News Round Up (31 May 2008)

I have just returned from a week in China following several days in Washington DC. I will write a bit about this soon. First a bit of a round up to catch up.

I want to thank Alex and Qifa Nabki for holding the fort so well while I was traveling. Their postings and the discussions they have generated have been fascinating. Thanks guys.

Disappointing Column
Time magazine
May 30, 2008
Posted by Joe Klein 

David Brooks has been on a roll lately, column after column filled with smart, independent thinking. Not today. Using the guise of "realism," Brooks essentially sings from the neoconservative hymnal on the problems the next President will face in dealing with Iran. Now, no one thinks this will be easy–for the reasons I described in my print column last week. But it is not impossible. Indeed, there was real cooperation between the U.S. and Iran when it came to removing the Taliban from power in 2001….. 

…. One way to get Iran to think twice about hegemony is to peel Syria away from its close, and uncomfortable–if you talk to Syrian officials–alliance with Iran. Brooks is just wrong about this:

You’ll spend hours, as the Bush administration has, wondering whether Syria’s Bashar al-Assad can be turned in a more Western direction. Nobody can make an educated guess about that because no outsider understands Assad’s mind.

The real why the Administration is "wondering" so much is that it foolishly decided to stop talking to Assad after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in early 2006. As one prominent Republican foreign policy expert told me, "It's the stupidest [flaming] thing I've ever seen in American diplomacy." Assad has sent signals far and wide, to all comers–including me, in a 2005 interview–that he wants to rejoin the community of nations.

In the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah, Syria sent several positive signs–first, it lifted all visa requirements for U.S. citizens trapped in Lebanon. Then, it contacted the State Department and offered to provide a motorcade of buses to evacuate U.S. citizens from Beirut and bring them to Damascus–a two-hour ride. There was no State Department response (indeed, the State Department never responded to my inquiries about this Syrian initiative). "Do you people really think that we want to be this close to the Iranians?" A prominent Syrian official asked me at the time. "We're trying to send you a signal."

The Bush Administration has been stone blind to signals from those the President, an international infant, considers to be bad guys. In fact, it is impossible to say just what sort of situation the next President will face until the Bush cancer is excised from the White House and a new team begins to explore the middle east for the diplomatic possibilities that may well have been ignored, quashed and generally stomped on by this sad, overmatched Administration.

Iran-Syria sign defence pact … "So much for 'flipping' Syria" (Via "friday-lunch-club")… in AFP, here

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran and its close ally Syria have signed a new defence cooperation pact, Iranian media reported on Wednesday, just a week after news broke that Israel had begun indirect peace talks with Damascus.

"The two countries pledge their mutual support regarding territorial independence and integrity in terms of international and regional authorities," the state-run IRNA news agency reported….

The United States, which has forces in Iraq and several oil-rich Gulf monarchies, has said it hopes the revival of the Israel-Syria peace track could help isolate archfoe Iran. Syria has however rejected an Israeli demand that it breaks its three-decade alliance with Iran and end support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups as a condition for progress in the talks.

Barak Ravid in Haaretz, here (Via "friday-lunch-club")

"….Last week, Israel's ambassadors in key European capitals received a classified telegram pointing out that the recent contacts by leading European figures are the first signs of the breakdown of Syria's isolation.

Haaretz received a copy of the content of the telegram, which was authored by the deputy head of the Western Europe division at the Foreign Ministry, Rafi Barak. The note also included instructions for diplomatic activities in those capitals.

"It must be explained to the Europeans that the negotiations have still not begun and therefore they must be careful and measured in contacts vis a vis the Syrians," the note read.

Barak added in the note that the Israeli diplomats should ask the Europeans to treat Syrian requests carefully, "until we can tell if they are serious [in their intentions]." "The Europeans need to be reminded that Syria continues to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah, supports Hamas and Islamic Jihad and is not disengaging from Iran. All these are issues of great concern for Israel, and they are still on the table, unresolved."

