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Death to Apostates: Not a Perversion of Islam, but Islam
The case of Said Musa shows why we cannot graft democracy onto Islamic societies.


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Andrew C. McCarthy

On NRO Friday, Paul Marshall lamented the Obama administration’s fecklessness, in particular the president’s appalling silence in the face of the death sentence Said Musa may suffer for the crime of converting to Christianity. This is in Afghanistan, the nation for which our troops are fighting and dying — not to defeat our enemies, but to prop up the Islamic “democracy” we have spent a decade trying to forge at a cost of billions.

This shameful episode (and the certain recurrence of it) perfectly illustrates the folly of Islamic nation-building. The stubborn fact is that we have asked for just these sorts of atrocious outcomes. Ever since 2003, when the thrust of the War On Terror stopped being the defeat of America’s enemies and decisively shifted to nation-building, we have insisted — against history, law, language, and logic — that Islamic culture is perfectly compatible with and hospitable to Western-style democracy. It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.

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This is not the first time an apostate in the new American-made Afghanistan has confronted the very real possibility of being put to death by the state. In 2006, a Christian convert named Abdul Rahman was tried for apostasy. The episode prompted a groundswell of international criticism. In the end, Abdul Rahman was whisked out of the country before his execution could be carried out. A fig leaf was placed over the mess: The prospect of execution had been rendered unjust by the (perfectly sane) defendant’s purported mental illness — after all, who in his right mind would convert from Islam?  His life was spared, but the Afghans never backed down from their insistence that a Muslim’s renunciation of Islam is a capital offense and that death is the mandated sentence.

They are right. Under the construction of sharia adopted by the Afghan constitution (namely Hanafi, one of Islam’s classical schools of jurisprudence), apostasy is the gravest offense a Muslim can commit. It is considered treason from the Muslim ummah. The penalty for that is death.

This is the dictate of Mohammed himself. One relevant hadith (from the authoritative Bukhari collection, No. 9.83.17) quotes the prophet as follows: “A Muslim . . . may not be killed except for three reasons: as punishment for murder, for adultery, or for apostasy.” It is true that the hadith says “may,” not “must,” and there is in fact some squabbling among sharia scholars about whether ostracism could be a sufficient sentence, at least if the apostasy is kept secret. Alas, the “may” hadith is not the prophet’s only directive on the matter. There is also No. 9.84.57: “Whoever changes his Islamic religion, then kill him.” That is fairly clear, wouldn’t you say? And as a result, mainstream Islamic scholarship holds that apostasy, certainly once it is publicly revealed, warrants the death penalty.

Having hailed the Afghan constitution as the start of a democratic tsunami, the startled Bush administration made all the predictable arguments against Abdul Rahman’s apostasy prosecution. Diplomats and nation-building enthusiasts pointed in panic at the vague, lofty language injected into the Afghan constitution to obscure Islamic law’s harsh reality — spoons full of sugar that had helped the sharia go down. The constitution assures religious freedom, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice maintained. It cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and even specifies that non-Muslims are free to perform their religious rites. 

Read the fine print. It actually qualifies that all purported guarantees of personal and religious liberty are subject to Islamic law and Afghanistan’s commitment to being an Islamic state. We were supposed to celebrate this, just as the State Department did, because Islam is the “religion of peace” whose principles are just like ours — that’s why it was so ready for democracy.

It wasn’t so. Sharia is very different from Western law, and it couldn’t care less what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has to say on the matter of apostasy. Nor do the authoritative scholars at al-Azhar University in Cairo give a hoot that their straightforward interpretation of sharia’s apostasy principles upsets would-be Muslim reformers like Zuhdi Jasser. We may look at Dr. Jasser as a hero — I do — but at al-Azhar, the sharia scholars would point out that he is merely a doctor of medicine, not of Islamic jurisprudence.

The constitution that the State Department bragged about helping the new Afghan “democracy” draft established Islam as the state religion and installed sharia as a principal source of law. That constitution therefore fully supports the state killing of apostates. Case closed.

The purpose of real democracy, meaning Western republican democracy, is to promote individual liberty, the engine of human prosperity. No nation that establishes a state religion, installs its totalitarian legal code, and hence denies its citizens freedom of conscience, can ever be a democracy — no matter how many “free” elections it holds. Afghanistan is not a democracy. It is an Islamic sharia state.



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