The Application of the Apostasy Law in the World Today:

"We always remind those who want to convert to Islam that they enter through a door but there is no way out".[1]
Since modernization first impacted the Muslim world following Western imperialism and its imposition of secular laws and education systems, there have been tensions between Muslim conservatives and liberal intellectuals. Early reformers tried to reconcile Islam with modernity using the flexible principles of reason and the public good to reinterpret shari'ah along modern lines. Contemporary liberals argue that shari'ah laws are human interpretations of the eternally fixed principles of Islam, so they can be changed to fit modern contexts. It is only the basic principles that are immutable.

In contemporary Muslim societies it is Islamic fundamentalists (Islamists) who defend Islamic political culture against western incursions and who most vehemently oppose westernisation. While liberals try to modernize Islam, Islamists want to Islamise modernity, calling for a return to Islam's source texts and early political model, as well as demanding full implementation of shari'ah in the state.

Islamists see shari'ah itself as divinely inspired and unchangeable, valid for all times and places, and they attack the liberal position. In recent decades, as Islamists gained in strength, the arguments have shifted from the sphere of literary and media polemics to that of violence and legal prosecutions. Islamists now charge their opponents with apostasy (irtidad), blasphemy andunbelief (kufr), and heresy (ilhad) – all of these are crimes under shari'ah that incur the death penalty.

Muslims and Apostasy 

For most contemporary Muslims across the spectrum of beliefs and ideologies, apostasy still carries shocking and dreadful associations as a most abhorrent sin. Even for modernists and secularists it carries negative connotations of betrayal of one's community and rejection of one's heritage. This attitude explains why so few Muslim voices are ever raised in defence of those accused of apostasy. Among the Muslim masses, apostasy, like jihad, is still a popular notion that is bound to raise emotions and outbursts of violence and which can therefore be manipulated by those who see themselves as defenders of traditional Islam or by those who could benefit from the downfall of the accused. Theologically, in Islam this is one of the few sins God cannot forgive as it rejects Him and His mercy.[2]

In Islamic jurisprudence and tradition, apostasy (irtidad) has always been linked to the concepts of unbelief, blasphemy and heresy (all combined under the term kufr), which are sometimes used interchangeably. In a sense, kufr is the over –arching term and apostasy, blasphemy and heresy are its sub-categories. While 'apostasy', 'blasphemy' and 'heresy' are distinct terms in English, in Arabic, kafir is a general term, describing an apostate, a blasphemer or a heretic. All three are closely linked in the minds of Muslims as interchangeable categories, which is why they are often combined in prosecutions in spite of the different categories of shari'ah criminal law they fall under.[3]. Legally, blasphemy is a ta'zir offence (where the judge has flexibility in determining the punishment);apostasy, on the other hand, is normally considered a hadd offence (where the punishment is seen as fixed by God).[4] Apostasy, blasphemy, and heresy are all regarded as severe crimes, but there is unanimous consensus that apostasy is punishable by death under shari'ah hudud laws. In practice, the death penalty is not often implemented, but depriving the apostates of all their civil rights is commonly practised.

While 'apostate' (murtadd) usually refers to a Muslim who has officially converted to another faith, thus becoming a kafir, others who claim to be good Muslims can be accused of unbelief, blasphemy and heresy as well as of apostasy for various other causes, including scepticism, atheism, ascribing partners or associates to God, and not fully implementing shari'ah. Some authorities list 300 different acts that could make a person a kafir,thus leaving the door wide open for denouncing other Muslims as infidels liable to the death penalty in a process known as takfir.
[5]In many cases, multiple charges of apostasy, blasphemy, unbelief, heresy and of insulting Islam and Muhammad are brought against the accused, so giving the judges greater flexibility in deciding under which category to define the crime and to help ensure that the accused is convicted for something. Furthermore, accusations of apostasy and blasphemy are often uncritically accepted as true by members of the police and of the criminal justice system, with little or no evidence required.[6]

Execution for apostasy is not brought to bear merely on those who have professed another faith. The definition of an apostate is increasingly being widened by Islamic fundamentalists to include anyone who disagrees with what they consider to be orthodox Islam. Previously, even taking into account the historical divergence of views on questions of Islamic theology and law, a broad range of Muslim belief was generally tolerated and accepted until modern times

In some contemporary Muslim states, traditional definitions of apostasy, blasphemy and heresy have been broadened to include anyone who disagrees with what the authorities, religious and/or governmental, consider to be orthodox Islam.
[7] Given the broad range of divergence within Islam on matters of theology and law, many Muslims now find themselves in danger of being classified as apostates for views that the government or militant groups hold to be heretical.[8]

The charge of apostasy is more frequently being implemented to suppress any idea, person or group that dissents from the established regime. The result is that Muslims themselves are increasingly in danger of suffering what is, in effect, murder by other Muslims. Even if Muslim minorities are not executed for holding views that the government considers heretical, they may suffer discrimination, harassment and imprisonment. A useful work which illuminates this is Murder in the Name of Allah by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad
[9], the supreme spiritual head of the Ahmadiyya sect that has been severely suppressed in Pakistan. Similarly, the liberal and reformist Sudanese group, the Republican Brothers, officially became apostates from Islam under the Nimeiri regime, although they themselves believed they were Muslims following Islamic teaching.[10]  

Muslim States and Apostasy

While most modern Muslim states have ratified international agreements on human rights, they limit their validity by subjecting these agreements to the authority of the Islamic shari'ah, thus severely circumscribing their implementation. Human rights and equality of all before the law are thus interpreted by shari'ah which inherently discriminates on the basis of both religion and gender, as pointed out at the beginning of the chapter. Islamists defend this stance by claiming that Western human rights notions are based on a radically secular worldview and that human rights must be applied in culture-specific ways, respecting the deep religiosity of the Muslim world.[11]

Many Muslim states subscribed to secular constitutions at independence, but have since engaged in a gradual process of Islamization. Most have declared Islam as their state religion, and many have declared shari'ah to be the primary source of their legislative system
[12]. Islam has thus become an essential element of the basic order of the state and the state is obligated to enforce the Islamic order. Generally, within Muslim states two totally different legal systems co-exist: the Western secular law and the Islamic shari'ah, with varying weightings given to each element within particular states. While most states with a mixed system and a written constitution guarantee freedom of religion and equality of treatment to all citizens, including those belonging to religious minorities, in practice the authorities give Muslims more rights than non-Muslims,[13] and males more rights than females. Similarly, a Muslim who repudiates his faith is treated as if guilty of treason and liable to the death penalty even if there is no official punishment for apostasy laid down in the constitution or legal system. The Civil Codes of several states, including Egypt, Algeria, Syria and Kuwait, allow the imposition of religious fatwas based on shari'ah.[14]

In Muslim states, religion is not usually a private matter as it is in the West; it is to a greater or lesser degree under state control for the reason outlined above that there is no division in Islam between state and religion. Freedom of religion is understood as a community affair, guaranteeing officially recognized religious minorities freedom of worship within their communities. The individual freedom of choosing a religion is restricted to non-Muslims choosing Islam; the converse is not allowed. A number of Muslim states include the death sentence for any Muslim who changes his religion in their legal systems (Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Qatar, among others).

Proselytisation is seen as a vicious attack on Islam. A good citizen is a good Muslim and apostasy is a heinous crime against the whole Muslim community and against God. It is a religious betrayal as well as political treason, and is regarded as a threat to public order. It must be prosecuted by the state once charges have been brought.
[15] Even when technically there is no law against apostasy, alleged converts are often harassed and arrested on other pretexts. Converts are often dismissed from their jobs; their marriage may be automatically dissolved so they lose their spouse and children. If their partner remains with them they may be charged with adultery. Converts face other severe penalties such as exile, disinheritance, and loss of possessions, threats, beatings, torture, and prison.

Another aspect of apostasy and blasphemy is the issuing of fatwas either by state shari'ah courts, or by individual 'ulama demanding the death of the apostate. The oft-used phrase "His blood is permissible" evidences this. Individual fatwas are not legally binding on the state but can be acted upon by any Muslim and many would accept that the assassin is obeying the shari'ah and must not be prosecuted.

Some Muslim states worry about the unwelcome attention of the western media in cases of apostasy, so they often prefer to let such cases be dealt with unofficially either by the family, or by the security forces, or by framing the apostate for other "crimes." Converts face enormous social pressure from their families and communities who see their conversion as a betrayal of Islam and as bringing great shame on family and community. Families exert pressure, urging them to return to Islam with tearful pleading, threats, and violence. Relatives sometimes prefer to "wash away" the shame of apostasy by casting offenders out of the family, driving them out of the country, or killing them. Relatives will sometimes try and get the apostate officially declared insane, as the insane are not held accountable for their actions.
[16] A number of converts have been murdered by enraged family members and friends in several countries, including Egypt and Pakistan. The perpetrators are rarely prosecuted by the authorities and frequently go unpunished.

In the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, Western diplomatic intervention
[17] and increasing secularization and Westernization meant that the death penalty for apostasy was rarely applied. However, in recent years the rapidly growing influence of fundamentalism and the trend towards Islamization has meant that the act of apostasy is being punished with increasing severity.

Let us look briefly now at what happens in practice in a number of different Muslim nations.

Example 1: Saudi Arabia[18] 

In Saudi Arabia the Qur'an is the state constitution and shari'ah the legal system The strict Wahhabi interpretation prohibits the public practice of any other religion than Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.

In categorizing offences and deciding punishments, judges in Saudi Arabia are guided by vaguely-worded laws and general principles of Islamic jurisprudence, which are subject to different interpretations by different jurists. For example, it is the judge who decides what constitutes apostasy. In a 1992 case brought against a Saudi Shi'ah Muslim, 'Abd al-Karim Mal al-Allah, it was reported that the judge told the accused: "Abandon your rejectionist beliefs or I will kill you". The discretionary powers of the judge are further enhanced by the secrecy of court proceedings, which protects judges from legal challenges by defence lawyers.

In Saudi Arabia, the absence of any debate on the death penalty is due to the threat of the imposition of the death penalty itself on anyone taking the initiative to start such a public debate, as only the state has the authority to declare on such issues. Anyone who embarks on such a debate is liable to be branded an apostate or of being one of the "corrupt on earth", both crimes liable to capital punishment.