Assad accuses the Saudis of 'conspiring' to topple his regime … In Al Akhbar, here (In Arabic)

In L'Orient Le Jour, here. "Jeffrey Feltman offered me the presidency on condition that I break my understanding with Hizbullah …" Michel Aoun with Scarlett HADDAD.

Jerusalem's Talks With Damascus Highlight Tensions
By JAY SOLOMON in the Wall Street Journal
May 23, 2008

The Israelis "don't seem to understand that our interests and their interests in Lebanon aren't aligned," one senior U.S official working on the Middle East said. "In the short-term, the Israelis want to remove a threat on their border. But they don't care about" the fate of Lebanon's government. The State Department's point man on the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, said widening the Middle East peace dialog could be a "good thing" for the region. But he also stressed that Washington has "reservations about the foreign-policy behavior of Syria, and its internal politics as well."

Stuck in Syria, With No way Home 
By Jonathan Finer and Jennifer Rikoski
Washington Post, Sunday, June 1, 2008; Page B02

DAMASCUS: On our last day in Syria, our interpreter, Sameer, asked us a favor.

"Please tell my brother not to go back to Baghdad," he said. "He'll be killed."

Sameer, 29, had spent 17 months as a translator for the U.S. Army in his native Iraq before fleeing the country two years ago after someone nailed a death threat to his family's door. He is in the final stages of a Byzantine process that we hope will lead to his resettlement in Texas. But his older brother, Duried, has been waiting for an interview with the international agencies that determine Iraqi refugees' fates. He is running out of patience, hope and money.

"I can survive here maybe three more months," Duried later told us over tea in Sameer's small apartment, echoing a sentiment we heard from dozens of Iraqis in Syria. "After that, I cannot even pay rent. Honestly, what choice do I have?"

Damascus is the epicenter of the Middle East's gravest humanitarian disaster since the Palestinian refugee crisis of 1948. We traveled there this spring to learn more about the plight of Iraqi refugees and the international community's tepid response. Unlike its neighbors, who have imposed strict visa requirements, Syria has done little to discourage the flow of migrants across its border and hosts an estimated 1.4 million Iraqis — almost two-thirds of the post-invasion diaspora. With no legal status or right to work, their prospects are bleak. The wealthy and well-connected found their way to richer countries, and Syria's dysfunctional relations with the West have hamstrung efforts to provide assistance. ….

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which screens Iraqis selected for resettlement in the United States, is also woefully shorthanded. For months, the Syrian government refused to grant DHS the necessary entry visas for its staff, complaining that the Americans planned to resettle only Iraqis who "collaborated" with the war effort. In November, Syria finally admitted a 10-person DHS team — on the condition that all refugees first go through UNHCR, keeping the process painfully slow. Only 974 Iraqi refugees entered the United States in April, according to the State Department — well short of the pace required to meet this year's target.

When he announced a massive relief and resettlement effort for Iraqi Kurds in 1991, the first President Bush called such a project part of the "American tradition" to "do everything in our power to save innocent life." Today, his son's near silence stands in stark contrast — fueled, it seems, by a desire to avoid acknowledging the implication that Iraq is still many years from stability. …

Half Full or Half Empty: Assessing Prospects for Peace in Lebanon
By Alistair Harris, May 2008
USIPeace Briefing

On the surface, peace has broken out in Lebanon, bringing to an end the 18-month political impasse between the governing March 14th coalition and opposition March 8th parties. Following a week of sectarian violence in Beirut, Tripoli and the Chouf mountains—the worst since the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in 1990—the opposing sides agreed to undertake talks in Qatar to resolve their longstanding political stalemate. The Qatari-sponsored Doha Accord that broke the logjam paved the way for the May 25 election of former Army Commander Michel Suleiman as a consensus president, to be closely followed by the formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a revised election law. The re-invigoration of Lebanon’s political institutions, the opening of parliament and ending of the presidential vacuum are welcome signs of a return to what passes for normalcy among Lebanon’s confessional elites; they are not however a return to the status quo ante. For many months Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa, like French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, had tried to cajole the Lebanese belligerents into a compromise deal based on the much-vaunted concept of "no victor, no vanquished". These efforts failed. The fact that Doha succeeded where others did not is a clear indicator that there were indeed winners and losers. Therein lies the potential for future conflict.
The Opposition’s Long Game

New Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, center, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, right, and Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, at the Presidential palace. (AP Photo)

The Hezbollah-led opposition has played a masterful hand. With the Doha Accord-stipulated cabinet division of 16 ministers for the government, 11 for the opposition and 3 selected by the president, Hezbollah has achieved its goal of securing a veto on cabinet decisions by ensuring it can use its "blocking third" to quash decisions with which it disagrees. This, coupled with the violent events that erupted on May 7, 2008 and no mention of Hezbollah’s weapons in the Doha Accord, confirm that there will be no discussion of disarming Hezbollah’s resistance fighters in the immediate future.

There have been claims that the dramatic takeover of West Beirut by the opposition forces of Hezbollah, Amal and the allied Syrian Socialist National Party was a clever trap set by March 14th and their U.S. and Sunni allies. According to this argument, by crossing the red line of using their weapons against fellow citizens, the Hezbollah-led resistance has been de-legitimized in the eyes of the Lebanese. Yet whether this logic holds depends on very differing perspectives. Through its actions Hezbollah has confirmed that it is not only the pre-eminent armed force in Lebanon, capable of routing the amateurish fighters of Saad Hariri’s Al-Moustaqbal (“The Future") movement in a matter of hours, but also that it is equally capable of increasing its political share at the cabinet table. While Hezbollah’s impressive military arsenal remains intact and evidently unassailable militarily, it has also ensured sufficient political capital to veto any Lebanese government decision. Set against these realities, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statement that the Hezbollah militia had been weakened by recent events looks decidedly optimistic…..

Tower of Babble Rabble

Former White House Press secretary Scott McClellan is excoriated for stating the obvious….

….Feith also had a big bone to pick with President Bush. His recently published memoir — "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism" — charges Bush with confusing and conflicting signals following the embarrassment of not finding any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush then focused "almost exclusively on the larger aim of promoting democracy." This new pitch, says Feith in a Wall Street Journal op-ed adaptation of his book, "compounded the damage to the president's credibility, (as he was seen) distancing himself from the case he had made for removing (Saddam) from power."

 Feith points out that, beginning with his first major Iraq speech before the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, Bush delivered nine major Iraq talks with 14 paragraphs per speech on Saddam's record as an enemy, aggressor, tyrant and imminent danger, and only three paragraphs on promoting Iraqi democracy. But from September 2003 to September 2004, Feith says Bush gave 15 major speeches with an average of 11 paragraphs per talk on democracy.

 "The stunning change," Feith added, "appeared to confirm his critics' argument that the security rationale for the war was at best an error, and at worst a lie."

For Israelis, Golan is home, not a bargaining chip
The strategic plateau is a linchpin in recently renewed Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
By Joshua Mitnick | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the May 30, 2008 edition

In the world's eyes, this grassy, barren plateau is no different from the West Bank and Gaza Strip: territories occupied by Israel that should be relinquished in return for normal relations with Arab states. Captured from Syria in 1967, the Golan Heights is the linchpin for recently renewed Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

But to Israelis, the Golan is a peaceful part of their country, even a popular vacation spot. A movie at the "Golan Magic" tourist center in this Jewish settlement shows emerald grazing fields rather than the minefields left from war. The audience is sprayed with mist as a preview of waterfall hikes in the Golan's lush canyons.

"Even more than the West Bank, people have grown up thinking of the Golan as part of Israel," says Gershom Gorenberg, author of "The Accidental Empire," a book about the Jewish settler movement. "It's not dangerous to live there…. The whole set of images associated with the West Bank is not there."

