Sunday, February 05, 2017

Responding to Texas Legislator's Misrepresentation

On January 11, 2017, a letter signed by Kyle Biedermann, Texas House representative, and cosigned by two Far Right activists, was sent to Muslim leaders in Texas asking them to “renounce, repudiate and oppose any physical intimidation, or worldly and corporal punishment, to apostates who leave Islam.” The letter cited me among Muslim authorities who advocate capital punishment for apostates, and quoted a brief statement from my book Peace and the Limits of War as an evidence of my alleged death-to-apostate position.

Aside from the fact that the letter is offensive, intimidating, and designed to support an initiative by Far-Right groups, it distorts both my views and the reality of the overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans. This is not the first time that my views were distorted by individuals who harbor dislike and hatred of Islam and Muslims, and who are bent on distorting Islam's teachings and demonize its adherents. I have had a long confrontation with various members of the Far Right during my association with the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and throughout the Bush Jr. Administration.

The group of Islamophobes who constantly target Muslim Americans included anti-Muslim writers such as Robert Spencer, David Horowitz, Tony Blankley, Daniel Pipes, and Steven Emerson, just to name a few. They were all intent on shutting down Muslim institutions that serviced the Muslim American community, and defended their civil liberties. I published several articles to expose their strategy, including Will the Far Right Succeed? Turning the War on Terror into a War on Islam (December 2005) and Islamophobia: A Call to Confronting a Creeping Disease (March 2007)

Contrary to Biedermann’s claims, I along with most contemporary Islamic scholars support religious freedom and oppose classical apostasy law. The support of American Muslim leaders and Islamic scholars for freedom of choice and opposition to apostasy was document through an online resource website titled Apostasy and Islam, that was put together and published in April 2007.

My views on freedom of religion, and my rejection of compulsion and imposition, are expounded in several articles and books I published, both in academic journals and newspapers. Yet I still find it disconcerting that several anti-Muslim voices attribute statement to me that cast me in a negative light and distort my original views. The quote used by Kyle Biedermann in his recent letter to Muslim leaders, is a case in point. 

The effort to distort my views is very troubling, because I have a clear position on the issue of religious freedom that has been articulated in many articles and statements I made over the last three decades. In all my writings, I have rejected apostasy rules advanced by few traditionalist authors, and I am clearly against the criminalization of any person who may decide to change his or her faith or religious affiliation. I do absolutely reject the penalization of apostasy advanced by several early Muslim jurists.

In fact, this quote in Biedermann’s poll is taken out of an article I published in the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences in 1985, and then republished in a monograph in 2001 titled Peace the Limits of War. The article was written to reject the Perpetual War Theory embraced by some classical scholar of Islam, and to show that the theory did not reflect Islam’s universal principles but the factual struggle between Byzantium and the Abbasid dynasty.  Contrary to the suggestion of Biedermann, the statement quoted asserts that death punishment cannot be justified on religious ground and is not applicable to people who peacefully embrace a different religious tradition.
In 2006, I published an article titled “The Politics and Morality of Apostasy,” in which I rejected the Afghan court’s decision to criminalize the conversion to Christianity of an Afghan national. I then argued that Islamic sources provide no legal punishment for religious conversion or for apostasy. Here is the conclusion of my article, in which I appealed to contemporary Muslim scholars to reject classical interpretation of Islamic sources on this issue:
 “Muslim scholars have the obligation to reconsider modern reality and reject any attempt to revive historical claims rooted in classical jurisprudence that are clearly at odd with Qur’anic principles and the Islamic spirit, and with modern society and international conventions and practices. It would be a tragedy, for both social peace in Muslim societies and world peace in an increasingly diverse global society, if religious communities embrace practices that limit freedom of religion, and adopt measures that rely on coercion to maintain the integrity of religious communities.”

My position on the apostasy controversy is clarified in Wikipedia bibliographical article. Here is the section of the article that addresses my position on this issue:
“Safi has not shied away from controversial issues, and has taken clear positions on hot questions, including the question of apostasy. He rejects efforts to implement traditional Sharia in modern times without considering the impact of historical social conditions on the promulgation of law in historical Muslim society. He, for instance, opposed the application of apostasy rules in modern Muslim society, and argued that a proper reading of Islamic sources would affirm religious freedom. Individuals, he insisted, should be able to accept or reject a particular faith on the basis of personal conviction, and that no amount of external pressure or compulsion should be permitted.”

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