Asylum for Apostates

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We just got the news that Rahal al-Qunun has been granted asylum in Canada. Indeed, the 18-year-old Saudi woman is already on her way to her new home.

Rahal al-Qunun

Most people applaud her courageous escape from an oppressive regime, under which the renunciation of Islam (apostasy) is punishable by death. One hopes that by her action she will embolden other women to rebel.

One can also feel sympathy for her family, who will surely be condemned for letting this happen while they were on holiday in Kuwait; and for Canadian authorities who will be responsible for protecting Rahal from vengeful attacks by Muslims who consider death a necessary punishment for apostasy.

How likely are such attacks? According to the Independent newspaper there are twelve Muslim-majority countries in which apostasy carries the death penalty. Scholars are divided over this issue. As often happens where religious belief is based on a very old book, texts can be cited to support any point of view; and because the Quran has been supplemented by a body of writings known as the Hadith (meaning ‘tradition’) Islam is especially vulnerable to this phenomenon.

Asia Bibi

But judging by the scale of violent outrage when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan, was acquitted of a charge of blasphemy against Islam, views that most non-Muslims would consider extreme are not necessarily rare. (Blasphemy is a capital offence in Pakistan, but apostasy is not.)

Given that a) most people in the world would rather live in Western Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand than in their own countries, and b) some of the nastiest countries to live in have Muslim-majority populations, should we not expect a blossoming of apostasy in the expectation that it will confer immediate refugee status and resettlement somewhere nice?

Muslim readers are especially welcome to comment on this post. I claim no theological expertise.

Poster Children

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The photo of a drowned 3-year-old lying face-down on a Turkish beach suddenly became visual shorthand for the miserable situation in Syria and the desperation of people seeking refuge.

It is an admirable human trait that our sympathy is aroused by the sight of a child in distress. Indeed, if we did not react that way very few children would make it into adulthood. But I am uneasy about the kneejerk-ism that such sympathy provokes. Complex issues should be addressed thoughtfully and with full understanding of causes and effects.

At the moment nothing is more complex than the tangle of superstition, competition and ancient hatred that characterises the Arab world. I want my government and other governments to behave rationally. I do not want them to be pressured by compassionate electors to take heart-warming, headline-grabbing decisions that buy short-term popularity at the expense of actions that could, perhaps, lead to long-term solutions.