Unlike the West Bank or Gaza Strip

Though the world considers the 32 Israeli communities in these highlands illegal settlements, the Golan occupies a different place in Israel's national psyche than the West Bank does. Israelis visit the Golan more than in the West Bank and even Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, which Israelis claim as their capital.

Now that the Golan is back on the bargaining table, Israeli residents there bristle at being compared with the hard-line religious-nationalist settlers of the West Bank and of the former Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip. ….

Comments (4)

Orientalista said:

Though someone told me about it, I had to go online to see the al-akhbar article because there were no alAkhbar at my usual newstand. I heard that Thursday’s Akhbar was stopped from being distributed in Syria because of the article. Any one heard anything about this?

June 1st, 2008, 10:10 am


George Y. Krikorian said:

What happened to MIDEAST-MEMO (Victorino de la Vega)?
His latest inputs are dated June-August 2007.
He used to be very interesting to read.
Is he sick, does he have any illness: why stop writing without any explanation?!
Josh, I guess you should know him and could have your explanation for that.

June 1st, 2008, 12:29 pm


wizart said:


Nice to see you back from China.

Ni Ha Ma?:)….ni ha inshalla.

The Akhbar news about Assad/Saudi accusations sound very familiar although one should ask why this week when peace talks are set to start? Arab-Iranian relationship building promo doesn’t hurt.


I just noticed you argued against the recent NYT NEOCON who was trying to smear Obama by accusing him of apostasy and painted him as a traitor to Islam and a potential national risk if elected..!

There’s also a strong religious defense about that on ISNA’s site.

BTW nice name for a fun blog you seem to have there..

Apostasy and Religious Freedom

The issue of apostasy under Islamic Law (shari’ah), brought recently to public attention in the widely publicized case of the conversion of an Afghan citizen, raises troubling questions regarding freedom of religion and interfaith relations. The Afghan State’s prosecution of an Afghan man who converted to Christianity in 1990 while working for a Christian non-governmental raises in the mind of many the question of the compatibility of Islam with plural democracy and freedom of religion. Although the state court dropped the case under intense outside pressure, the compatibility issue has not been resolved as the judge invoked insanity as the basis for dismissing the case.

The case was presented as an example of conflict between Islam and democratic governance, but in many respects the case is rooted in, and influenced by, the forced secularization of Muslim society, and the absence of free debate under authoritarian regimes that currently dominate much of the Muslim world.

The issue of apostasy, like many other issues stemming from the application of shari’ah in modern society, is rooted more in the sociopolitical conditions of contemporary Muslim societies than in Islamic values and principles. More particularly, it is rooted in the incomplete transition from traditional to modern sociopolitical organization. It is rooted in the decision of many post-colonial Muslim countries to abandon traditional legal codes informed by Islamic law (shari’ah), in favor of European legal codes developed to suit modern European societies. The new laws where enforced by state elites without any public debate, and with little attention for the need to root legal codes in public morality.

Islam is the foundation of moral commitments for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, and is increasingly becoming the source of legitimacy for state power and law. Yet the post-colonial state in Muslim societies has done little to encourage debate in the area of Islamic law. The increased interest in adopting legal codes based in Islamic values, leaves the majority of Muslims with outdated legal codes that were intended for societies with markedly different social and political organizations and cultures.

The apostasy controversy highlights the importance of allowing Islamic reformers more say in public debate about political and legal reforms, and demonstrates the extent to which world powers undercut cultural and religious reforms by backing autocratic regimes that crack down on Muslim reformers in the name of combating political Islam. To legitimize their political rule and enlist the support of religious voices, autocratic rulers often align themselves with traditional religious scholars, who embrace a literalist understanding of shari’ah and perpetuate rigid and anti-reform agenda in Muslim societies.

