Apostasy, compulsion, and Nurul’s point

The PKR vice-president said last week that religious freedom is for everyone, even Muslims and Malays. Well, here are the facts to prove she has a point.

Anisah Shukry, FMT

Yet again, Umno as well as the likes of Ibrahim Ali and Nasharudin Mat Isa have resorted to misusing Islam to discredit a member of the opposition bloc.

According to a transcript provided by Malaysiakini, Nurul Izzah Anwar said at a forum last weekend that “…there is no compulsion in religion… How can anyone really say, ‘sorry, this only applies to non-Malays.’ It has to apply equally.”

Hishammuddin Hussein, the home minister, described Nurul’s statements as insensitive and causing public anger.

Nasharudin, the former PAS vice-president, said that she must repent and what she said goes against Islam.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister, said her statement was stupid.

Now, putting aside the fact that nearly every time good ol’ Hisham, Nasha and Mahathir open their mouths, they say something stupid and insensitive that anger the public, Nurul, on the other hand, did not say anything “radical”, “liberal”, “dangerous to the faith” or even new.

On the contrary, what she said has been discussed among Islamic scholars across the globe for years.

It’s just that no one seems to have clued the Powers That Be on this.

A blanket rule for all

Nurul said that there is no compulsion in religion, whether for Muslims or non-Muslims.

And she has a point.

Islam is all about an individual’s own voluntary submission to Allah; there can be no coercion because faith cannot be forced upon anyone, even on those Malays who are born Muslims.

I mean, if I asked you, at gunpoint, to believe in Islam, would you? Unless you’re already a believer, then of course not. You’d probably blubber a bit about how being at the brink of death has opened your eyes to Islam, but your convictions would remain the same.

So compulsion is not the answer – education is, just as Nurul mentioned in a later statement.

In fact, even in the Quran, Surah Al-Nahl, verse 126 states:

“Invite [all] to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” (16:126 – translated by Yusuf Ali)

Now, for those of you who are going to say that I’m no scholar and should just keep my mouth shut and let the experts talk it out, allow me to produce a quote from the former Chief Judge of Pakistan, SA Rahman.

“Man is free to choose between truth and falsehood and the Prophet’s function is to convey the message, exemplify it in his own life and to leave the rest to God – he is no warder over men to compel them to adopt particular beliefs,” he wrote.

This is further fortified in several Islamic verses, including Surah Ali Imran, verse 20 and Al-Ma’idah, verse 92, which state if individuals turn away from the message of Islam, then the Prophet Muhammad’s duty is only to educate – not force nor coerce.

Freedom to choose still exists

Unfortunately, we still have the likes of Nasharudin who argue that the “no compulsion in religion” verse (2:256) only applies to non-Muslims in the issue of converting to Islam.

In other words, once one becomes Muslim, let the coercion begin!

Now, I challenge him and other like-minded individuals to point out any verse in the Quran which states that that sort of double standard exists.

Nasharudin did mention Surah al-Ahzab verse 36 as “proof” that there is no freedom in religion for Muslims.

“It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger, to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.” (33:36 – translation by Yusuf Ali)

But, as you can see, this verse just states that when Allah has commanded something, it is not fitting for a believer to have any choice in their matter – the freedom to choose still exists, as mentioned several times in the Quran.

But while freedom exists, the Quran still states what is right and wrong.

And if one chooses what has been forbidden, then one will face the consequences of that decision, whether in this life or the hereafter.

Islam and apostasy

Now, by virtue of the fact that freedom of religion exists in Islam, does that mean Muslims, and Malays, have the freedom to renounce their religion and should not be coerced or punished into remaining as Muslims?

Since I’d rather not have 15 policemen raid FMT’s office over this article, I’ll refrain from stating my stand, but just share the views of several revered scholars in Islam who are not Malaysians, not Malays, and do not have any vested political interest in the issue.

The former chief judge of Pakistan, SA Rahman, wrote in his book “Punishment of apostasy in Islam” that:

“There is absolutely no mention in the Quran of mundane punishment for defection from the faith by a believer, except in the shape of deprivation of the spiritual benefits of Islam or of the civil status and advantages that accrue to an individual as a member of the well-knit fraternity of Muslims.

“He should, however, be free to profess and propagate the faith of his choice, so long as he keeps within the bounds of law and morality, and to enjoy all other rights as a peaceful citizen of the State, in common with his Muslim co-citizens.”

He also added that apostasy is an offence in the realm of the rights of God, rather than the rights of mankind, thus there would be no pressing necessity to punish a peaceful change of faith.