On May 25, an article reported that Christian Concern would establish a network of ‘safe houses’ for Muslims who convert to Christianity. The move follows international outrage over the apostasy death sentence in Sudan.
Yet, the question of the death penalty for apostasy in Islam is not clear-cut among scholars. But Christian Concern overstates the threat of death in the UK. Andrea Williams, co-founder of Christian Concern, originally claimed, “The penalty for them at best is to be cut off from their family; at worst they face death. This is happening not just in Sudan and Nigeria but in east London. The government has failed to deal with the rise in anti-Christian sentiment.”
A deliberate conflation overlooks the intricate dynamics of countries whose intolerance of apostasy is often political and not religious in nature.
If Miriam Yahya Ibrahim does indeed face death, it will be the first time Sudan will execute an apostate in almost twenty years. Nonetheless, the death sentence is abhorrent to us as an organisation and we believe that no-one should be sentenced to death even if they are found guilty of murder, which sadly takes place in many countries and including some states in the US.
Christian Concern’s motivation would seem less than altruistic. After all, they sell copies of the controversial Muslim charter. It is also noteworthy that The Clarion Project picked up the original story a day later.
For the writer and academic Ziya Meral (whose work includes a report into apostasy), the issue remains a concern for the UK on par with FGM and forced marriage:
“Given those who leave Islam for other religions tend to be from diaspora communities, their conversion causes serious tensions within the family and their networks in the never-ending dynamics of maintaining of communities self-declared cultural values, which only amplifies a clear harsh stand of Islamic jurisprudence and classic Islamic thought on apostasy.”
One example is Nissar Hussein, who suffered years of abuse after converting to Christianity with his wife, in 1996. When news of their conversion spread, elements of the Pakistani community in Bradford shunned the family.
In 2001 (the year of the Bradford Riots), relations between the Asian communities and others were poor. So a conversion away from Islam was also viewed by some as a deep community betrayal. In that context, it might explain why the Hussein family suffered broken windows and street harassment.
Towards the end of that year, an empty property next to the Hussein house was set alight. Having suffered this continual abuse, Mr Hussein naturally lamented a lack of police action. The attacks ceased in 2006 when the family moved to a different part of Bradford. A year later, Hussein featured on a Dispatches special where he detailed his abuse.
Yet, the Times article makes no effort to contextualise the incidents as a casual reader might infer that they are more recent. There can be no justification for such abuse and violence, though the context is important to understand rather than the conflation of dates, events and abuse so that it looks like it took place much more recently.
But the question remains: how did we end up with people potentially facing death for leaving Islam?
According to M. Cherif Bassiouni, converting to Christianity is not punishable by death under Islamic Law. Bassiouni argues that apostasy would not be a crime had the Prophet Muhammad not applied the death penalty to a man who renounced Islam in the 7th Century. But that decision took place during a period of war. Not only had the person renounced his faith, but he had also joined the enemies of Islam, thus his bigger crime was treason. The treasonous element was a significant factor on the decision when the Muslim community was small, under persecution and seen as a threat to the wider order of worshipping multiple Gods.
Notably, the Qur’an also guarantees freedom of religion (Surat Al-Baqarah, verse 2:256), whilst Christians and Jews are highly regarded (Surat Al-Baqarah, verse 136), (Surat Al-Mā’idah 5:82 and 5:69).
Fiyaz Mughal, the director of TELL MAMA stated:
” As converts to Islam need support when many of their families and close relatives shun them for following Islam after years of researching and looking into Islam, so Ex-Muslims deserve support, respect and help when transitioning away from their belief in faith. No individual should face the prospect of death or abuse through the misapplication of faith, even when the more famous examples are held up as experts and proof of Islam’s ‘savagery.’ Yet, many of these individuals are not Islamic experts, but rather examples of their own subjective experiences in singular Muslim-dominated cultures.”