Traditionalist scholars have long embraced classical positions on apostasy that consider the rejection of Islam as a capital crime, punishable by death. This uncritical embrace is at the heart of the drama that was played in the case of the Afghan convert to Christianity, and which will more likely be repeated until the debate about shari’ah reform and its relevance to state and civil law is examined and elaborated by authentic Muslim voices.

Tradition and Traditionalism

At the heart of the apparent conflict between Islamic and democratic traditions is a static and stagnant approach to understanding Islamic law. The conflict stems mainly from a literalist understanding of the revelatory sources, i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah (the Prophet tradition), and the body of Islamic jurisprudence derived from them through the exercise of juristic reasoning. The latter includes customary traditions (‘urf) incorporated by jurists into the body of Islamic Law, as well as the various inferential tools used to derive the rules of Islamic jurisprudence from their sources, such as analogy (qiyas), pubic interest (maslaha mursalah), and community consensus (ijma). With the marginalization of Islamic juristic learning and the restriction of public debate on Islamic Law by the state, and the traditionalist jurists allied with it, a literalist approach of Islamic law has become rampant in many Muslim societies.

Under such climate, the most rigid and literalist interpretations of Islamic sources prevail, while enlightened and reformist views are suppressed and marginalized. The voices of many enlightened contemporary scholars such as those of Rashid al-Ghanoushi, Hassan al-Turabi, Jawdat Said, and others, who reject the literalist interpretation of the Islamic sources are pushed to the side, as these individuals have been persecuted for taking critical positions against the authoritarian regimes that rule their societies.

The Qur’an is Clear on Religious Freedom

There is ample evidence in the Qur’an that individuals should be able to accept or reject a particular faith on the basis of personal conviction, and that no amount of external pressure or compulsion should be permitted: “No compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error.”(2:256) “If it had been the Lord’s will, they would have believed – All who are on earth! Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!” (10:99)

By emphasizing people’s right to freely follow their conviction, the Qur’an reiterates a long standing position, which it traces back to one of the earliest known Prophets, Noah: “He [Noah] said: O my people! See if I have a clear sign from my Lord, and that he has sent mercy unto me, but that the mercy has been obscured from your sight? Shall we compel you to accept it when you are averse to it!” (11:28).

The message of freedom of belief and conviction, and the call to religious tolerance is reiterated time and again through various Prophets, as it is quite apparent in the message of Prophet Shuaib to his people: “And if there is a party among you that believes in the message with which I have been sent, and a party which does not believe, hold yourselves in patience until Allah does decide between us: for He is the best to decide.” When Shuaib’s people threatened him with expulsion, he protested strongly citing his freedom to choose his faith: “The leaders, the arrogant party among his people, said: O Shuaib! We shall certainly drive you out of our city, and those who believe with you, or else you shall have to return to our ways and religion. He said: “What! Even though we do not wish to do so.”(7:86-7).

Not only does the Qur’an recognize the individual’s right to freedom of conviction, but it also recognizes his/her moral freedom to act on the basis of their conviction: “Say: O my people! Do whatever you may: I will do (my part). But soon will you know on whom an anguish of ignoring shall be visited, and on whom descends an anguish that abide”(39: 39-40). “Say: Everyone acts according to his own disposition: But your Lord knows best who it is that is best guided on the way.” (17:84).

The principle that the larger community has no right to interfere in one’s choices of faith and conviction can be seen, further, in the fact that the Qur’an emphasizes that the individual is accountable for the moral choices he or she makes in this life to their Creator alone: “O you who believe! Guard your own souls: If you follow (right) guidance, no hurt can come to you from those who stray. The goal of you all is God: It is He that will show you the truth of all that you do.” (5:105). “So if they dispute with you, say: I have submitted my whole self to God and so have those who follow me. And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: Do you (also) submit yourselves? If they do, they are in right guidance. But if they turn back, your duty is to convey the message; and in God’s sight are (all) His servants.”(3:20)

