Apostasy From Islam in
Dr. Stephen Gill
Islam is divided into two main sects of Sunni and Shia.
Sunnis form the majority in
and also in
. They prescribe execution for an apostate from Islam.
Next to Sunnis there are Shias who are mostly in
. Shias are about 12 percent in
. Shias also prescribe execution for their apostates. Hojjatoleslam Hassan
Eshkevari is one of the Iranian apostates who has received a wide publicity. He
is a prominent writer, cleric, director of the Ali Shariati Research Centre, and
contributing editor of the now banned monthly newspaper
e Farda. He was arrested on his return after attending an academic conference
and charged with apostasy and "corruption on earth" that carrys the
penalty of death. The second such Iranian is
. In April 2003, Voice of Martyre reported the plight of "Nancy" (not
her real name), who had fled to
when threats were made on her life after she converted to Christianity. In
arrested its 22 apostates.
Both Sunnis and Shias prescribe disinheritance and death
for their apostates. Moreover, their apostates lose their possessions and face
penalties, including beating, torture and prison. If both parents apostate from
Islam, their children are to be taken away by other members of the family. Even
the people who try to save the life of the apostate are punishable by death. To
avoid the attention of the Western style media, the apostate is often framed in
crimes like defilement of the name of the Prophet Mohammed. Fatwa ( a religious
edict) is also issued by clerics in which case assassins are not persecuted as
they should be, because assassins follow the Sharia laws (Islamic).
The classic example is of Naimat Ahmar, a 45 year old
Christian who was a school teacher and a progressive award-winning writer.
Farooq Ahmad, a twenty-year old student of science, stabbed Naimat seventeen
times at about 9.30 in the morning in the compound of the District Education
Office of Faisalabad, Pakistan. This savagery was enacted in front of students
and teachers in 1992, on the 6th of January. Naimat Ahmar fell on the floor all
covered with blood. Farooq Ahmad straddled him and slit his throat with his
knife in front of the staff. No one uttered a word.
The police officer who came to arrest Farooq Ahmad first
hugged him for doing his duty. The killer was visited daily by people who
garlanded and gifted him for his courage. Several clerics and Muslim
organizations issued statements in his favour, calling him a hero. In jail, he
received special treatment because the jail authorities adored his passion for
the Prophet Mohammed. "So blatantly prejudiced is the case in Farooq's
favour that Peter John Sahotra, the State Minister for Minorities Affairs,
vociferously expressed his dissatisfaction, particularly with the manner in
which the police was handling the case."1 Naimat Ahmar was alleged to have
defiled the honor of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Washington Post reported that "Naimat Ahmar was
brutally murdered on the street in front of his school by a radical Muslim who
had never personally heard Ahmar disparage Mohammed. He had learnt of the
accusation from a poster in a village. After murdering Ahmar, he reportedly
danced over the body and was greeted by kisses from the police. Muslim religious
leaders hailed him as a hero, local lawyers offered him free legal advice, and
villagers streamed to his cell with flowers and cookies."2
This and several other incidents and Sharia (Islamic) laws
confirm that freedom to convert from Islam to another religion does not exist in
the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that was carved out of India in 1947 on
has 95 per cent Muslims and about 3 per cent Christians. The penetration of
Islam is visible in every aspect of life, including the departments of the
government. It is visible in sports even, particularly the game of cricket.
Take the case of a chricketer Yousaf Youhana.
To please the majority and also to achieve the goal for
was created, Zia ul-Haq, a military dictator, introduced a set of Islamic laws
in 1986, called the Blasphemy Laws. The article 295-C of the Blasphemy Laws says
that "Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible
representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or
indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be
punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to a
The law was challenged in the Islamic court to prove that
the life imprisonment was repugnant to the Koran. The Islamic court ruled in
October 1990 that the punishment according to Islam should only be death.
Consequently, the punishment of imprisonment was removed. On May 1, 1991, death
punishment became mandatory for those found guilty under the new statute. A
Muslim who changes his religion defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet
Mohammed and therefore that apostate is punishable by death.
There are passages in the Blasphemy Laws which are flexible
enough to apply to any situation against any person. There is the climate of
hatred against minorities that has been created by the separate electorate
system. Hate is propagated also through the media, hostile text books in
educational institutions and through other means. During the election, Muslim
candidates instigate their voters against other religions and give their
assurance to do more for Muslims if elected. Hatred against other religions is
In this climate of hatred against non-Muslims, there are
the most vague and most discriminatory laws of blasphemy that were introduced by
Zia-ul-Haq. These nebulous pieces of legislation have been misused and will
continue to be misused to accuse anyone of defiling the name of Prophet
Mohammed. For their thorough critical evaluations, refer to my document The
Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan.
To make the matter worst, eminent high court judges and
religious leaders have urged the citizens to kill blasphemers on the spot. One
of them is a judge of the Lahore High Court, Justice Nazir Akhtar. He said that
anybody accused under blasphemy charges should be killed on the spot by Muslims
as their religious obligation. There was no need for legal proceedings for a
blasphemer. These remarks of a judge appeared in the national print media of
, including the Urdu publications Insaf and Khabrain of 28 August 2000. Justice
Akhtar said, Shaheed law is available to respond to any blasphemy against the
prophet. "We shall slit every tongue that is guilty of insolence against
the Holy Prophet'.