Does Islam Allow for Death Penalty for Converts?

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
March 31, 2006

Abdul Rahman, the Afghan man who faced execution for converting from Islam to Christianity, is safely in Italy, as of Wednesday.

But the issues raised by his case endure, especially in Afghanistan, where a broad spectrum of Islamic leaders has called for Rahman's execution under Islamic law, or sharia.

"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," cleric Abdul Raoulf told Associated Press reporters.

Raoulf is considered an Afghan moderate—he had been jailed several times for opposing the Taliban during that faction's rule of most of Afghanistan in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Many Islamic scholars, however, stress that the Koran itself advocates freedom of religion.

"Faith in the Koran is a matter of private witness," said Abdulaziz Sachedina, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

"As such, it cannot be compelled by any outside force, including an Islamic government."

Scholar Ali Asani, Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, agrees.

"The Koran has a pluralist ethos that recognizes there are differences in society based on a variety of things, including race and religion. It calls for tolerating, even respecting, such differences," said Asani, a professor of Indo-Muslim languages and cultures.

Imam Mohamed Magid, of Virginia's All Dulles Area Muslim Society, also cited the Koran, specifically verse II:256.

"The verse reads, Let there be no compulsion in religion. That also applies that no one should be compelled to stay in a religion," he said.

"From the Islamic perspective belief is something that God will accept only when a person is sincere about it—you cannot force someone to believe," Asani said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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