Indeed, one cannot find in the Qur’an any support for the apostasy (ridda) penalty. The Qur’an makes two references to ridda: “Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you turn back (commit ridda) from their faith and die in that state of unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life; and in the hereafter they will be companions of the fire and will abide therein.”(2:217). “O you who believe! If any from among you turn back (commits ridda) from his/her faith, soon will God produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him — humble with the believers mighty against the disbelievers, thriving in the way of God, and never afraid of the reproaches of detractors. That is the grace of God, he bestows on whom He please; and God encompasses all and he knows all things.” (5:54).

In both cases the Qur’an does not specify any physical punishment here and now, let alone a death penalty. The Qur’an rather warns those who renounce their faith of disgrace and ill-fate. To the contrary, the Qur’an provides direct evidenc that ridda is not punishable by death: “Those who believe then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve and then increase in their disbelief – God will never forgive them nor guide them to the path.” (4:137) Obviously, a death penalty would not permit repeated conversion from and to Islam.

Faulty Reasoning and Selective Reading

Yet despite of the Qur’anic emphasis on freedom of conviction and moral autonomy, many classical jurists contend that a person who renounces Islam or converts to another religion commits a crime of ridda (apostasy) punishable by death. However, because the Qur’an is unequivocal in supporting religious freedom, classical jurists relied, in advocating death penalty for ridda (renouncing Islam), on two hadiths (Prophetic statements), and the precedent of the Muslims fighting against Arab apostates under the leadership of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph. Although the two hadiths are reported in Bukhari and are considered authentic, they are both shaky and do not stand to close scrutiny: “Kill whoever changes his religion”, and “Three acts permit the taking of a person’s life: a soul for a soul, the adultery of a married man, and renouncing religion while severing ties with the community”.

Now both hadith statements cannot stand as credible evidence because they contravene numerous Qur’anic evidence. According to most established juristic schools, a hadith can limit the application of a general Qur’anic statement, but can never negate it.[4] In addition, the hadiths even contradict the practices of the Prophet who reportedly pardoned Muslims who committed ridda. One well-known example is that of Abdullah bin Sa‘d who was pardoned after Osman bin Affan pleaded on his behalf. Ibn Hisham narrated in his Sirah that the Prophet pardoned the people of Quraysh after the Muslims entered Makkah victorious in the eighth year of the Islamic calendar. The Prophet excluded few individuals from this general pardon, whom he ordered to be killed if captured, including Abdullah bin Sa‘d.

Abdullah was one of the few persons appointed by the Prophet to write the revealed texts. After spending a while with the Muslims in Medina, he renounced Islam and returned to the religion of Quraysh. He was brought to the court of the Prophet by Osman, who appealed for his pardon. He was pardoned even though he was still, as the narration indicates, in a state of ridda and was yet to reembrace Islam.[5] If ridda was indeed a hadd (a punishable crime), neither Osman would be able to plea for him, nor the Prophet would pardon him in violation of the shari`ah law. Therefore, I am inclined to the increasingly popular view among contemporary scholars, that ridda does not involve a moral act of conversion, but a military act of rebellion, whose calming justifies the use of force and the return of fire.[6]

Theory of Right

Islamic law (shari’ah) is essentially a moral code with few legal pronouncements, and the question of which precepts are purely moral and which that have legal implications are determined through the theory of right.

The widely accepted theory of right among jurists divides rights into three types:[7] (1) Rights of God (Huquq Allah) — These consist of all obligations that one has to discharge simply because they are divine commands, even when the human interests or utilities in undertaking them are not apparent, such as prayers, fasting, hajj, etc.; (2) Rights shared by God an his servants (Huquq Allah wa al-‘Ibad) — These include acts that are obligatory because they are demanded by God, but they are also intended to protect the public, such as hudud law, jihad, zakat, etc., and (3) Rights of God’s servants (Huquq al-‘Ibad) — These are rights intended to protect individual interests, such as fulfilling promises, paying back debts, honoring contracts. Still people are accountable for their fulfillment to God.

