freedom–the right to pursue one’s faith without interference–can be a cornerstone of human dignity and of all human rights. To protect religious freedom is to protect a human endeavour that directly addresses the foundation of human dignity.
…. To grasp a religious foundation of human dignity is to understand more fully the surpassing value of religious freedom and the need to protect it throughout the world. To cry out against the torture of people because of their religion, to demand the release of those imprisoned for religious belief, to insist that religious minorities be protected–these are not simply actions on behalf of the oppressed. They are also actions to indemnify a precious and universal right. It is the right to believe in something beyond ourselves, including a moral order that exists independent of our opinions and to which we must attune our behaviour. It is the right to believe in the divine origins of human nature, and that every human being possesses a portion, a spark, an image of the divine…’
In contrast the Quran does not teach that man is created in God’s image, only that he is created by God. He will only be truly blessed and loved by Allah if he obeys and submits to him by following the rules laid down in the Quran. The struggle between Sunni and Shia Muslims and those of other minorities shows that those commands are being interpreted differently with catastrophic consequences.’ The report continues giving several negative examples that took place in Afgahnistan, Iran, Irak, Maledives, such as: killings because of different religious beliefs, consecration and desecration of holy places, denial of rights to assemble, to worship and to spread one’s faith, discrimination on religious grounds, implementing policies (e.g. blasphemy law) designed to intimidate people of other faiths, etc. The focus then shifts on numerous abuses of religious freedom in Pakistan:
‘There are a variety of other legal restrictions on the right to freedom of religion, and religious minorities are afforded fewer legal protections than Muslim citizens. The judicial system encompasses several different court systems with overlapping and sometimes competing jurisdiction, which reflect differences in civil, criminal, and Islamic jurisprudence. The federal Shariat Court and the Shari’a Bench of the Supreme Court serve as appellate courts for certain convictions in criminal court under the Hudood ordinances, and judges and attorneys in these courts must be Muslims. The federal Shariat Court also may overturn any legislation judged to be inconsistent with the tenets of Islam. The martial law era Hudood ordinances criminalise nonmarital rape, extramarital sex, and various gambling, alcohol, and property offences. The Hudood ordinances are based on Islamic principles and are applied to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Some Hudood ordinance cases are subject to Hadd, or Koranic, punishment; others are subject to Tazir, or secular punishment. Although both types of cases are tried in ordinary criminal courts, special rules of evidence apply in Hadd cases. For example, a non-Muslim may testify only if the victim is also non-Muslim. Likewise, the testimony of women, Muslim or non-Muslim, is not admissible in cases involving Hadd punishments. Thus, if a Muslim man rapes a Muslim woman in the presence of several women, he cannot be convicted under the Hudood ordinances because women cannot testify. Similarly, if a Muslim man rapes a woman in the presence of non-Muslim men and women, he cannot be convicted because women and non-Muslim men cannot testify. All consensual extramarital sexual relations are considered a violation of the Hudood ordinances; thus, if a woman cannot prove the absence of consent in a rape case, there is a risk that she may be charged with a violation of the Hudood ordinances for fornication or adultery. The maximum punishment for this offence is public flogging or stoning. According to a police official, in a majority of rape cases, the victims are pressured to drop rape charges because of the threat of Hudood adultery charges being brought against them. The Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Women has criticised the Hudood ordinances and recommended their repeal. It also has charged that the laws on adultery and rape have been subject to widespread misuse, with 95 percent of the women accused of adultery being found innocent in the court of first instance or on appeal. The Commission found that the main victims of the Hudood ordinances are poor women who are unable to defend themselves against slanderous charges. The laws also have been used by husbands and other male family members to punish their wives and female family members for reasons that have nothing to do with sexual propriety, according to the Commission. Approximately one-third or more of the women in jails in Lahore, Peshawar, and Mardan in 1998 were awaiting trial for adultery under the Hudood ordinances. However, no Hadd punishment has been imposed in the 19 years since the Hudood ordinances went into effect. Human rights monitors and women’s groups believe that a narrow interpretation of Shari’a has had a harmful effect on the rights of women and minorities, as it reinforces popular attitudes and perceptions and contributes to an atmosphere in which discriminatory treatment of women and non-Muslims is more readily accepted….
The Constitution states that “the State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interest of minorities, including their due representation in the federal and provincial bodies,” and the National Assembly and provincial assemblies have seats reserved for non-Muslims. However, although there are reserved seats in the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies for non-Muslims, the Government distinguishes between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to political rights. In national and local elections, Muslims cast their votes for Muslim candidates by geographic locality, while non-Muslims can cast their votes only for at-large non-Muslim candidates. Since separate electorates exist for Muslims and non-Muslims, there is little participation by non-Muslims in the mainstream Muslim parties, and local mainstream parliamentary representatives have little incentive to promote their minority constituents’ interests. Many Christian activists state that these “separate electorates” are the greatest obstacle to the attainment of Christian religious and civil liberties. Ahmadi leaders encourage the Ahmadis not to register as “non-Muslims” (since Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims), so most Ahmadis are completely unrepresented.
Biblical Christianity promotes freedom of choice in terms of one’s religious convictions. It is a result of the fact that man is created in God’s image and therefore immensely valuable, worthy of respect and ultimately responsible for his choices. True Christians who live according to their beliefs uphold these values. Islam, however, severely limits this freedom of choice, not only for Muslims but also for non-Muslims. The teaching ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ is today frequently undermined throughout the Muslim world by creating an environment that severely disadvantages minorities. They are compelled to suffer or to convert to Islam. All this is done in spite of the fact that most Islamic states have ratified declarations such as the United Nations l948 General Declaration of Human Rights. How can such a contradiction be justified? Dr Christine Schirrmacher writes on that subject: “In recent decades, various Islamic organisations have themselves formulated declarations of human rights. They have one basic difference to those of Western statements, however. Because they give priority to the Koran and to the Shari’a (Islamic law), human rights can only be guaranteed in these countries under the conditions imposed by these two authorities and their regulations. Article 24 of the 1990 Cairo declaration of Human Rights, for example, states that ‘All rights and freedoms mentioned in this statement are subject to the Islamic Shari’a,’ and Article 25 adds, ‘The Islamic Shari’a is the only source for the interpretation or explanation of each individual article of this statement.’ This emphasizes the ‘historic role of the Islamic Umma [Muslim society or community], which was created by God as the best nation, which has brought humanity a universal and well-balanced civilisation, in which harmony between life here on earth and the hereafter exists, and in which knowledge accompanies faith.’ What does the priority of the Koran and the Shari’a mean for human rights discussions? These two authorities insure that in Islamic states, human rights only exist within the limitation set by the religious values of Islamic revelation and are guaranteed only within the framework determined by the Koran and Islamic law.” (Human Rights in Muslim Understanding)
It is very sad to see that Muslims in western countries hypocritically demand more and more rights, yet are unwilling to practice themselves what they preach over here. These double standards cry out for justice! If it does not come now it will surely come on the day of judgement for, ‘what a man sows he will reap.’