Here we go again: an Iranian Pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, faces execution if he does not recant his conversion to Christianity. Last year, Mr. Nadarkhani was found guilty of “apostasy” last year, which was upheld by the Iranian Supreme Court. Now, if he does not recant, he could be executed.
Why? Why should he be executed? Because he left Islam? That is totally his choice.
What I do not understand is this claim, by many Muslims, that anyone who leaves the faith does so upon pain of death. From where did this come? Clearly not the Qur’an. A cursory reading of even a poor translation of the Qur’an would reveal that Islam places the sanctity of human life at the utmost of importance:
And do not take any human being’s life – [the life] which God has willed to be sacred – otherwise than in [the pursuit] of justice… (17:33)
And do not kill yourselves, for God has been merciful to you. (4:29)
Furthermore, the freedom to choose one’s own spiritual path is tantamount in the Qur’an; one only has to look, and it would not be hard to find:
Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you… (5:48)
For had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did! (16:93)
There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error… (2:256)
Say [O Muhammad], ‘The truth is from your Lord:’ Let him who wills believe it, and let him who wills, reject (it). (18:29)
If it had been your Lord’s will, they all would have believed – all who are on earth. Will you, then, compel the people, against their will, to believe? (10:99)
Have, then, they who have attained to faith not yet come to know that, had God so willed, He would indeed have guided all mankind aright? (13:31) And [because He is your Creator], it rests with God alone to show you the right path: yet there is [many a one] who swerves from it. However, had He so willed, He would have guided you all aright. (16:9)
It is not required of thee (O Messenger), to set them on the right path, but God sets on the right path whom He pleases. (2:272)
The evidence is overwhelming: Islam firmly upholds freedom of choice in matters of faith. In fact, it is part of God’s plan to have different faiths and to allow the humans to choose their own path. What’s more, the Qur’an states that the reason war is sometimes necessary- as a last resort and in self-defense – is to preserve religious freedom:
If God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques – in [all of] which Gods name is abundantly extolled – would surely have been destroyed. (22:40)
Moreover, the Qur’an is not silent about apostasy. There are numerous references to apostasy, but not one verse says the apostate is to be killed for his or her choice:
… [Your enemies] will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his faith and die as a denier of the truth – these it is whose works will go for naught in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide. (2:217)
Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith, and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted: for it is they who have truly gone astray. (3:90)
O you who have attained to faith! If you ever abandon your faith, God will in time bring forth [in your stead] people whom He loves and who love Him – humble towards the believers, proud towards all who deny the truth: [people] who strive hard in God’s cause, and do not fear to be censured by anyone who might censure them: such is God’s favor, which He grants unto whom He wills. And God is infinite, all-knowing. (5:54)
Any one who, after accepting faith in God, utters unbelief – except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in faith – but such as open their breast to unbelief, on them is wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful penalty. This because they love the life of this world better than the hereafter: and God will not guide those who reject faith. (16:106-107)
And even if someone were to leave Islam multiple times, there still is no death penalty imposed on him. The following verses are effective proof of this:
Behold, as for those who come to believe, and then deny the truth, and again come to believe, and again deny the truth, and thereafter grow stubborn in their denial of the truth, God will not forgive them, nor will He guide them in any way. (4:137)
Do the above Qur’anic verses warn of a severe chastisement for apostasy? Absolutely. In fact, these verses are akin to this passage in the Bible: “Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” (Deut. 6:14-15)
Apostasy is chastised to some degree by all the Abrahamic faiths. Yet, could it be any clearer that the punishment addressed in the Qur’an is in the hereafter and not the here and now?
Given this enormous and overwhelming evidence against a scriptural basis for the murder of apostates, how could any Muslim cleric claim that Islam calls for the murder of apostates? What sort of faith keeps its adherents in its fold by threatening death if one leaves?
If Islam claims that the humans have complete freedom of will – which they do – then how can an apostate be killed? What kind of faith is so threatened by the rebellion of some of its adherents that it mandates they be murdered? Contrary to the contention of many, Islam is not that kind of faith.
Let the Pastor Go Free.
This first appeared on my Beliefnet Blog: Common Word, Common Lord.