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.

Islamic Reformation?

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I’ve read and heard several commentators lately, either advocating an islamic version of the Christian Reformation or arguing that such an event has already happened and the results are not pretty.

Former Australian PM Tony Abbott leads the advocacy pack, implying that a reformation would be a modernising influence, moving Islam away from the beliefs and practices that make it barbaric in many people’s eyes.  I don’t want to put words into Mr Abbott’s mouth, but I assume he would share my hope that modernisation would do away with animal sacrifice, pointless dietary rules, punitive mutilation, oppression of women, suppression of other beliefs, contempt for infidels, and capital punishment of individuals categorised as blasphemers, apostates and heretics.

Waleed Aly, a young Australian Muslim who has become my second favourite radio journalist, argues that “Islam’s own version of the Reformation already occurred in the 18th century” and led to Wahhabism, a form of Sunni Islam which is enforced in Saudi Arabia and is the philosophical platform for al-Qaeda, DAESH and other extremist organisations.

Paul Monk disagrees with Waleed Aly in many things but agrees with him in this.  I commend his article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The UK’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, also agrees. In a recent interview on Australian radio he pointed out that the Christian Reformation was a reaction against corruption in the Catholic Church.  The reformers wanted to return to true Christian values.  This is how Md ibn Abd al-Wahhab saw his 18th century reformation: a return to true Islamic values.

It is as erroneous as it is understandable that we tend to equate ‘reform’ with ‘improvement’, ‘progress’ and ‘becoming more like us’.