Muslim Apostates claim Freedom of Religion

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 20 September 2007

This year’s commemoration in Europe of the truculent assaults on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon on September 11th 2001 was marked, not so much by the relatively tedious remembrance of the victims they made, but by several manifestations impugning Islam.

Unmistakably, the aftermath of the “9/11 attacks” has seen a surge in religious rhetoric. The Bush administration defends its belligerent politics as a moral crusade to bring “God-given” democracy to the world, provoking opposition that is not seldom cast in the phraseology of Jihad. This growing appeal of religious interpretations of geo-politics, has, among other things, called forth inimical scrutiny of Islam, often set to prove its incompatibility with democracy and other allegedly Western values.
This, of course, brings to mind the much invoked hypothesis of the “clash of civilisations” as it was coined by Samuel Huntington. Proponents of this idea state that, the world being divided in some six cultural blocks among which opposition is unavoidable, clashes between the western and Muslim bloc are imminent. The assumptions of this theory, most notably the existence of something like monolithical cultural blocks, may have been trashed to the point of rendering it completely unsubstantial – see for instance Edward Said’s authoritative “The Clash of Definitions– its simplicity seems to have propelled it to the status of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thus, on September 11th this year, a host of organisations planned a manifestation against the “Islamisation of Europe” in Brussels. Taken at face-value, this initiative expresses a legitimate – although not necessarily urgent – concern. Nonetheless, it exemplifies the identity-, culture- or civilisation-based analyses in which more and more people seem to seek refuge. It equally illustrates the extreme prudence these monolithical interpretations call for. Unsurprising in this xenophobia-ridden continent, the initiative, taken by right-wing organisations and Christian integrists, was soon to be captured by outrightly racist or fascist organisations and parties – to the extent that Udo Ulfkotte, the original initiator, resigned from the idea and accepted the eventual banning of this march.

A second event, however, is much more deserving of our attention. On the same day, ex-Muslim organisations from several European countries united in The Hague (the Netherlands) to assist at the official launch of the Dutch Committee of ex-Muslims (only its support group has a website) and issued a joint statement to call for Tolerance and Freedom against Islamic oppression.
This launch followed months of commotion around the protagonist of this committee, Ehsan Jami who was molested following an interview in which he stated that, if judged by current standards, the Prophet would be convicted of crimes against humanity. Striking enough, the Dutch social-democratic party refused to back its member on the ground that his uttering was insulting and disrespectful towards Muslims. Although not being at the heart of the matter, this fact sparked of an enduring societal debate on freedom of religion, tolerance and the acceptance of religious rules (in a multicultural society), such as the Islamic rule interdicting apostasys.
Indeed, Islam does not allow stepping out of the religion. One who leaves the Umma is declared an outlaw and calls upon him capital punishment. To redress this unenviable condition, ex-Muslims in Great Britain, in Germany and other countries have set up groups of like-minded. These groups simultaneously seek to gain attention for their position and promote freedom of religion.
On their and other websites (another example is Apostates of Islam) discussions of the grounds on which they left Islam are oft-discussed. At least two jump to the eye. On the one hand, the inconsistencies to be found in the Quran and Hadith or in Islam in general, on the other hand, the prescriptions and restrictions that come with observance of this religion. Therefore, the outcome of their apostasy is not necessarily atheism but can just as well be another religion. This, however, can only strengthen their claim for freedom of religion. The forums that are linked to these website breathe the spirit of open discussion that must ensue from this freedom.

So, whereas the participants in the first event would swear by virulent attacks on the Islam as such, oft-times founded in reactionary Christianity and surrounded by stench of extreme right racism, the second event seems to highlight a much more promising and interesting evolution. Whilst there is a tendency to call for an Enlightenment in Islam, oft-times this is based on a superfluous observation of the tensions that result from the confrontation between several – to use the word – civilisations. The uninformed stressing of this conflict simply overlooks developments that are actually happening. Indeed, the confrontation of centuries-old systems of beliefs such as Islam and nowadays lifeworlds can only result in the revelation of discrepancies. The chasms that result from this confrontation seem to become breeding grounds for fertile, endogenous free-thinkers’ movements, the breadth of which can be measured by several internet forums.

Joris Verschueren

* A free but abridged version of this article can be found here (external link). A free but abridged version in German can be found here (external link).

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