Fear Stalks Muslim Apostates in the West

American Thinker | David J. Rusin | Aug. 3, 2008

Persuading Western Muslim leaders to repudiate Shari’a-sanctioned violence against apostates can be a frustrating exercise, as Prince Charles discovered in 2004. Troubled by the treatment of Muslims who convert to Christianity in Islamic nations, the prince convened a summit of senior figures from both religious communities. It ended in disappointment. The Islamic representatives failed to issue a declaration condemning the practice, which the Christians had requested; they also cautioned non-Muslims not to discuss such matters in public, arguing that moderates would be more likely to make progress if the debate were kept internal.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, the outspoken Anglican prelate of Rochester, attended the meeting but rejected their advice. While continuing to highlight the perils faced by those who leave Islam in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, he now has turned his focus to the harassment of apostates in the West. Last year the bishop warned that a convert could die in Britain unless prominent Muslims affirm the right of all people to change their faith. There have been few takers, despite the dire need for this message: a poll indicates that 36% of younger British Muslims believe death to be an appropriate punishment for renouncing Islam.

Their views are grounded in Shari’a law. All major schools of Islamic jurisprudence stipulate that a sane adult male must be put to death for abandoning Islam, though varying interpretations persist on whether females should be killed or merely imprisoned. Many Islamic states outlaw apostasy and seven list it as a capital offense. However, freelancers such as angry relatives present the greatest danger to ex-Muslims, as Sunni and Shiite scholars largely agree that Shari’a empowers individuals to punish converts. This tradition has followed Muslims to the Western world.

Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and other high-profile apostates have brought needed attention to the risks that ex-Muslims encounter, even in liberal democracies. Pope Benedict XVI recently underscored the plight of this vulnerable population by baptizing the Italian journalist and former Muslim Magdi Allam on the most public of stages: Easter Vigil mass at the Vatican. Having suffered threats for opposing Islamic fundamentalism, Allam now speculates that he will endure “another death sentence for apostasy.”

Ordinary Muslim apostates face similar fears, which were palpable when Christian converts from Islam met in Virginia four years ago at the first Muslim Background Believers Convention. One woman admitted that she had not yet told her family about embracing a new faith. “I know they’re going to disown me,” she said, “if they don’t kill me.” Another relayed that her brothers were not speaking to her because she had married an American. “Can you imagine what they would do if they found out I was a Christian?”

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