Example 2: Pakistan[19]
In Pakistan, following the gradual trend to Islamization, severe amendments were added in 1982 (section 295B) and 1986 (section 295C) to Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, often called the "Blasphemy Law". Under these new provisions, desecration of the Qur'an became a crime carrying the punishment of life imprisonment (295B), while defiling the name of Muhammad became a crime meriting the death penalty or imprisonment for life and a fine (295C). In 1990 the Federal Shari'at Court ruled that the penalty for defiling the name of Muhammad "is death and nothing else". This invalidated the words "punishment for life" in section 295C, leaving the death penalty as mandatory. Also under these laws, once a person has been accused of blasphemy, the police are compelled to carry out an arrest without preliminary investigations.[20]

As a result of these legal changes, the number of blasphemy cases brought to court, especially against members of the Ahmadiyya community
[21] and Christians, but also against Muslims, has increased dramatically. Blasphemy legislation has become a weapon in personal disputes where unscrupulous persons manipulate it to their advantage, knowing the great emotional impact of these charges on most Muslims, including the judges and jurors. The accuser has nothing to lose, while the accused might lose everything, including his life. Many cases originate because of professional jealousy and rivalry or the quest for economic gain, particularly over land disputes. Interestingly, apostasy, which is a capital offence in shari'ah, is not punishable by the Pakistani Penal Code, but blasphemy, which according to shari'ah is a lesser crime, is a capital offence under the Penal Code.

Such laws have a significant impact in intimidating non-Muslim minorities and Muslim opposition or reform movements. They also create an atmosphere in which mob violence and extremist terrorist acts against non-Muslims are seen to be acceptable and even supported by the state and its law enforcers. Further, such laws encourage private violence by any Muslim zealous for his religion against presumed apostates. It is of interest to note that when Benazir Bhutto, then leader of the opposition, criticized the Shari'aht Court in 1992 for increasing the severity of the penalties for blasphemy, the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Mawlana Abadu Sitar Niazi issued a fatwa against her declaring her to be a kafir liable to the death penalty. A year later when she was Prime Minister, a case was brought against her to the Lahore High Court under Section 295-C by Zia ul-Islam, leader of the Pakistan Movement for Workers, for criticizing the blasphemy law. This illustrates how the law can be manipulated against almost anyone, and while powerful figures might be able to defend themselves, ordinary citizens are cowed into silence and live under the constant fear of its application to them.

A feature of the majority of blasphemy cases brought against Christians in Pakistan is that the accusations are made by people bearing a personal grudge against the accused for reasons that have nothing to do with religion. Another is the ease with which religious leaders can whip a crowd into a murderous frenzy by spurious allegations of blasphemy, apostasy and insults to Muhammad.

Well-known Pakistani scholar, Akbar S. Ahmed, states that in recent years the blasphemy laws have been used more and more for settling political vendettas and land disputes. The law has become a powerful tool to intimidate anyone, but the main targets have been the minority groups, especially Ahmadis and Christians. He states that in the last decade some 2,000 Ahmadis were charged under the blasphemy laws, while some 60 Christians a year are being charged under these laws. Bail is usually denied those charged with blasphemy, trials are expensive and can take years to begin.
[23] While the higher courts have generally tended to acquit people accused of blasphemy on appeal, following long periods (usually years) in detention, the state security services have frequently failed to protect the rights of the accused. Threats and the use of violence by private persons seem to be condoned by the state and its agencies, leading to a climate of fear and insecurity, especially in minority groups.

People acquitted by higher courts of apostasy and blasphemy charges find themselves under attack by extremist groups.
[24] Defence lawyers and judges dealing with blasphemy cases are often threatened.[25] Soon after he seized power, General Pervez Musharraf tried to alter the law to allow for an inquiry by district officials for any blasphemy complaint before police could arrest a suspect, but had to retract under pressure from Islamic hardliners.[26] Since then there have been some attempts to challenge the legislation, including the proposal of a law by various Human Rights groups in 2004 which would punish "false" blasphemy claims. So far these attempts to reform the blasphemy law have been unsuccessful.

Amnesty International has stated that:

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are a handy tool to silence debate and dissent. They are also used to detain people when the real motivation includes land issues or professional rivalry. In the interest of justice, the blasphemy laws should be abolished or as a first step amended to prevent abuse.

Example 3. Egypt
The Egyptian Constitution of 1923 guaranteed the equality of all Egyptians, without distinction of race, religion or language, before the law. In 1971, a law was approved by the Supreme Constitutional Tribunal stating that: "Islam is the State religion and any law contrary to Islam is contrary to the Constitution". While there is no direct law against apostasy in the constitution, the declaration of shari'ah as the main source of legislation in the amended 1981 Constitution (article 2, see endnote 9), opened the door to the prosecution of apostates. A Supreme Court ruling ordains that a Muslim who apostatizes is legally dead: he loses all civil rights and powers, cannot withdraw funds from his bank account, cannot marry or inherit, and cannot have his identity card changed to "Christian". There is also an article of the Penal Code that prosecutes actions susceptible of endangering national unity or social peace, which is often used by the authorities against Muslims wishing to convert to Christianity. More than 150 Muslims charged with converting to Christianity have been detained in maximum-security prisons accused of threatening national security and unity.[29]

The U.S. Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1989 stated:

Significant problems are encountered by those who convert from Islam to Christianity ... Conversion from Islam, while officially not restricted or penalized, is discouraged by the Government, and even more so by social pressure. In a number of cases involving converts from Islam, the security authorities have used the state emergency legislation to arrest and detain converts, without bringing specific charges, on the grounds that converts threaten social peace and intercommunal relations. Those who convert cannot have the religion category changed on their national identity cards or other legal documentation.

This is still true today. Scores of Christians who converted from Islam have been imprisoned and some have been brutally tortured. Since the 1970s, Muslim conservatives in Egypt have been demanding a revival of the death penalty for apostasy. Many objections have been raised by the Christian minority, by liberal Muslims and by secular elements, and the government has so far resisted the conservative demands, which nevertheless continue.[31]

The influential al-Azhar Islamic University and its Islamic Research Academy (IRA) are officially recognized by the Government as having the authority to safeguard Islamic law and religion. This has resulted in al-Azhar exercising ever more stringent censorship on books, media and the arts, banning and confiscating many productions and labelling their authors as guilty of blasphemy or apostasy.[32]

Interestingly, the al-Azhar Creed and Philosophy Committee affiliated to al-Azhar Islamic Research Institute recently recommended a change in the application of the apostasy law which would give the accused apostate a whole lifetime to renounce his apostasy instead of the three-day period laid down in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). This recommendation was severely criticized as a forbidden innovation (bid'a) by many religious leaders.[33]

With the growing influence of Islamists over the last two decades, groups like al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya have mounted campaigns of takfir (accusation of heresy) against intellectuals and artists leading to violent attacks on some and even assassination. This culminated in Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghaz'Ali, an influential theologian, issuing a fatwa legitimising the shedding of the blood of anyone opposing the application of shari'ah.

Example 4. Sudan

President Nimeiri introduced shari'ah law in 1983, and Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, an Islamic scholar and leader of the Republican Brothers movement was condemned to death as an apostate and executed in 1985 for his efforts at reforming Islam and reinterpreting the Qur'an. Following Bashir's military coup of 1989, the National Islamic Front of Turabi came to power and in the constitution of 1991 the Islamic Code was again enforced, effectively institutionalising an Islamic state. The use of shari'ah as the basis of law and government has since become ever more explicit.[34]

While the 1998 constitution proclaims religious freedom to all citizens, it also claims Islamic shari'ah as a source of legislation.
[35] The Constitution, implemented in early 1999, provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government severely restricts this right in practice, treating Islam as the state religion and declaring that it must inspire the country's laws, institutions, and policies. Non-Muslims are forbidden to proselytise, and section 126 of the Sudan Criminal Law 1991 makes apostasy from Islam a criminal offence punishable by death in accordance with shari'ah.[36] Although this extreme penalty is seldom implemented, apostates face arrest, imprisonment and torture. Representatives of the Sudanese government claim it is not apostasy as such that is punishable, but that any manifestation of it in public constitutes a threat to public order and would be prosecuted as high treason.

Example 5. Iran 

Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, Shi'ah Islam is the state religion, and the shari'ah forms the basis of the Iranian constitution and legal system. Article 4 of the constitution states that

All civil, penal financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political, and other laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria. This principle applies absolutely and generally to all articles of the Constitution as well as to all other laws and regulations . . .

Although the constitution guarantees freedom of belief, various laws place restrictions on religious freedoms. These restrictive and often contradictory laws are found in the Penal Code, the Theologians' Law (a body of law dealing with offences committed by clerics) and in the Public and Revolutionary Courts' Procedural Law. A basic flaw in many of these laws is the absence of clear definitions of key concepts such as "state security", "propaganda", and "insulting Islam". Under Article 513 of the Penal Code, offences classified as "insult to religion" can be punishable by death or prison terms of between one and five years. Articles 6 and 26 of the Press Code forbid writings "containing apostasy and matters against Islamic standards [and] 'the true religion of Islam' . . ." In cases where there are no specific codified laws, judges can deliver fatwas based on authoritative Islamic sources.[38] While, therefore, the state recognizes Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism as official religions with limited freedoms to worship within their communities, apostasy is a crime and Muslims who convert to Christianity potentially face the death penalty. Islamic "heretics", such as the Baha'is, face severe persecution as unprotected infidels. (See below for case studies, including the execution of a convert to Christianity, Hossein Soodmand, in 1990).

In recent years there have been many cases of arbitrary detention, unfair trial and imprisonment under these clauses, following the expression of conscientiously held beliefs.

