Leaving Islam




“Moderate” Muslims Muddy the Waters

By Jacob Thomas  

Every Friday issue of The Wall Street Journal has an article on religion that appears under the general headline of “Houses of Worship.” The March 31, 2006 , title of the article was “Holier Than Thou: Muslims declare each other apostates--with violent results.” The author, Masood Farivar, is a reporter for Dow Jones Newswires.  

I appreciated much of what Mr. Farivar wrote. However, when I reached the last part of his article, I became very disappointed. Unfortunately, his contribution, as well as other ones coming from “moderate” Muslims, tends to muddy the water rather than give an accurate description of the true nature of Islam.  

The author began by mentioning the plight of the Afghani Muslim who had converted to the Christian faith.  

“The international uproar over the case of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan convert to Christianity charged with apostasy, has drawn attention away from a far more common and nefarious practice infecting religious practice in Islam: the accusation of heresy leveled by Muslims against fellow Muslims, a practice known as takfir. Historically, little more than a rhetorical device, takfir has in recent years grown into a deadly weapon in the hands of Muslim extremists bent on purging Islam of just about anyone who does not subscribe to their views. Today jihadist terrorists in Iraq have begun to use takfir as a rallying cry for violence against the Shiites.”  

It is quite likely that most readers of the WSJ have never heard the word takfir. It is derived from an Arabic verb kafara “to be an infidel, or to blaspheme God.” The first time I heard of takfir was in connection with the name of a radical Islamist group in the United Kingdom , “Al-Hijra wal-Takfir.”  The followers of this extremist group claim to follow in the foot steps of the Prophet who left Mecca in 622 A.D. and settled in Medina . That event, known in Arabic as Hijra (migration,) signified Muhammad’s separating himself from the kafirs (unbelievers) of Mecca , in order to settle in a pure milieu where he could freely spread Islam.  

Mr. Farivar explained the serious consequences that result, when some Muslims accuse other Muslims of heresy:  

“The concept of religious censure is not unique to Islam, of course, but under Islamic law the charge of apostasy may not only condemn the person to hell but require his immediate death, if he does not repent.”  

Then he went on to give a historical account of a group of Muslims who anathemised everyone who disagreed with them. He referred to “the emergence in the late seventh century of a radical group known as Khawarij, whose members argued that committing a simple sin constituted heresy.”  Actually, the case of the Khawarij, known also in English as the Kharijites, is much more complex, and needs further explanation.

When Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, assumed the position of the fourth caliph in 655, Mu’awiya, the governor of Syria , revolted against him claiming that Ali was involved in the murder of Uthman, the third caliph. In the fight that ensued, the forces of Ali who held the upper hand were led to accept an offer for a truce that came from the other side. Some of Ali’s supporters did not agree with him, and left his camp. They were called the Khawarej, an Arabic word that signifies leaving a group. They became the prototypes for Islamic radicals. They assassinated Ali in 661. They went on to declare all Muslims who did not follow them, as unbelievers. They wrought havoc for a long time among the Muslims of the Middle East . This explains the similarity between these seventh century Khawarej and present-day Takfiris.  

Mr. Farivar continued:  

“Until recently, mainstream Muslims dismissed the takfiris as a fringe group, the extreme of the extreme. But with wanton terrorist acts on the rise, a response seemed required. The leaders of Saudi Arabia , Egypt and Jordan --themselves targets of apostasy charges--have denounced the takfiris.”  

“Mainstream Muslim thinkers have also started speaking up. In the U.S. , Mr. Siddiqi has led a group of prominent Muslim religious scholars in issuing a fatwa denouncing extremist interpretations of the Koran and hadith. In Saudi Arabia , Sheikh Abd al-Muhsin Al-Abikan, an eminent religious scholar, has given a series of high-profile interviews calling for a campaign to combat takfir culture among Muslims.  

“Whether these arguments stem the tide of takfir-inspired violence remains to be seen. The lack of a central synod or council to define Islamic orthodoxy makes it difficult to issue a broad pronouncement discouraging the practice. What passes for sound belief in one country or one historical period may be seen as a heresy in another.  

“That is not to say that there is no orthodoxy or, just as important, that religious leaders lack clout. They might want to remind the faithful, especially now, of the Prophet's tolerant teachings. As Sheikh Al-Abikan put it: “The authority to declare takfir is God's alone, and no man has that authority.’”

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