Scholars hotly debate treatment of apostates

Badea Abu Al-Naja | Arab News
Publication Date: 
Thu, 2009-04-30 03:00

SHARJAH: In a session here on religious freedom, Muslim scholars from around the world yesterday debated how apostates should be treated according to Islamic law.

More than 200 delegates representing 60 countries are discussing diverse issues in the light of Shariah at the ongoing International Islamic Fiqh Conference hosted by Sharjah ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi.

The event at the Zahra Hall Auditorium at the University of Sharjah has been organized by the International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA), an offshoot of the Jeddah-based Organization of the Islamic Conference.

While several scholars demanded a review of the punishment for apostates in the light of the changing modern values, others refuted their argument saying the original Islamic texts call for harsh punishments.

“Religious freedom is a right that should be guaranteed to every human being. We have come here to present and discuss different viewpoints and we should do it in order to reach the right solution,” said Mahmoud Zaqzouq, Egypt’s minister of endowments.

Some participants doubted the validity of texts quoted in support of the beheading of apostates. On the other hand, several others were adamant in their refusal to the demand for a lighter approach toward apostates in the name of freedom of religion.

“The view that Islamic scholars of the past had different views on how to punish apostates is incorrect. They only disagreed on how soon apostates should be executed; should it be done in three days, one week or few months. The waiting time is left to the discretion of the ruler,” said Muhammad Al-Nujaimi, a professor at the Higher Institute of Law in Riyadh.

Referring to criticisms from international human rights organizations, he said: “These groups will never stop attacking Islam even if we were to agree to all their demands. Their lack of sincerity is clear from their attitude to the atrocities committed by the Israeli government in occupied Palestinian territories. We will never allow others to dictate our religion to us.”

Abdul Salam Al-Ebadi, secretary-general of the IIFA, said the topic of religious freedom was given priority in yesterday’s deliberations because several countries, particularly the ministries of Islamic Affairs and Foreign Affairs in OIC member countries, demanded a clarification on the correct stand toward apostates. He said a six-member committee of scholars has been entrusted with the task of studying the issue and submitting recommendations. OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and IIFA Chairman Saleh Bin-Humaid, who is also chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Judicial Council, are participating in the forum.

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