Example 6. Malaysia

The constitution declares Islam as the official state religion while guaranteeing religious freedom. The Islamist PAS opposition party has been pushing for an Islamic state and has made strenuous efforts in the parliament to pass a law imposing the death sentence for apostasy. While this has not yet succeeded on the federal level, two Malaysian states have passed hudud laws which include the death penalty for apostasy. Kelantan State Legislative Assembly passed such laws in 1993, but they have never been enforced because of Federal Government opposition. According to the Malaysian constitution, while shari'ah courts are under state, not federal control, criminal law is a federal matter. Unless the constitution is amended, the Kelantan state government is unable to apply the Hududlaws it has passed, especially as Malaysia's prime minister has stated that he would not allow the Kelantan Hudud bill to be implemented.[40] In spite of the standoff in Kelantan, Teregganu State passed similar laws in 2002.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has so far opposed such attempts on the federal level. He advocates a more reformist type of Islam that stresses equality and justice for all, claiming that traditional forms of Islam as promoted by those clamouring for full implementation of shari'ah are harsh and merely the interpretations of ordinary humans influenced by their prejudices.
[41] The brave "Sisters in Islam" movement has struggled against the imposition of shari'ah and hudud laws at both federal and state levels, claiming Islamic laws based on traditional jurists' interpretations of the Qur'an are not necessarily relevant in the modern world. They stress that while the source texts are sacred, human interpretations cannot be taken as infallible and eternally valid.[42]

However, given the necessity to compete with the more Islamist trends, the government favours Islam as the national religion and restricts the activities of other religions, limiting the religious freedom of non-Muslims. It contravenes Malaysian law to write, speak, or preach against Islam. A 1993 bill states that it is illegal for a Muslim to change his religion. It is also almost impossible for non-Muslim religious groups to obtain additional land for places of worship, schools and cemeteries, and there are limits on the publication and distribution of Christian literature.
[43] Muslims comprise some 57% of Malaysia's population, and Malay Muslims are given a superior status as the original indigenous peoples of the country (bumiputera). [44] As bumiputera, Malays are awarded many political and economic advantages over non-Malays. The legal definition of 'Malay' includes a list of characteristics, one being that the person is a Muslim. In the decades since independence, the bumiputera advantage has become ever more enshrined in law and in programmes of affirmative action.[45] Malays who convert from Islam lose their ethnic identity and all its associated privileges in addition to suffering the legal penalties. 

Who Is Targeted?

As can be seen from the examination of Islamic teaching and practice above, accusations of apostasy, blasphemy, heresy and all other forms of kufr tend to be aimed at several categories of people in Islamic and in Western societies: 

1. Muslims who convert to another faith (e.g. to Christianity).

2. Muslim intellectuals seen as deviating from traditional interpretations (reformers, secularists, modernists, journalists, political opponents).

3. Sectarian groups within Islam such as the Baha'i in Iran or the Ahmadiyya in Pakistan.

4. Non-Muslim Westerners perceived as insulting Islam.

5. Christians charged under the blasphemy laws.

some case studies

The world media, Human Rights NGO's, Christian organizations, and non-Muslim minority groups report many instances of the application of apostasy and blasphemy laws. A small representative sample of such cases will serve to illustrate how these laws operate.



Hussein 'Ali Qambar

In late 1995, Hussein 'Ali Qambar, a Kuwaiti Shi'ah building contractor, converted to Christianity and became a member of an expatriate Evangelical Church. Qambar's apostasy became publicly known following a custody dispute with his wife from whom he had separated some months before. The court had given the mother custody of the children while the father had the right to see them on Fridays. Qambar's wife refused him this right and when asked for the reason declared in court that it was in order to protect the children as her husband had converted to Christianity.

Hussein 'Ali Qambar did not go into hiding and did not practise the usual secrecy of converts from Islam. He met with the press wearing a silver cross round his neck and declared that he had "found God elsewhere". In accordance with Islamic tradition, a group of 'ulama met with Qambar several times in order to persuade him to return to Islam. When he refused these advances, popular anger started rising against him. In January 1996 an Islamist deputy in the National Assembly called for legal action against him. Soon after, three independent Islamist lawyers filed a suit against Qambar requesting that he be declared an apostate and be stripped of his civil rights. Meanwhile his home was vandalized (probably by Ministry of the Interior officials), he was barred from seeing his children, and when his father died he was forbidden from receiving his share of the inheritance. On 24 April 1996 at a hearing before the Islamic court the prosecution called for Qambar to be stripped of his nationality and civil rights for offending against Islamic law by abandoning his Islamic faith. On 29 May 1996 a judge in the shari'ah lower court issued a ruling officially declaring Qambar an apostate and recommending the death penalty, also ordering him to pay the costs of the case. The presiding judge, Ja'far al-Mazidi was later asked by the press if the ruling could be taken as permission to kill Qambar, and he replied that "that is possible" but that killing an apostate would be a violation of Kuwaiti criminal law. He added that there was no legal penalty for apostasy under Kuwait's criminal law, but there was such a penalty under shari'ah. The court also made it clear that in its understanding there is a difference between religious freedom and the freedom to convert from Islam to another faith. The accused had openly confessed to his conversion thus giving the court all the evidence it needed.

Qambar appealed against the ruling to the Court of Appeal and the first hearing was scheduled for 15 September 1996. One month before that date, the authorities issued him a passport and he left Kuwait for the USA. He later reconverted to Islam and returned to Kuwait.

In Kuwait there was an amazing unanimity of condemnation of Qambar from both traditionalist and liberal wings of the population. All agreed that Qambar's apostasy was a serious crime which had to be punished, and that depriving him of all his civil rights was legitimate. Some on the traditional side repeatedly called for the death penalty to be implemented.

Qambar's defence rested on a universalist discourse based on Western notions of human rights and citizenship. He referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for freedom of religion, as well as to several articles in the Kuwaiti Constitution (articles 29 and 35) which guarantee freedom of belief. Article 35 reads: "Freedom of belief is absolute. The state protects the freedom of practicing religion in accordance with established customs, provided it does not conflict with public policy or morals". This article is obviously open to various interpretations: on the one hand, freedom of religion is absolute, on the other hand, it is limited by custom and morals.

Most Kuwaitis, however, appealed to traditional Muslim discourses of communal identity, reacting with anger against Qambar for betraying the Muslim community (ummah), the Arab nation, the Kuwaiti community and for being a tool of Western imperialist manipulations against Islam. They could not believe that he had converted for reasons of personal conviction. Liberal Kuwaitis accepted his being stripped of his civil rights as a just punishment, and no one from the most liberal sections in Kuwaiti society defended him.

This case demonstrates that no matter how liberal, modern, and democratic a given Muslim state or society claims to be, a majority of Muslims still cannot accept the individual's right to follow his inner conviction and conscience by changing his religion. All segments of the population united in condemning his conversion as betrayal, treason and apostasy worthy of the most severe penalties.


Alladin Omer Ajjabna Mohammed

When Alladin Omer Ajjabna Mohammed became a Christian in 1991 he was expelled from university and disowned by his family. In 2001 when he tried to go abroad to study, local Muslim authorities learned that he was an apostate and he was forcibly deported back to Sudan. He was arrested at Khartoum airport and charged with apostasy. Held incommunicado, he was tortured and ordered to return to Islam. He was released in September 2001 on medical grounds but had to report daily to the security forces. While reporting as required he disappeared again on 26 September 2001. On 30 January 2002, security police stopped Alladin from boarding a flight to Uganda where he planned to pursue theological studies. Though his papers were in order he was told that the computer system identified him as a criminal. While detained, he was forcibly injected with unknown drugs. He attempted to fly out of Sudan again on 3 February 2002 but was again detained and ordered to report daily to the security police. He has now gone into hiding and the authorities have mounted an extensive manhunt for him. Sudanese Church authorities say there are a number of other former Muslims in a similar plight.

Mekki Kuku

Mekki Kuku is a Muslim primary school teacher from the Nuba Mountains, the father of ten children. He converted to Christianity and was charged in Khartoum with violating the Sudanese law on apostasy.

Kuku was arrested in Khartoum in June 1998 on charges of having violated Sudan's apostasy law. It was reported that he was tortured in jail and that he was offered financial rewards if he gave up his Christian faith. Following the intervention of Abel 'Alier, a former Vice-President of Sudan and leader of the opposition to Sudan's National Islamic Front (NIF) the torture sessions were suspended and Mr Kuku was transferred to Omdurman prison to await his trial. He suffered a stroke while in detention and was then released. He left Sudan for health reasons.


Hossein Soodmand

Reverend Hossein Soodmand was a Muslim who had converted to Christianity in 1964 and acted as pastor and evangelist in the Evangelical Christian Church. He was arrested in 1989 and charged with apostasy and insulting Islam through his own conversion and by his efforts to convert other Muslims. He was sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court in Meshed and despite pleas for clemency by fellow pastors to the Muslim cleric acting as Ombudsman, the Dayro-e-Tasalamat ( literally, "he who hears the cries of the oppressed"), he was executed by hanging on 3rd December 1990 at the insistence of the Ombudsman.[49]

Mehdi Dibaj

Reverend Mehdi Dibaj, a Muslim who had converted to Christianity and was a minister of an Assemblies of God church in Babol, was arrested in 1983 and held for almost ten years without trial on charges of apostasy and of insulting Islam. During that time, he was held for 2 years in solitary confinement and was subjected to mock executions. In December 1993 he was sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court in Sari. Following much international pressure, Dibaj was released from prison in January 1994. On 20 June 1994 after attending a Christian conference in Karaj he disappeared without a trace. On 5 July 1994, the Tehran police reported that his body had been found in a forest west of Tehran. The authorities denied the family's request for an independent autopsy and he was buried on 13 July 1994.[50]

Hamid Pourmand

Hamid Pourmand, a colonel in the Iranian army, converted from Islam to Christianity before the Islamic Revolution. He was arrested by security forces in 2004 and has been held in detention ever since. Initially, he was tried for apostasy and could have faced the death penalty, but this was dropped due to international pressure. Instead he has been given a three year jail sentence for "deceiving the army about his religion". Pourmand was convicted even though his lawyers had produced documents from the army which proved they had known about his conversion before promoting him to a higher rank. He has suffered psychological torture in prison, including being told several times to pack his clothes because he is about to be hanged.

Ghorban Tori

Ghorban Tori was a convert from Islam to Christianity who had converted many Muslims. On 22 November 2005 he was kidnapped by security forces and a few hours later he was found stabbed to death in front of his home in Gonbad-e-Kavus, northeastern Iran. Following his murder the security services raided the houses of all the known Christians in the city.


Muhammad Haj Omar

Muhammad Haj Omar is a Somali who settled in Yemen as a refugee in 1994 with his wife and infant son. He converted to Christianity in 1998 and changed his name to George. He was then arrested by the police on charges of apostasy. During his imprisonment, he was beaten and threatened with death unless he returned to Islam. On 5 July 2000, a Yemeni court sentenced him to death by the sword for apostasy. He appealed against the sentence and following the publicising of the case in the West by religious rights groups he was deported from Yemen and granted asylum in New Zealand.


Tahir Iqbal

Tahir Iqbal was a Muslim who worked as a mechanic for the Pakistan Air Force. In 1984 he became paralysed in his lower limbs and had to retire from his job. At around that time he converted to Christianity and was baptized.

