Politics & Policy

Cold Comfort On Islam and Apostasy

No one who's actually read the Afghan constitution should be surprised by the Abdul Rahman case.

Here’s a riddle: What begins with words “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” a formal Islamic salutation also commonly used by militants in their warnings, fatwas, and claims of responsibility regarding terrorist acts?

What extols the virtues of “rightful jehad” (also known as jihad) in its very first sentence?

What in its first article declares its sovereignty to be an “Islamic Republic,” and in its second installs Islam as the official “religion of the state”?

What, in its third article announces to the world that, within the territory it governs, “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam”?

What sets the national calendar by Mohammed’s historic journeys, requires the promotion of religious education, and even mandates that its national anthem must contain the battle cry “Allahu Akbar” (God is great!), most familiar to Westerners in recent times as the triumphant invocation of terrorists doing their dirty work?

What requires that same battle cry to be grafted onto its national flag, along with “the sacred phrase of ‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet’”?

What, in the formation of families and upbringing of children, requires the “elimination of traditions contrary to the principles of [the] sacred religion of Islam”?

What requires the nation’s president to be a Muslim, and to swear to Allah, at the beginning of the oath of office, “to obey and safeguard the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam”? What requires the same oath of all public ministers?

What permits its judges to be schooled in Islamic jurisprudence (in lieu of any civil legal training) and requires that, upon assuming their offices, those judges take an oath “to support justice and righteousness in accord with the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam”?

What permits its highest court, even if predominantly comprised of judges trained in Islamic law, to interpret for all departments of government the meaning of any law or treaty?

What requires, when no other law directly applies to a question, that the courts decide it “in accord with the Hanafi jurisprudence” (Hanafi being one of the four major schools of Sunni Islamic law), with the lone exception that Shia Islamic principles can be applied in legal cases exclusively involving Shiite Muslims?

What permits any of its terms to be altered with the sole exception that: “The provisions of adherence to the fundamentals of the sacred religion of Islam and the regime of the Islamic Republic cannot be amended”?

The answer, which will come as no surprise to followers of the Abdul Rahman apostasy trial in Kabul, is the Afghan constitution. This is the celebrated foundational law which came into force on January 4, 2004, to the ringing praises of Zalmay Khalilzad, then the American ambassador under whose kneading the drafting process was completed.

Ambassador Khalilzad–who would later bring this same magic touch to Iraq–cooed at the time that the new constitution “set[] forth parallel commitments to Islam and to human rights.” This was double-edged diplo-speak. If by “parallel,” Khalilzad meant there were some sonorous human-rights tropes in the document, that was surely true–enough to camouflage, at least for a while, the embarrassing fact that the Taliban itself could have ruled without much difficulty under the constitution’s terms. But if one takes “parallel” as it is normally understood–i.e., as connoting a sense of rough equality running along two related tracks–the State Department was deluding itself. Or deluding the rest of us.

Thus it was dizzying to hear of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s plea to Afghan President Hamid Kharzai that, as Fox News reported last week, “she hope[d] Afghanistan would uphold in its constitution in considering Rahman’s case.” The Orwellian approach was echoed by her spokesman, Sean McCormack, who insisted that “freedom of worship [and] freedom of expression … are bedrock principles of democracy … that are enshrined in the Afghan constitution[.]…”

A much different reality could not escape any sensible person who actually takes the time to read the Afghan constitution. The State Department is midwife of a document fully reflective of a country that is 98-percent Muslim and in which the Taliban and al Qaeda remain forces to be reckoned with. It is a pervasively Islamic evergreen with a few shiny human-rights ornaments attached–the latter giving “democracy project” obsessives some cover for the inevitability that astonished Americans would one day come-a-callin’ to ask how, in the midst of our war against Muslim extremists, the United States could have abided the installation of Islam and its draconian law as ultimate authority in a country we had given American lives to liberate.

The ongoing blather about freedom of this and freedom of that is remarkable naiveté. The Afghan constitution is categorical that Islamic law will apply to any matter in which there is not another directly applicable law. And, by the constitution’s own terms, there can be no contrary laws in any event because “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.”

It is precious to listen to Secretary Rice now pine about how bedrock Islamic tenets–like the well-known death penalty for what, in Muslim countries, is the well-known “crime” of apostasy–were somehow balanced by lip-service nods to freedom of religion. Rice–in monotonous chorus with her top ambassador to the Muslim world, Karen Hughes, and, for that matter, the president himself–has been telling anyone who would listen that Islam is the “religion of love and peace.”

That is to say, Islam is fine and dandy just the way it is. No need for change. No need for counter-weight injunctions about religious liberty. After all, according to the administration, Islam was already ur-tolerant long before there was a new Afghanistan. How could Rice now claim that the cant about civil liberties in the constitution was meant to change anything when everything was already perfect?

Those human-rights pieties in the constitution are nothing but garland. If they were deemed to be anything else, if they were now construed to alter Islamic law in a fundamental way, that could mean only one thing: that everything the administration has said since 9/11 about the peace, love, and tolerant incandescence of Islam has been flat-out jive.

The Koran’s sura 4:89 declares: “They would have you disbelieve as they themselves have disbelieved, so that you may all be alike. Do not befriend them until they have fled their homes for the cause of Allah. If they desert you, seize them and put them to death wherever you find them. Look for neither friends nor helpers among them.” (Emphasis added.) Koranic passages are taken by believers to be the words of God Himself.

To the extent there is interpretive gloss on these scriptures, most authoritative are the Hadiths–the traditions and admonitions of Mohammed and his companions. According to Abdullah Ibn Abbas, Mohammed’s cousin and among the most influential educators in both Sunni and Shiite traditions, the prophet’s instructions in this regard were quite clear: “Kill him who changes his religion.” Indeed, as Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer recounted in The Myth of Islamic Tolerance, the only real argument in Islam about apostasy pertains to the nature of the penalty–beheading or some different method. There is no credible dispute about whether it is a high crime or whether death is an appropriate sentence.

Nor is it plausible to suggest that we’ve just suddenly awakened to this situation. For example, in Egypt, which gets about $2 billion a year in American taxpayer largesse, apostasy remains a capital crime. In Kuwait, whose constitution also “guarantees” religious freedom, people are nonetheless arrested and tried under the sharia for apostasy. It is of a piece with standards in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and among America’s other Muslim “friends,” which commonly and brutally repress “blasphemy” against Islam while severely discouraging (even as they nominally “permit”) the practice of other religions.

Such are “the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam” which, according to Afghanistan’s new constitution, no law can defy.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.


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