Democracy defends apostasy

By Shanon Shah (The Nut Graph)

KUALA LUMPUR, 6 May 2009: Muslims in a truly democratic country would allow other Muslims the freedom to leave Islam if they wished, said Muslim Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol.

"We are happy when non-Muslims like Cat Stevens embrace Islam, but what if a Muslim wants to become a Christian?" asked Akyol at a public seminar on Secular state, religious society: The role of religion in a plural country yesterday evening.

Akyol said the ban on apostasy did not originate from the Quran, but was rather a strategy to quell rebellion by the caliphs who succeeded Prophet Muhammad in leading the early Muslim community.

If apostasy was made legal, Muslims would not convert out en masse, he said.

"In Turkey, there is no law banning apostasy, but the conversion rate of Muslims to Christianity has been around 2,000 out of a population of 71 million," he explained.

The Istanbul-based Akyol, who is also a journalist with the Turkish Daily News, said ideally the state should be neutral in regard to religious or ideological beliefs.

"In this case, I personally think that the secular state is ideal and compatible with Islam," he said.

Akyol also clarified that the term "Islamic state" did not exist in the Quran, and that it was a political creation of Islamists in the postcolonial era.

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