On 7 December 1990, a First Information Report (FIR) was filed against him by Peerzada 'Ali Ahmed Sabir. He was immediately arrested and imprisoned in Kokhlapat Central Jail on 19 July 1992.

The accusation stated that Iqbal had converted from Islam to Christianity; that while coaching Muslim children free of charge he would criticize Islam; that he claimed he could prove from the Qur'an that "illicit intercourse, drinking and sodomy are justified in Islam"; that he had prepared a list mentioning various chapters and verses in the Qur'an and marked and underlined those passages in a Qur'an; and finally that he had abused Islam and Muhammad. This was characteristic of many such accusations: a broad range of charges including apostasy, blasphemy, desecration of the Qur'an, insulting Islam and Muhammad, all of which are linked in the minds of most Muslims as manifestations of kufr, and all of which potentially carried the death penalty in shari'ah. The police actually limited their charge to desecration of the Qur'an under Section 295B.

It turned out that the accuser also offered coaching to children for which he charged a fee. The accusation obviously originated in Sabir's personal grudge against Iqbal for undercutting his business by offering free coaching.

Mullahs openly threatened Iqbal's advocate and declared that they would kill Iqbal if he were released on bail. Local Christians, and Iqbal himself, felt that in these circumstances prison was the safest place for him.

The Christian community tried its best to avoid publicity for the case, as it feared arousing the mullahs to more aggressive action. However, the secular media and the Pakistan Human Rights Commission broadcast the news, which was then taken up by the international media. The publicity and the efforts made by western Christian groups to mobilize help for Iqbal were interpreted by many Muslims as a campaign against Islam.

In March 1992, Peerzada 'Ali Ahmed Sabir submitted an application to Additional Sessions Judge Sabah Mohuddin that Tahir Iqbal be sentenced to death for apostasy. The judge heard this new case on 23 April 1992 and dismissed the application, saying the accused could only be sentenced to death if the prosecution could prove that he had defiled the name of Muhammad.

Tahir Iqbal died in prison on the night of 19-20 July 1992. There was no post-mortem, but some Christians suspected that he had been murdered.

Ashiq (Kingri) Masih

Kingri Masih is a Pakistani Christian from Saeedabad who converted to Islam and then reverted to Christianity and attended church with his Christian neighbours. On 17 March 2000 he had an argument with a neighbour, a Muslim religious leader associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, about his re-conversion. Following this altercation, a mob of 200 men attacked the small Christian community in Saeedabad. The neighbour then brought charges against Masih on 2 May 2000 under Section 295C of the Penal Code for injuring his religious feelings as a Muslim, denying Islam and making derogatory remarks about Muhammad.

The complaint was referred to the District Commissioner for perusal, and then passed on to the police who registered the complaint. Masih was arrested and refused bail. He denied the allegations.

On 29 June 2002, the death sentence was passed by the Additional District and Session Judge Ch. Mohamad Rafiq in the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court. He was also fined Rs. 50,000. Masih's lawyers intend to appeal against the sentence.



Naguib Mahfouz[54]

Naguib Mahfouz is the most famous Egyptian literary figure of modern times, a Nobel Prize Laureate in literature (1988). He is an avowed secularist and socialist and his writings are controversial in Egypt as they address political, social, moral and cultural aspects of Egyptian life. While he claims to be a Muslim, Islamic fundamentalists denounce him as an immoral atheist and Marxist.

His novel Awlad Haritna (Children of our Quarter), written as an allegory of human history following the main biblical prophets, and dealing with issues of social justice, exploitation and the abuse of power, especially angered radical Islamist fundamentalists, who claimed that he had attacked the dignity of God and distorted the Qur'an, thus becoming an apostate. In October 1994 he was stabbed in the neck by an Islamic extremist outside his home. He was rushed to hospital and his life was saved. The news of this attack sent shock waves all over the Muslim world, as it signified the growing power of Islamic fundamentalists and their growing willingness to use physical violence to intimidate those who venture to disagree with them. While many liberals, academics and journalists rallied to his defence and condemned the attack, fundamentalists were emboldened to brand all who disagree with them as enemies of Islam and apostates.

Following the attempt on his life, Mahfouz has disavowed his secularism, presumably out of fear of Islamic radicals.

Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd[55]

On 14 June 1995 the Appeals Court in Cairo, Egypt ruled that Dr Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd, a professor of Islamic and Arabic Studies at Cairo University, was an apostate from Islam and ordered his separation from his wife, Dr Ibtihal Yunis, an assistant Professor of French at Cairo University. The Supreme Court later upheld this decision. Professor Abu-Zayd was consequently denied promotion at the University, and following death threats fled Egypt with his wife and lives in self-exile in Belgium.

Abu-Zayd is a liberal-secularist academic who extended his linguistic research to the study of Islamic source texts, in particular the Qur'an and hadith which enraged fundamentalists. Following his application for promotion at the university on 9 May 1992, he submitted some of his publications to the University Tenure and Promotion Committee. While some members of the committee gave positive reports, Dr 'Abd al-Sabur Shahin, a fundamentalist member of the Committee, wrote a negative report which was accepted by the University as the basis for refusing the promotion.

While liberal academics and writers rallied to Abu-Zayd's defence against what they saw as the university's capitulation to fundamentalist pressure, Islamic fundamentalist groups and al-Azhar University defended the decision on the grounds that secular-liberal ideas and tinkering with Qur'an and sunnah
[56] texts were unacceptable in an Islamic society. Islamist radicals declared he had blasphemed against Islam and called for his death.

Muhammad Samida 'Abd al Samad, a former vice-president of the Council of State and a practising lawyer, together with six of his colleagues, brought a legal case against Abu Zayd on 10 June 1993 seeking his separation from his wife on grounds of apostasy. He was charged with publishing books that "according to reputable scholars" amounted to kufr. He was also accused of maligning the Qur'an and Sunnah, Muhammad's Companions and the leading jurists. The Giza Court rejected the apostasy lawsuit in January 1994 on procedural grounds as well as on the ground that no third party has a right to bring about separation between husband and wife. The ruling was appealed, and on 14 June 1995, the Cairo Appeals Court reversed the earlier decision and ruled Abu-Zayd an apostate, ordering his separation from his wife. It based its ruling on the Islamic principle of hisba, which permits any Muslim to defend Islamic morals and behaviour.

The ruling against Abu-Zayd emboldened Islamists to file hisba lawsuits against other intellectuals, including Naguib Mahfouz (see above), seeking to separate them from their wives on ground of apostasy. A new weapon had been added to the Islamists' armoury in fighting against liberals and secularists.

The Supreme Court finally upheld the Appeals Court decision on 5 August 1996, accepting the allegations that Abu-Zayd had described the throne of God, angels, jinni, paradise and hell and other aspects of the Qur'an as myths. He had also described the Qur'an itself as a cultural product and denied its pre-existence on a tablet in heaven, as well as calling it a linguistic text. Abu-Zayd had also described Islamic Qur'anic sciences as a reactionary heritage and he had denied the authenticity of the Sunnah and called for emancipation from the authority of religious texts. On these grounds he was accused of kufr.

This ruling was the first in modern Egypt in which courts had ruled on the separation of a man from his wife on grounds of apostasy, even though the accused declared that he was a Muslim, and it had far-reaching legal and political implications. It encouraged religious zealots to feel free to kill Abu-Zayd. The threat of similar accusations further served to silence liberal intellectuals and to severely limit the exercise of free speech.

Nawwal al-Sa'adawi[57]

World famous 70-year old Egyptian feminist writer, Nawwal al-Sa'adawi, appeared before a Personal Status Court in Cairo in June 2001 to face a private complaint made against her accusing her of apostasy for comments she had made on religious issues in the Egyptian weekly al-Midan. She had allegedly said that the haj pilgrimage to Mecca was a vestige of a pagan practice and had demanded that Muslim inheritance laws that favour males should be abolished.

Conservative lawyer Nabil al-Wahsh brought the charge of apostasy against her and demanded that she be divorced from her husband, Sherif. Sa'adawi denied the accusations that she had insulted Islam. The case was once again based on the Islamic concept of hisba that allows an individual to sue on behalf of the community. If she had been found guilty, she would have been forcibly divorced from her husband of 37 years and would have faced a three year prison term.

On 30 July 2001, the Cairo Family Affairs Tribunal dismissed the complaint and ruled that no individual had the right to bring such a case. Dr al-Sa'adawi welcomed the dismissal as a victory for free thought and expression, saying she had refused to yield to the mentality of the dark ages.



Muhammad Younus Shaikh[58]

Muhammad Younus Shaikh, a medical doctor and lecturer at the Homeopathic Medical College in Islamabad is a devout Muslim interested in reforming Islam to make it relevant to modern contexts. He is founder of "The Enlightenment" organization committed to propagating democracy and tolerance. He was sentenced to death for blasphemy by the Islamabad Additional District and Sessions Court on 18 August 2001, as well as being fined 1,000,000 rupees.

In October 2000, in a discussion in a class he led and in response to a student's question, he said that Muhammad did not become a Muslim until the age of forty when he received his first revelation and that his parents had not been Muslims. Some students reported the matter to local mullahs, and one mullah, affiliated to the extremist organization Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, then filed a criminal complaint with the police accusing him of blasphemy. Dr Younus was arrested on 4 October 2000 by the police and held in solitary confinement.

His trial was held in closed session inside the Central Jail in Rawalpindi for fear of attacks by Islamist extremists. His solicitors were harassed and threatened with charges of apostasy. Younus denied the charge and declared that his words had been misunderstood and twisted and that he had not said anything blasphemous. Lower Court Judge Safdar Hussain Malik said Younus deserved to be hanged for making derogatory remarks about Muhammad.

In a letter to the famous Pakistani scholar, Akbar S. Ahmed, asking for his help, Shaikh stated that the blasphemy law was wide open to abuse, especially by mullahs manipulating it for vindictive purposes. He saw a wave of aggressive ignorance, incivility and intolerance engulfing Pakistan. He stated that the court had found no case against him but that it had succumbed to threats made by militant mullahs, especially of the extremist Aalmi Majlis Khatme-Nabowat Pakistan organization.

Lawyers working for Younus Shaikh lodged an appeal against the judgment on 21 August 2001 and the Lahore High Court admitted the appeal. On 16 January 2002 the High Court at Rawalpindi rejected a bail application by Dr Shaikh. Some observers said it was to protect his life from angry radicals.