As it can be seen, the theory of right devised by late classical jurists – around the eighth century of Islam – emphasizes that people are ultimately answerable to God in all their dealings. However, by using the term rights of God to underscore the moral duty of the individual, and his/her accountability before God, classical jurists obscured the fact that rights are invoked to support legal claims and to enforce the interests of the right-holder. Because the Qur’an makes it abundantly clear that obeying the divine revelation does not advance the interests of God, but only those of the human being, the phrase “rights of God” signifies only the moral obligations of the believers towards God, and by no means should they be taken as a justification of legal claims.[8]

It follows that the rights of God which are exclusively personal should be considered as moral obligations for which people are only answerable to God in the life to come. As such accepting or rejecting a specific interpretation or a particular religious doctrine, and observing or neglecting fundamental religious practices, including prayer or hajj, should have no legal implications whatever. A legal theory in congruence with the Qur’anic framework should distinguish between moral and legal obligations, and should confine the latter to public law that promote public interests (constitutional, criminal, etc.) and private law that advances private interests (trade, family, personal, etc.).

Unless the above legal reform is undertaken, there is no way to ensure that takfir (charging one with disbelief) and zandaqa (charging one with heresy) claims would not become a political weapon in the hands of political groups to be used as a means to eliminate rivals and opponents. Indeed there is ample evidence to show that zandaqa and takfir have been used by the political authorities during the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties to persecute political dissidents.[9]

Reciprocity and Social Peace

The principle of reciprocity, central to all religious and secular ethics, lies at the core of the Islamic concept of justice. The Qur’an is pervaded with injunctions that encourage Muslims to reciprocate good for good and evil for evil.[10] The principle is, similarly, epitomized in the Golden Rule of the Christian faith, and has been given a secular expression in Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.”[11]

In modern society where people of different faiths live side by side, and cooperate under a system of law that recognizes their equal dignity, a due attention must be given to the principle of reciprocity as the essence of justice in a multi-religious society. Any attempt by a religious community to place sanctions and apply coercion on its members who choose to convert to another religious group will place a moral obligation on the latter to defend the new comers who choose to join their faith. Muslim would feel morally obligated to defend the right of a Jew and Christian to freely embrace Islam, and would not accept any coercive measure intended to restrict the right of Jews and Christians to convert to Islam. A Christian or a Jew who converts to Islam is no more a Christian or a Jew, but a Muslim and must be respected as such. By the same taken a Muslim who convert to Christianity is no more a Muslim, but a Christian and must be respected as such.

Indeed, there are already signs that the calls by radical voices within Muslim societies to revive apostasy laws have provoked calls by others to restrict conversion to Islam of members of their communities. In December 2004, members of the Coptic community in Egypt cried foul when a Coptic woman converted to Islam. Coptic leaders accused Muslims of forcing the woman to accept Islam, and thousands of Christian Copts demonstrated “in various parts of the nation against what they say is the government’s failure to protect them against anti-Christian crimes.”[12]

Although medieval Christian Europe practiced coercion to force reverse conversions to Christianity, modern societies recognize the freedom of religion of all citizens. Muslim scholars have the obligation to reconsider modern reality and reject any attempt to revive historical claims rooted in classical jurisprudence that are clearly at odd with Qur’anic principles and the Islamic spirit, and with modern society and international conventions and practices. It would be a tragedy, for both social peace in Muslim societies and world peace in an increasingly diverse global society, if religious communities embrace practices that limit freedom of religion, and adopt measures that rely on coercion to maintain the integrity of religious communities.

June 1st, 2008, 12:50 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


al-7amdillah 3a salameh

Hope the trip went well.

June 1st, 2008, 1:38 pm


Post a comment

Neoprofit AI Immediate Venture Instant Prosperity