CSW Report 29 April 2008



Apostasy is the renunciation of religious faith, and apostasy from Islam in particular has always been a contentious issue. Although the Qur’an does not prescribe a temporal punishment for apostasy, the vast majority of traditional Islamic theology and jurisprudence has advocated the death penalty for a mentally sane male apostate and life-long imprisonment or harsh treatment for a female apostate. Proponents of the death penalty have legitimised their stance from the sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, his companions and subsequent caliphs.

An increasing number of contemporary Muslim thinkers, particularly those residing in the West, have called for a re-evaluation of the shari’a position on the death penalty for apostasy and a return to a more faithful interpretation based on the Qur’an. Although the views of these reforming scholars are encouraging, traditional views on apostasy continue to dominate popular Muslim opinion.

Today’s Muslim nations often refrain from official executions of apostates. Two countries, Sudan and Malaysia, have codified laws prescribing the death penalty for apostasy, and one country, Egypt, has legislation on apostasy which allows for the marriage of an apostate to be annulled and can result in the loss of inheritance and custody rights.

In Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran, where the death penalty for apostasy is not codified, death remains a real possibility for the apostate on the basis of their application of shari’a. In other countries where shari’a is used to govern personal status matters, such as in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Yemen, apostates face serious penalties, such as the annulment of marriage, termination of citizenship, confiscation of identity papers and the loss of further social and economic rights. Apostates are also penalised under other laws, such as ‘insulting Turkishness’ in Turkey, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, contempt of religion in Egypt and treason in Iran.

Apostates are subject to gross and wide-ranging human rights abuses including extra judicial killings by state-related agents or mobs; honour killings by family members; detention, imprisonment, torture, physical and psychological intimidation by security forces; the denial of access to judicial services and social services; the denial of equal employment or education opportunities; social pressure resulting in loss of housing and employment; and day-to-day discrimination and ostracism in education, finance and social activities. The affect of all this on the personal lives of apostates and their families can be significant and far-reaching. As the number of apostate communities has significantly increased in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia over the past twenty years, human rights abuses have been more regularly reported.

The experiences of apostates in Muslim countries are blatantly at odds with their rights as guaranteed under international law. Most Muslim nations are members of the UN and have ratified international human rights treaties. However, these nations and the international community have failed in their duty to uphold the rights of apostates by neglecting to guarantee their personal safety and their full and fair participation in society.

This report calls on Muslim nations, the international community, the UN and the international media to resolutely address the serious violations of human rights suffered by apostates.

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