After spending 15 months in solitary confinement, Younus Shaikh's case was brought to a retrial. No lawyer was willing to defend him during his retrial, so he had to defend himself with legal books smuggled into his cell. The judge at his retrial accepted that his accusers had lied under oath and he was freed on 21 November 2003. He fled Pakistan and was granted asylum in Switzerland after a fatwa was issued calling for him to be killed.


Abdollah Nouri[60]

Abdollah Nouri, a high ranking cleric (Hojatolislam), former vice-President of Iran and former Minister of the Interior, aide to President Khatami, and a popular reform-minded politician, was accused of a total of twenty vaguely worded charges including insulting Islam and being an apostate. He was charged in relation to articles published in his now banned newspaper Khordad. The Special Court for the Clergy, on 11 November 1999, prevented Nouri from completing his defence and gave him ten days to submit a written text of the defence. However, on 17 November 1999 the Court found him guilty of 15 of the 20 charges (including the publishing of sacrilegious articles, opposing the teachings of Khomeini, insulting Islamic sanctities, undermining the authority of the Supreme Guide, spreading lies and propaganda against the system, insulting the country's religious leadership, and supporting renewed ties with the U.S.). It sentenced him to a five year jail term and five year banishment from political activity. It also fined him 15 million Riyals.

Abdollah Nouri did not appeal against the sentence, stating that he did not recognize the jurisdiction of the Special Court for the Clergy or its verdict. He was jailed in Evin prison. Abdollah Nouri was later granted a pardon by Iran's Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Khamenei, and was released from prison on 5 November 2002.

Hassan Youssef Eshkevari[61]

Hassan Youssef Eshkevari, a cleric (Hojatolislam), religious scholar and researcher, was arrested on 5 August 2000 and charged with apostasy, blasphemy, heresy, being at war with God and "corruption on earth" before the Special Court for the Clergy.

Eshkevari had attended an international conference on the future of Iran in Berlin together with several other leading reformist activists. In response to a question following his lecture he stated that in his view veiling and the enforcement of a strict dress code for women had cultural and historical origins in Iran but were not required by Islam. Islamic principles relating to social issues were adaptable to change as Muhammad had only sanctioned them for the needs of his time. These remarks were publicly criticized by conservative clerics in Iran including the Supreme Guide Ayatollah 'Ali Khamenei.

Many other delegates to the Berlin conference were also arrested on their return to Iran and accused of various crimes that included apostasy, insulting Islam and undermining national security.

The trial was held in closed session and Eshkevari was denied access to a lawyer of his choice. The court decided on the death penalty. Following domestic and international condemnation, the Head of the Special Court for the Clergy admitted that the trial was flawed. An appeals court overturned the death sentence in May 2001 and sentenced him to seven years in prison and removal of his status as a cleric.

Hashem Aghajari[62]

Hashem Aghajari is a prominent reformist scholar and a history professor at Tabiat-e-Modarres University in Tehran as well as Head of its History Department. He is a member of the political party The Organization for Islamic Mujahidin of the Revolution and an ally of former President Khatami. Hashem Aghajari was sentenced to death for apostasy, blasphemy against Muhammad, and insulting the Shia imams and top state religious authorities, by a Hamadan court on 7 November 2002. He had made a speech in June 2002 commemorating the death of 'Ali Shariati, the main ideologue of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. In his speech, he called for a reformation of Islam similar to the Protestant Reformation in Christianity, which would entail a return to the original core of Islam while repudiating various additions that were adopted over the centuries. He also questioned the hard-line interpretations of the ruling clerics, accusing them of setting themselves up as mediators between God and the believers, a system which runs counter to the nature of Islam. Professor Aghajari himself has denied criticizing Muhammad in any way and apologized for any unintended offence his remarks may have caused.

He was held in solitary confinement in Evin prison and denied legal counsel. On 7 October 2002 he was tried behind closed doors on a variety of charges, including apostasy and being one of the "corrupt on earth". Judge Ramazani of the Fourteenth District Court in Hamadan handed down a sentence of death and in addition 74 lashes, eight years imprisonment and internal exile, and a ten-year prohibition from teaching. Iranian courts frequently issue multiple sentences in cases where they want to set an example. Should the death penalty be implemented, the other punishments will not be carried out. His lawyer said there would be an appeal.

Experts claim that his arrest and prosecution were part of an overall clampdown on the freedom of expression in Iran and were linked to attempts by the hardliners to weaken the then President Khatami and his reformist allies. This case was seen by many as another instance of the hardliners, led by Iran's Supreme Guide, Ayatollah 'Ali Khamenei, trying to intimidate President Khatami and his reformist allies.

University students publicly protested against the verdict, claiming it was an insult to the university community and a violation of freedom of speech. They chanted slogans against Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the hardline chief of Iran's judiciary. Sensing the growing mood of antagonism to the hardline policies of his followers, Supreme Guide Khamenei ordered a review of the case. At the end of a retrial, he was again condemned to death. President Mohammad Khatami spoke up on his behalf, saying he had done more for Iran than the "inexperienced" judge who sentenced him. The Supreme Court again overturned his conviction. Finally, in July 2004, he was convicted of the lesser offences of insulting sacred Islamic tenets. The court sentenced him to three years imprisonment, and a further two years suspended.

Aghajari was finally released in July 2004, emerging from Evin prison in north Tehran to a warm welcome by relatives and friends after two years of legal battles with judges and mass demonstrations by students.


Taslima Nasrin[64]

Taslima Nasrin, a doctor turned writer and women's rights activist, was first subjected to threats in October 1993 when the militant Islamist movement Council of Soldiers of Islam called for her death following the publication of her novel Lajja (shame) which portrays the experiences of a Hindu family being attacked by Muslims after the destruction of the Babri mosque in India. The group claimed that Nasrin had hurt their religious sentiments.

In 1994 an Indian newspaper quoted Nasrin as saying the Qur'an should be rewritten. Taslima Nasrin claims that she was misquoted and that she meant Islamic law should be changed to give women more rights. A devout Muslim, Zainal Abedin Babul, filed a petition against her claiming she had insulted Islam and hurt his religious feelings. She was also charged with deliberately and maliciously outraging religious feelings. Islamic militants organized demonstrations demanding her death for blasphemy and issued death threats against her. Police found her at the top of a hit list of Bangladeshi intellectuals drawn up by radicals. Following the issue of an arrest warrant, Nasrin fled Bangladesh for Sweden and later New York.

Nasrin returned to Bangladesh briefly in September 1998 to be with her mother who later died of cancer. She had to remain in hiding, appearing only for a court hearing after which she was granted bail on the 1993 charges of insulting religion. She then went again into exile abroad.


The Rushdie Affair[65]

This affair has received so much publicity that it will only be mentioned very briefly. Following the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses in 1981, which provoked outrage among Muslims worldwide, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for blasphemy and for insulting Islam and Muhammad. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding until 1998, when the Iranian government stated it would not track down the writer nor carry out the death sentence. There are, however, continued calls for the fatwa to be implemented, and ten years after the original fatwa was issued, several Iranian clerics continued to justify it and call for Rushdie's death. Typical is Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi who is reputed to have said:

Anyone who blasphemes the Prophet or all that is sacred in Islam is condemned for apostasy. Anyone who sees this book (The Satanic Verses) has to admit that Rushdie committed the highest form of blasphemy to the Prophet.

Ayyan Hirsi 'Ali (check)

Ayyan Hirsi 'Ali, a Somali political scientist in the Netherlands was forced into hiding in 2002 after receiving a barrage of hate mail and death threats from Muslims following a live debate on Dutch TV in which she accused Islam of treating women shoddily, and conservative Muslim groups of covering up cases of domestic violence and child abuse. Ms. Hirsi 'Ali also condemned the government's support for programs promoting multiculturalism which, she claimed, help keep Muslim women isolated from Dutch society. She claimed Islam was facing backward because of its treatment of women. Following explicit death threats, the police told her to change homes and the mayor of Amsterdam provided bodyguards. In 2003 a complaint that she was discriminating against Muslims and Islam was brought against her after some comments she made about Muhammad in a newspaper interview, but it was rejected by the prosecutor. Renewed death threats were made against her in 2004 and 2005, but she has courageously refused to stay out of public life and has been active in Dutch politics. [67]

Khalid Duran[68]

Khalid Duran is a well-known liberal Muslim scholar who was born in Germany and moved to the US in 1980, where he taught at Temple University and American University. He is also editor of the journal TransIslam. Recently he published a book: Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews, (Ktav Publishing House, 2001).

An edict against Duran - not a full-blown fatwa – was issued by Sheikh Abdul Moneim Abu Zant, an Islamic cleric in Jordan and a leader in the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. This was reported in the Jordanian Weekly Al-Shahed, which is close to the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, in its 6 June 2001 issue. Sheikh Abdel Moneim Abu Zant found the book offensive to Islam and issued a religious opinion declaring Duran an apostate, advocating his death by stating that "his blood is permissible", and calling on Muslims in the United States to "unify against him". He also urged two prominent Sunni Islamic institutions to issue similar judgments of apostasy against Duran. In Islamic religious terms, such declarations mean that any Muslim who kills the accused is fulfilling a religious duty.

As a result, Khalid Duran, aged 61, moved from his home in the Washington suburbs to a safe house and was provided with 24-hour private security. He stated that he had received death threats over the years for some of his writings that criticized extremist Islamic groups, but that this was the first time he had become the target of a religious edict of apostasy.


The Baha'is in Iran

The Baha'i religion was founded in the nineteenth century in Iran as an offshoot of Twelver Shi'ism that came to be considered heretical by the orthodox establishment. As a result, Baha'is in Iran have undergone repeated cycles of persecution. Granted a respite under the last Shah who treated them well, they prospered for a while until the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The clerical ruling elite was virulently hostile to the Baha'i faith as a heresy which must be blotted out, and there has been severe persecution of the Baha'i community ever since. In the first six years following the revolution over 200 Baha'is, mainly community leaders, were executed. Baha'i institutions have been disbanded, their property confiscated, their holy places and cemeteries desecrated. Baha'is cannot hold government jobs, enforce legal contracts, practise law, collect pensions, attend universities or practise their faith. They have been deprived of all civil rights.

Zabibullah Mahrami

Zabibullah Mahrami was a mid-ranking civil servant in the Department of Agriculture of the Provincial Government of Yazd in Iran. Soon after the revolution, he publicly renounced his Baha'i faith, following the Shia doctrine of taqiyah that permits dissimulation in times of danger and persecution. His adoption of Twelver Shi'ah Islam was at the time reported in the newspapers. Many other Baha'is made similar pronouncements at the time in order to protect themselves from persecution, stay out of trouble and keep their jobs, as many Baha'is were being dismissed from state employment and were having their pension rights suspended.

