A Front Page Magazine symposium on forcible conversions in the Islamic faith.
Front Page: Mustafa Akyol, David Aikman, Robert Spencer and Andrew Bostom, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Mustafa Akyol, let me begin with you. What do you make of the forced conversions of the two Fox journalists and with the Gadahn calls for the conversions of the people he named?
As a Muslim, how do you regard these events?
Akyol: First, greetings to all participants and readers of this symposium. And thanks for having me.
This is an important topic and, as a Muslim, my position is clear: I am absolutely against the concept of forced conversion, which I believe is in opposition to the basic principles of the Qur'an. The verse you mentioned -- "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256) -- is very clear and there are also other ones, such as, "It is the truth from your Lord; so let whoever wishes have faith and whoever wishes be unbeliever." (18:29) There is nothing in the Qur'an which would justify a forced conversion to Islam. Indeed a purely Qur'anic Muslim view should cherish full religious freedom.
However, the post-Qur'anic Islamic literature is not so friendly to religious freedom. The hadiths and the jurists' opinions based on them added a lot of extra rules and regulations due to the political needs of the early Islamic empire. The ban on apostasy was such a post-Qur'anic rule that I think we Muslims should abandon right away. People should have the right to leave Islam and choose other religions if they decide to do so.
However, forced conversion is something that goes even beyond the mainstream post-Qur'anic orthodoxy, whether it is Sunni or Shiite. Although pagan Arabs weren't tolerated and were forced to convert, the Sunni orthodoxy accepted that Christians and Jews (and later, Hindus and Buddhists) had the right to keep their faith by accepting the dhimmi ("protected") status.
Therefore I think the Palestinian militants who forced those two kidnapped Fox News reporters Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig did something terribly wrong. From a purely Qur'anic point of view, that's totally unacceptable. Even from a Sunni Orthodoxy view, that's very hard to justify. It is also stupid: How can you think that you can make someone a sincere Muslim by pointing a gun at him?
Or maybe it was not that stupid. Those militants might have been seeking not a genuine conversion, but a political show. They might have wished to give the message that they are powerful and they can force Westerners to accept what they want, and even transform their identity. In other words, their focus seems not to direct people to what we Muslims believe to be a path to God, but to recruit them into their tribe. This tribal mentality lies beneath much of the assaults against religious freedom in the Muslim world, but it is not what the Qur'an commends.
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