After a few years of lying low, Mahrami judged that the revolutionary zeal had abated and began to visit Baha'i meetings and participate in Baha'i festivals. In August 1995, he was charged with apostasy in the Yazd Revolutionary Court. Mahrami admitted that he had made his conversion to orthodox Shia Islam because he had been afraid for his own safety and that of his family, and that when he thought that Baha'is would no longer be harassed, he reverted to his Baha'i faith.

Following shari'ah guidelines for dealing with apostates, the court first tried to guide him back to Islam. When he refused, he was charged with apostasy and with insulting Islam, and on 2 January 1996, the court declared him guilty of these charges and sentenced him to death.

While the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran does not mention apostasy under its penal code, the court cited a legal exegesis of Ayatollah Khomeini as the basis for its decision. The verdict was passed on to the Supreme Court for approval, and it ruled that the Revolutionary Court was not the appropriate tribunal for this kind of case and referred the case to a Civil Court.

The authorities, however, did not comply with the Supreme Court ruling. Instead they brought new charges of espionage for Israel against Mahrami in a Revolutionary Court. In February 1997 the court sentenced him to death for spying.

The Ahmadiyya in Pakistan

The Ahmadiyya is a Muslim revivalist movement founded by Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (Punjab) in the 19th century. While considering themselves true Muslims, the majority Sunni population of Pakistan, as well as the Shi'ah minority, have always viewed them as heretical for claiming their founder was the promised Mahdi and had a prophetic function. Since the inception of the Ahmadiyya movement, there have been many calls by orthodox Muslim groups for its suppression by state legislation and by the state enforcement agencies. Pakistani governments gradually yielded to the demands of Islamic extremists who also instigated violent riots against Ahmadis, and in 1974 a constitutional amendment was introduced by the then Prime Minister Zulfikar 'Ali Bhutto, declaring Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim minority. In April 1984, President Zia-ul Haq promulgated sections 298B and 298C in the Pakistan Penal Code which made it a criminal offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims, to employ Muslim terms and appellations associated with Islam, to use Muslim practices of worship or to propagate their faith. As a result, Ahmadis have been subjected to a wide range of abuses, based mainly on the blasphemy laws that have been used to harass, intimidate and detain members of this community.[70]

Mirza Mubarak Ahmad Nusrat[71]

Mirza Mubarak Ahmad Nusrat, an Ahmadi of Mirpurkhas, was arrested in 1989 for allegedly distributing "prayer pamphlets" (Mubahila), and was detained in the police lock-up. While offering his prayers in his cell, a Sunni opponent, Mullah Ahmad Mian Hamadi, visited the police station to enquire on the progress of the case and was infuriated to see Nusrat praying as a Muslim (according to Pakistani law Ahmadis must not "pretend" to be Muslims). He brought a charge against Nusrat and a criminal case was registered against him at Tando Adam police station under section 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code for posing as a Muslim and offending the feelings of Muslims.

Nusrat was held for eleven years in jail while his case was heard at various locations: Tando Adam, Sanghar, Hyderabad and Karachi. The accused and his advocate, 'Ali Ahmad Tariq, had to travel thousands of miles for the appearances in the various courts. The case was referred to the Sindh High Court on three occasions and finally that court ordered it transferred to Hyderabad. On 20 May 2000 the judicial magistrate of Hyderabad, Fida Hassan Mughal, convicted Nusrat for an offence under section 298 for posing as a Muslim, offering prayers in a Muslim posture, facing Mecca and prostrating himself. The judge took into account the eleven years the accused had already spent in jail and sentenced him "only" to a period of two months and 21 days and a fine of Rs 3,000.

Nasir Ahmad[72]

Nasir Ahmad, an Ahmadi of Nankana in the District of Sheikhupura, issued invitation cards for his daughter's wedding that was scheduled for 15 May 1992. The card carried the normal greetings for such occasions, including phrases such as "In the Name of God, the gracious, the Merciful", "We Invoke Praise and Blessings on the Noble Prophet", "May Peace be Upon You", and "Inshallah". A radical mullah of the local Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Association brought a charge against 13 persons of the family accusing them of blasphemy and of offending the feelings of Muslims. The police sought advice from their legal department who based their decision on the issue on the precedent of an earlier decision by the Lahore High Court; they directed the police station to register the criminal case. Two of the accused were women and one was a nine-month old baby.

Nasir Ahmad remained in prison for three months, until released on bail. The judicial process lasted three years. First the Lahore High Court decided a charge under section 295C could be applied. The case then went before the Supreme Court where the Additional Advocate General, Farooq Haider, representing the state, claimed that the state had reached its limit of patience at tolerating these people (Ahmadis) in Pakistan. The Supreme Court decided that section 295C was not applicable to this case but other sections of the Penal Code were.

Finally, on 23 April 1995 the Additional Sessions Judge in Sheikhpura sentenced Ahmad to four years' imprisonment under 295A and to two years' imprisonment under 298C.


 Michel Houellebecq

In September 2002 Michel Houellebecq, a French philosopher, was taken to court by the Paris Mosque and the World Islamic League for incitement to racial hatred. In one of his novels he had depicted a woman being killed by Islamic terrorists. He had also described the Qur'an as appalling. The court cleared him of all charges on 22 October 2002, agreeing that his remarks were a judgment on a religion, not an incitement to hatred.[73]

Oriana Fallaci[74]

In June 2002, legal proceedings were started in France by a coalition of Islamic and anti-racism groups (including the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between People), against Italian author Oriana Fallaci, a well known Italian journalist, for her book La Rabbia e L'Orgoglio (Rage and Pride) which warned of the Islamist menace to Western civilization and freedoms and accepted the concept of a clash of cultures and of religions between Islam and the West. Muslims accused her of Islamophobia and xenophobia. The Geneva based Islamic Centre also filed a suit against her on 20 June 2002 in Switzerland under Swiss anti-racism laws and asked for her book to be banned. An Italian judge ordered her to stand trial in June 2006 in [Link] Bergamo on charges of "defaming Islam" after a case was brought against her by [Link] Adel Smith, president of the Union of Italian Muslims.  

Sir Vidia Naipaul

Sir Vidia Naipaul was much criticized by British and US Muslim leaders, and called a reactionary and an Islamophobe, for his book Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (NY: Random House, 1998). In the book he stated that Islam was an Arabic religion and all non-Arab Muslims were converts robbed of their original identity and cut off from their authentic roots by Islam.In a lecture in 2002 he compared Islam with colonialism, again claiming it destroyed its adherents' history and identity. Following threats to his life, his wife Nadira Khanum Alvi, herself a Muslim, wrote to a Pakistani newspaper in his defence.[75]



The amendment to the blasphemy law promulgated by General Zia in 1985 states that whosoever insults the Qur'an could be punished with life imprisonment, while anyone who blasphemes Muhammad is liable to the death penalty. Numerous accusations of blasphemy, usually fabricated, have since been brought against Christians.[76] Five Christians accused of blasphemy have been murdered while their trials were still in progress, three of them while in custody. A Muslim judge, Arif Iqbal Bhattio, who had helped procure the acquittal on appeal of two of these Christians, was himself murdered in October 1997.[77] 

Ayub Masih



Ayub Masih is a Pakistani Christian and a mason by trade. He was charged with blasphemy in a public place in October 1996 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Muhammad and expressing views favourable to Rushdie's Satanic Verses. A neighbour said Ayub told him: "If you want to know the truth about Islam, then read Salman Rushdie". According to reliable sources, the accusations against him were fabricated in order to forcefully evict 15 Christian families from their land following a dispute in his village of Arifabad. Indeed, eventually 14 Christian families were evicted from the village, and Ayub Masih's family home was transferred to the complainant, Muhammad Akram.

The case appears to have been registered without proper investigation and was based merely on the statement made by the complainant, Muhammad Akram. While in prison Ayub Masih was repeatedly threatened and mistreated and in November 1997 he was shot at by the complainant inside the Sahiwal Sessions Court in Punjab province.

In a letter from prison, Ayub Masih wrote: "I am sick with various diseases and have not been allowed any medicines – my condition is getting worse all the time. Being a prisoner charged with blasphemy, I have been kept alone in a darkened cell where there is no light, no toilet, and no fan to cool me from the heat. I have to tell other prisoners I am here for theft or I would be beaten for being a Christian. I have been tortured many times".

Throughout the legal proceedings Islamic extremists packed the courtroom and threatened to kill Ayub, his lawyers and judge if he was not convicted and hanged. The Church had great difficulty finding a lawyer willing to represent Ayub Masih in court. Ayub Masih denied the accusations.

The death sentence was imposed by a judge of the Session Court, Sahiwal District in 1998. Ten days after the sentence was passed, the Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, Dr John Joseph who was outraged by the verdict, shot himself in the head with a pistol in front of the Sahiwal Courthouse in protest in May 1998.

The Multan Bench of the Lahore High Court rejected an appeal in July 2001 and upheld the verdict. Ayub's lawyer Abid Hasan Minto then appealed to the Supreme Court in Islamabad on a legal technicality that requires local authorities to prove the reliability of a witness before charges can be filed. The Supreme Court had his conviction quashed on 15 August 2002, declaring that "Ayub Masih is not found guilty of committing blasphemy and allegations against Ayub are baseless and false". It ordered his immediate release.

Ayub, by then in his early thirties, had been under sentence of death for four years. He has had to move to Europe for safety from Islamic extremists who are likely to want to kill him.

Yousaf Masih

Yousaf Masih is a 60 year old illiterate street sweeper. He lives in the town of Sangla Hill, about 170 miles southeast of Islamabad. In November 2005 a rumour that Yousaf had set fire to pages from the Qur'an lead to a Presbyterian church, a Catholic church, two chapels, a convent, a dispensary, two parish houses, a girls' school and four Christian homes being attacked and damaged extensively by a mob of thousands of angry Muslims. Yousaf himself was arrested and tried for blasphemy. In February 2006 he was acquitted after his accuser admitted he had not actually seen Yousaf set fire to the pages of the Qur'an. In return for his acquittal Christian leaders had to agree not to press charges against 88 Muslims jailed in the wake of the attacks on the churches. There are, however, still concerns for Yousaf's safety.


A great variety of measures are deployed in Muslim societies and states against any deviation from whatever normative form of Islam is prevalent in that society or state. Accusations of apostasy, blasphemy, heresy, desecration of the Qur'an, and insulting Islam or Muhammad are all part of the range of weapons in the arsenal of the self-appointed guardians of "true" Islam. Shari'ah hudud and ta'zir laws against apostasy, blasphemy and unbelief, all of which potentially carry the death penalty, are the justification for these attacks. Many of these accusations are the result of personal grudges borne by the accusers against the defendants; others are often brought by Islamic militant organizations bent on purifying Muslim societies from any hint of deviation, heresy, innovation and reform.

In some countries the state legal system has adopted shari'ah laws so that official charges of apostasy, blasphemy and unbelief can be brought within the state courts against the accused. These blasphemy and apostasy laws enable the state to arbitrarily detain citizens who are viewed with disfavour for any reason by the authorities or by militant Muslims. Where such provisions do not yet exist, or where state legal systems are not interested in such prosecutions, groups and individuals within the society take it upon themselves to carry out what they see as obligatory shari'ah penalties on the accused. 'Ulama and mullahs will issue private fatwas demanding the killing of the accused, families will use coercive measures which might culminate in murder to try and expunge the shame such alleged behaviour casts on the whole family, and mobs can be easily incited and whipped up to a frenzy of attacks against the accused, their families and communities.
[79] Individual Muslims, zealous for their religion and its honour, will take it on themselves to assassinate the accused, believing that they are doing a holy service to God and to Islam.

The issue of apostasy and blasphemy and related "crimes" is obviously complex. Within all Muslim societies the perceived acts of treason, betrayal and attacks on Islam and its honour touch a raw nerve and always arouse great emotional outbursts. While there are a few brave dissenting voices within Muslim societies, the threat of the application of the apostasy and blasphemy laws against any who criticize its application is an efficient weapon used to intimidate opponents, silence criticism, punish rivals, reject innovations and reform, and keep non-Muslim communities in their place.

These cases highlight the negative impact of Islamic attitudes to apostasy and blasphemy on freedom of expression, fair treatment of minorities and equality before the law. In the present climate of the rise in Islamist power across the Muslim world and the increased application of shari'ah in new regions and states, such travesties of justice are, without doubt, likely to increase.

© Barnabas Fund 2006


[1] A Kuwaiti jurist (1996) quoted in Anh Nga Longva, "The Apostasy Law in the Age of Universal Human Rights and Citizenship: Some Legal and Political Implications", paper delivered at the Fourth Nordic Conference on Middle Eastern Studies: The Middle East in a Globalizing World, Oslo, 13-16 August 1998. [Link] .

[2] Cyril Glasse, The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Revised Edition, London: Stacey International, 2001, p. 271.

[3] Patrick Sookhdeo, A People Betrayed: The Impact of Islamization on the Christian Community in Pakistan, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications & Pewsey, Wiltshire: Isaac Publishing, 2002, pp.297-302.

[1] A Kuwaiti jurist (1996) quoted in Anh Nga Longva, "The Apostasy Law in the Age of Universal Human Rights and Citizenship: Some Legal and Political Implications", paper delivered at the Fourth Nordic Conference on Middle Eastern Studies: The Middle East in a Globalizing World, Oslo, 13-16 August 1998. [Link] .

[2] Cyril Glasse, The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Revised Edition, London: Stacey International, 2001, p. 271.

[3] Patrick Sookhdeo, A People Betrayed: The Impact of Islamization on the Christian Community in Pakistan, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications & Pewsey, Wiltshire: Isaac Publishing, 2002, pp.297-302.

[4] Patrick Sookhdeo, A People Betrayed: The Impact of Islamization on the Christian Community in Pakistan, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications & Pewsey, Wiltshire: Isaac Publishing, 2002, p. 243.

[5] John L. Esposito, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, New York: The Oxford University Press, 1995. pp. 439-443.

[6] See section 2. "The human rights situation of religious minorities in Pakistan", section 6. "Official indifference to other abuses of minority rights", and section 7. "Bias of the members of the criminal justice system against minorities" in "Pakistan: Insufficient Protection of Religious Minorities", Amnesty International, May 2001,ASA 33/008/2001, pp. 2-4, 28-29.

[7] See following case studies, especially under heading "Muslim Intellectuals Seen as Deviating from Orthodox Interpretations of Islam".

[8] Patrick Sookhdeo, A People Betrayed: The Impact of Islamization on the Christian Community in Pakistan, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications & Pewsey, Wiltshire: Isaac Publishing, 2002, pp. 278-281.

[9] Published by Lutterworth Press, Cambridge (1989)

[10]Mayer op. cit. p.165

[11] Azzam Tamimi, "Human Rights – Islamic and Secular Perspectives", in The Quest for Sanity, The Muslim Council of Britain, 2002, pp. 229-235.

[12] The Egyptian Constitution states in article 2: "Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)", Egyptian Parliament website, [Link] ; The Mauritanian Constitution of 1991 states in its Preamble that the precepts of Islam are the only source of law, "Mauritania – Constitution", ICL Document, 12 July 1991, [Link] .

[13] For instance, in Egypt, certain high public positions are closed to Christians by an unwritten rule, while churches need special permits for the most minor renovations. In Pakistan religious minorities suffer from "arbitrary denial off social and economic rights as well as the rights to preach, practice and propagate minority beliefs" as well as being subject to a wide range of harassment and humiliation. Section 6. "Official indifference to other abuses of minority rights" in "Pakistan: Insufficient Protection of Religious Minorities", Amnesty International, May 2001,ASA 33/008/2001, pp. 25-28.

[14] "Summary Record of the 1251st Meeting: Iran (Islamic Republic of), 29/07/93", United Nations, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR).

[15] Anh Nga Longva, "The Apostasy Law in the Age of Universal Human Rights and Citizenship: Some Legal and Political Implications", paper delivered at the Fourth Nordic Conference on Middle Eastern Studies: The Middle East in a Glob'Alizing World, Oslo, 13-16 August 1998. [Link]

[16] Christine Schirrmacher, "Human Rights in Muslim Understanding", [Link] .

[17]Zwemer op. cit. p.44; Kevin Dwyer, Arab Voices: The Human Rights Debate in the Middle East, (London: Routledge, 1991) p.234 note 8; Ruxton op. cit. quoted in Zwemer op. cit. p.43

[18] "Defying World Trends: Saudi Arabia's Extensive Use of Capital Punishment", Amnesty International report based on a paper compiled by Amnesty International for the 1st World Congress Against the Death Penalty, 21-23 June 2001, Strasbourg.

[19] Patrick Sookhdeo, A People Betrayed: The Impact of Islamization on the Christian Community in Pakistan, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications & Pewsey, Wiltshire: Isaac Publishing, 2002, pp. 257-274.

[20] "Appendix 1: Offences relating to religion under the Pakistan Penal Code", in "Pakistan: Insufficient Protection of Religious Minorities", Amnesty International, May 2001,ASA 33/008/2001, pp. 57-60.

[21] A Muslim group founded in the 19th century, regarded as heretical by most "orthodox" Muslims and proclaimed a non-Muslim minority by the Pakistani authorities in 1974. Legislation in 1984 made it a criminal offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim. See "Pakistan: Insufficient Protection of Religious Minorities", Amnesty International, May 2001,ASA 33/008/2001, pp. 2-3.

[22] Patrick Sookhdeo, A People Betrayed: The Impact of Islamization on the Christian Community in Pakistan, 2002, pp. 239-243, 249-257; "Pakistan: Insufficient Protection of Religious Minorities", Amnesty International, May 2001, AI Index: ASA 33/008/2001.

[23] Akbar S. Ahmed, "Pakistan's Blasphemy Law: Words Fail Me", Washington Post, 19 May 2002, P. B1.

[24] "Persecution Under the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan", Jubilee Campaign Information Sheet, [Link]

[25] "Pakistani court frees 'blasphemer' ", BBC NEWS, Thursday 15 August 2002, [Link] .

[26] Idrees Bakhtiar, "Karachi police break up blasphemy rally", BBC NEWS, Wednesday, 10 January 2001, [Link] "Critics condemn Pakistani government retraction", BBC NEWS, Wednesday, 17 May 2000, [Link] .

[27] Susannah Price, "Pakistani appeals over death sentence", BBC News Online: World: South Asia, 21 August 2001, [Link] .

[28] "Religious Freedom in the Majority Islamic Countries, 1998 Report: Egypt", Aid to the Church in Need, [Link] ; Fauzi M. Najjar, "Book Banning in Contemporary Egypt", The Muslim World, Vol. 91, Nos. 3&4, Fall 2001.

[29] [Link] .

[30] Ibid. p.1372-3

[31]Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics, (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press and London: Pinter Publishers, 1991) p. 169

[32] Fauzi M. Najjar, "Book Banning in Contemporary Egypt", The Muslim World, Vol. 91, Nos. 3&4, Fall 2001.

[33] See series of articles on the punishment for apostasy by Sayyed Al-Qimni in Rose El-Youssef, October & November 2002, quoted in RSNAW (Religious News Service from the Arab World), Fall 2001, week 40,October 4-10, 2002, article 2 (part 1); week 41,October 11-17, 2002, article 2 (part 2); week 43, October 25-31, 2002, article 3 (parts 3&4); week 44, November 1-8, 2002, article 2 (part 5). Also Fauzi M. Najjar, "Book Banning in Contemporary Egypt", The Muslim World, Vol. 91, Nos. 3&4, Fall 2001.

[34] Harvey Glickman, "Islamism in Sudan's Civil War", Orbis, Vol. 44. No. 2, Spring 2000, pp. 267-282.

[35] The1998 Constitution of Sudan, ART IV, CHAPTER I, Sources of legislation, article. 65. states: "Islamic law and the consensus of the nation, by referendum, Constitution and custom shall be the sources of legislation ; and no legislation in contravention with these fundamentals shall be made."

[36] Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, "Application of Shari'a (Islamic Law) and Human Rights Violations in the Sudan", in Religion and Human Rights: Proceedings of the Conference Convened by the Sudan Human Rights Organization, 1992, p. 101; "Sudan, International Religious Freedom Report, US Department of State, Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, October 26, 2001; "Persecuted Church News - Sudan: 'Religious Freedom'? Not Really!", World Evangelical Alliance, Religious Liberty Prayer List, No. 158, Wed 6, March, 2002, [Link]

[37] "Summary Record of the 1629th Meeting: Sudan, 31/10/97", United Nations, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR).

[38] "Summary Record of the 1251st Meeting: Iran (Islamic Republic of), 29/07/93", United Nations, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR).

[39] "Iran: A legal System that Fails to Protect Freedom of Expression and Association", Amnesty International, AI-index: MDE 13/045/2001 [Link]

[40] Zainah Anwar, "What Islam, Whose Islam? Sisters in Islam and the Struggle for Women's Rights" in Robert Hefner, ed., The Politics of Multicultur'Alism: Pluralism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001, pp. 235-236 Robert Hefner, ed., The Politics of Multiculturalism: Pluralism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001, pp.74-75

[41] Roger Mittin, "Speaking Out Again: Mahathir Calls for a Review of Islamic Law", Asia magazine, [Link] .

[42] "Islam, Apostasy and PADS", Sisters in Islam, No. 6, July 1999, [Link] Roger Mittin, "Speaking Out Again: Mahathir Calls for a Review of Islamic Law", Asia magazine, [Link] .

[43] Robert Day McAmis, Malay Muslims: The History and Challenge of Resurgent Islam in Southeast Asia, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2002, pp. 86-90: Abdul Rahman Embong, "The Culture and Practice of Pluralism in Post-Colonial Malaysia" in Robert Hefner, ed., The Politics of Multiculturalism: Pluralism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001, pp.74-75.

[44] Abdul Rahman Embomg: "The Culture and Practice of Pluralism in Postcolonial Malaysia" in Robert W. Hefner, ed., The Politics of Multiculturalism: Pluralism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001, p. 59.

[45] Robert W. Hefner, "Introduction" in Robert W. Hefner, ed., The Politics of Multiculturalism: Pluralism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001, pp. 22-24.

[46] Rober Day McAmis, Malay Muslims: The History and Challenge of Resurgent Islam in Shoutheast Asia, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002, pp. 85-90.

[47] "Sudan: Religious Freedom? Not Really", World Evangelical Alliance, Persecuted Church News, Religious Prayer List, no. 158, 6 March 2002, [Link] .

[48] Human Rights Watch, "Crises in Sudan and Northern Uganda", Testimony of Jemera Rone, Human Rights Watch Before the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights and the Subcommittee on Africa, 29 July 1998, [Link] ; "Moslem Convert to Christianity faces death for "apostasy" in Sudan", Servant's Heart,
[Link] .

[49] "Iran, Religious and Ethnic Minorities: Discrimination in Law and in Practice", Human Rights Watch, [Link] .

[50] "Iran, Religious and Ethnic Minorities: Discrimination in Law and in Practice", Human Rights Watch, [Link] .

[51] Michael Nazir-'Ali, "The Killing of Brother George", The Guardian, Saturday, 29 July 2000; "The Geneva Report 2001: A Perspective on Religious Freedom: Challenges Facing the Christian Community", World Evangelical Alliance, Religious Liberty Commission, [Link]

[52] Patrick Sookhdeo, A People Betrayed: The Impact of Islamization on the Christian Community in Pakistan, 2002, pp. 264-267.

[53] "Pakistan: Insufficient Protection of Religious Minorities", Amnesty International, May 2001, AI Index: ASA 33/008/2001; "Another Christian Receives the Death Sentence for Blasphemy", The Barnabas Fund, [Link] .

[54] Fauzi M. Najjar, "Islamic Fundamentalism and the Intellectuals: The Case of Naguib Mahfouz", British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1, May 1998, pp. 139-168; Ami Ayalon, "Egypt's Quest for Cultural Orientation", The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University, 1999. [Link] .

[55] Fauzi M. Najjar, "Islamic Fundamentalism and the Intellectuals: The Case of Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd", British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2, November 2000, pp. 177-200.

[56] Sunnah denotes the actions of Muhammad in his lifetime, his normative perfect personal example, to be followed by all Muslims.

[57] Fiona Lloyd-Davies, "No Compromise", BBC NEWS, Friday, 26 October 2001, [Link] ; "Egypt", Amnesty International Report 2002, AI Index: POL 10/001/2002; Philip Smucker, "Lawyer Calls for Divorce over 'insult to Islam' ", Electronic Telegraph, 25 April 2001; Egyptian 'infidel' case dismissed", BBC NEWS, Middle East, 30 July 2001, [Link] .

[58] Akbar S. Ahmed, "Pakistan's Blasphemy Law: Words Fail Me", The Washington Post, Outlook, Sunday 19 May 2002, p. B01; Barry Bearak, "Death to Blasphemers: Islam's Grip on Pakistan", NY Times, 12 May 2001, Foreign Desk, Late edition, Section A, p. 3; "Pakistan doctor faces death for blasphemy",, 20 August 2001; Susannah Price, "Pakistani sentenced to death for blasphemy", BBC News Online; World: South Asia, 18 August 2001, [Link] Susannah Price, "Pakistani appeals over death sentence", BBC News Online; World: South Asia, 21 August 2001, [Link] Amnesty International News Release, "Blasphemy Laws Should Be Abolished", 21 August 2001, [Link] .

[59] Apostasy, Human Rights, Religion and Belief – New Threats to the Freedom of Opinion and Expression: Pakistani Blasphemy Law, Mohammad Younis Shaikh in The Myth of Islamic Tolerance, ed., Robert Spencer, Prometheus Books, 2005.

[60] "Abdollah Nouri, Prisoner of Conscience , Iran", Amnesty International, Medical Action, AI Index: MDE13/010/2002; John F. Burns, "Iran Hard-Liners Try Cleric, Who Tries Them", New York Times, Foreign Desk, 10 November 1999; John F. Burns, "Court Silences Iran reformist With Jail Term", NY Times, 28 November 1999; "Iran: Abdollah Nouri's Release Welcomed, But All prisoners of Conscience Must also Be Released", Amnesty International On-Line, 6 November 2002, AI Index: MDE 13/020/2002, [Link] .

[61] An Open Letter to Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahroudi from Human Rights Watch; "Iran: Prosecution of Independent Clerk Condemned", Human Rights Watch, 11 October 2000, [Link] "Iran: Amnesty International Report 2002", Amnesty International, AI Index: POL 10/001/2002; Sadeq Saba, "Liberal Iranian Cleric Jailed", BBC NEWS, Monday, 14 October 2002, [Link] .

[62] 'Ali Akbar Dareini, "Scholar Sentenced to Death in Iran", Associated Press; Joe Stork, "Iran: Academic's Death Sentence Condemned", Human Rights Watch, [Link] . "Protests Grow In Iran Over Death Sentence for Professor", Human Rights Monitor, Tuesday, 12 November 2002, [Link] ; Ayelet Savyon, "The Call for Islamic Protestantism: Dr. Hashem Aghajari's Speech and Subsequent Death Sentence", MEMRI Special Dispatch Series, No. 445, 2 December 2002, [Link] .

[63]'Ali Akbar Dareini, "Iranian professor freed from jail in Tehran", The Guardian, 2 August 2004.

[64] "Government Should Ensure Safety of Taslima Nasrin", Amnesty International Public Statement, Bangladesh, 14 October 1998, AI Index: ASA 13/01/98; Taslima goes back into exile", BBC News Online, World: South Asia, Tuesday, 26 January 1999, [Link] ; "Bangladesh Police hunt feminist writer", BBC News Online: World: South Asia, Friday, 25 September 1998.

[65] Jack Malvern, "Chapter and verse for novel protests", TimesOnline, October 21, 2002.

[66] Genevieve Abdo, "Khomeini Threat Lives On", The Guardian, Friday 12 February 1999, [Link]

[67] Andrew Osborn, "Woman in hiding after she lambasts Islam", The Observer, Sunday, 6 October 2002; Marlise Simons, "Behind the Veil: A Muslim Woman Speaks Out", New York Times, Foreign Desk , The Saturday Profile, 9 November 2002, Late Edition - Final , Section A , Page 4 , Column 3.
[68] Dean E. Murphy, "Jordanian Muslim Cleric Calls for Death of Author in the U.S.", The New York Times, 30 June 2001,

[69] "Iran, Religious and Ethnic Minorities: Discrimination in Law and in Practice", Human Rights Watch, [Link] .

[70] "Excerpts from Amnesty International Report, ASA 33/10/94, Pakistan", [Link] ; "Pakistan: Insufficient Protection of Religious Minorities", Amnesty International, May 2001, AI Index: ASA 33/008/2001;

[71] Ardeshir Cowasjee, "Fellow-man", DAWN, Internet Edition, 20 August 2000, [Link] ; "Individual Case Reports: Mirza Mbarak Ahmad Nusrat", [Link] .

[72] "Plight of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan (1989-1999)", [Link]

[73] Jack Malvern, "Chapter and verse for novel protests", TimesOnline, October 21, 2002; Charles Bremer, "Author cleared of inciting religious hatred", TimesOnline, October 23, 2002.

[74] Jack Malvern, "Chapter and verse for novel protests", TimesOnline, October 21, 2002; Rod Dreher, "Oriana's Screed", National Review Online, 8 October 2002, [Link] ;

[75] Jack Malvern, "Chapter and verse for novel protests", TimesOnline, October 21, 2002; "An Intellectual Catastrophe", Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, Issue No. 389, 6-12 August, 1998, [Link] ; Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "A Terrifying Honesty", The Atlantic Monthly, (Books & Critics), February 2002, [Link] .

[76] "Religious Freedom in the Majority Islamic Countries, 1998 Report, Pakistan", Aid to the Church in Need, [Link] .

[77] "Religious Freedom in the Majority Islamic Countries, 1998 Report, Pakistan", Aid to the Church in Need, [Link]

[78] "Pakistani Christian on Death Row Released after Appeal to Supreme Court", Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 15 August 2002; "Blasphemy Laws and Intellectual Freedom in Pakistan," South Asian Voice, August 2002 Edition, [Link] ; "SC acquits blasphemy accused", DAWN, Internet edition, 16 August 2002, [Link]

[79] An example of incitement to mob violence based on a false accusation of blasphemy (Christians were falsely accused of tearing and burning pages of the Qur'an, as well as of writing blasphemous statements on them), is documented in Patrick Sookhdeo, A People Betayed: The Impact of Islamization on the Christian Community in Pakistan, pp. 268-274. Large mobs of infuriated Muslims led by clerics and armed with sticks, axes, knives, firearms, explosives and petrol bombs attacked the Christians in the village of Shanti Nagar in the Punjab, Pakistan, on the 5th and 6th, February 1997, looting houses and setting them on fire, destroying telephone and electricity connections as well as water supplies. A number of Christian women were also abducted.

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