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Sunday, May 25, 2014

'There should be no compulsion in religion'

Mariam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag is a Christian who is facing the death penalty in Sudan for the crime of apostasy. Mariam claims that she never was a Muslim, bur raised as a Christian from her childhood. I admire her courage for standing firm on her faith and refusing to bow to the immense pressure she has been put under by the Sudanese authorities. I also hope that the judicial system in Sudan sees some sense and drops all charges against her. Whoever she choses to marry regardless of her faith or that of her husband is no business of the state.

This judgment is inhumane, un-Islamic and beyond doubt, an insult to the Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

As always, such incidents generate a lot of media attention, and rightly so. Thankfully there are people in this world who give their time and energies for the sake of freedom and human rights. But sadly there are also those who take this as an opportunity to push ahead with their anti-Islam agenda under the cover of protest.

According to Elizabeth Kendal, a Canberra-based Christian rights activist, the death sentence for Mariam Yahya is in accordance with Islam and must be condemned as Islam's 'inherent inhumanity'. She further states that the real reason for the exponential growth of Islam is due to its apostasy laws.

The article in question also makes some fantastic assumptions about Islam.

Lets begin with her comment on the Quranic verse 13:15.

'And to Allah prostrates whoever is within the heavens and the earth, willingly or by compulsion, and their shadows [as well] in the mornings and the afternoons.'

According to Kendal, this verse is the evidence that Quran supports compulsion in the matter of faith.

The particular passage of Quran in question is describing the Majesty of God. i.e., everything in the universe follows the laws He has created, just like the shadows which submit to the movement of the sun in the mornings and in the evenings. There is no mention of apostasy here.

In fact, Quran does not deal with any worldly punishment for people who abandon their faith in Islam.

There is an unequivocal commandment in the Holy Quran 'There should be no compulsion in religion' (2:256) which should remove any doubts about the Islamic position on this matter.

But Kendal finds another concept in the Quran which proves that the Sudanese court is following the true Shariah.

She states that apostasy is equal to 'Fitnah' which according to the verse 2:217 is worse than killing. This surely means that apostates must be killed.

Lets start with the word 'Fitnah' first. According to this verse, Fitnah is

'but to hinder men from the way of Allah, and to be ungrateful to Him and to hinder men from the Sacred Mosque, and to turn out its people therefrom..'

i.e., stopping Muslims from performing pilgrimage and declaring war on them is the 'Fitnah'.

Thus, Fitnah clearly means Persecution.

The verse further states that 'and persecution (Fitnah) is worse than killing.’

And what of the persecutors, the Meccan chiefs who had vowed to finish Islam and a handful of its followers? The verse continues,

'And they will not cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith, if they can.'

And what happens to any apostates?

'And whoso from among you turns back from his faith and dies while he is a disbeliever, it is they whose works shall be vain in this world and the next. These are the inmates of the Fire and therein shall they abide.'

i.e., their fate rests is with their Lord in the afterlife. No worldly punishment has been recommended for them whatsoever. In fact the verse guarantees them the freedom to live out their life in disbelief.

Kendal then tries to use the next source of Islamic jurisprudence, the Hadith, sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad to prove that he founded a totalitarian religion which should be feared by the world.

For example she quotes a Hadith, '
"Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him'
Firstly, the narration is highly dubious and has been rejected as weak or even fabricated by many scholars, and secondly the Hadith in question has been mistranslated by inserting the word 'Islamic' which doesn't exist in the original text. One argument which has been used to dismiss this narration as a fabrication is that if it the commandment was taken based on the actual text, no one would be allowed to change their faith. i.e., a person converting to Islam would deserve death as much as someone apostasizing from Islam.

There is no sound basis for any penalties for apostasy in Hadith literature. Many jurists and classical scholars have made the error of equating apostasy with treason and declaration of war; an error which should have been rectified long time ago. But thanks to the medievalist regimes that still exists in many Islamic countries, we find ourselves lamenting the plight of human rights there almost on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, the scattered and disconnected leadership of the orthodox sects of Islam is still busy pushing the Muslims back into the dark ages. Such judgements against religious freedom only expose their insecurities about their own faith and its place in the modern world. It is astonishing to see them openly contradicting the clear commandments of the Quran and the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him).

But people like Kendal are also guilty of misleading their readers about their own religious texts and the skeletons (often stoned to death) hidden in them. Unlike the Quran which allows complete religious freedom, the Bible is very clearly against such notions.

For example Deuteronomy says;

'but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God'
Many Christians may object to this as not applicable to them anymore, but St. Paul wasn't so fond of apostates himself. He condemned them to death too, and the Church complied gladly for many centuries.

What the contemporary orthodox Islam is suffering from is the same malaise which the medieval Christianity suffered for a long time; a departure from the source of guidance and the politicization of religion. If anything, such punishments are only the artefacts of Judeo-Christian ideas which seeped into the Islamic thought during the early centuries of Muslim expansion.

I belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which has been striving to correct such errors for more than a century. Under the guidance of the Khalifatul Masih, Ahmadiyya Muslims are working tirelessly to educate not only their fellow Muslims, but other communities as well, about the true and peaceful message of Islam.

I advise Elizabeth Kendal to seek the correct information about the real message of the Quran and help the persecuted Christians like Mariam by putting forward a logical and forceful argument against those transgressors who claim to follow Islam. There is nothing more logical and forceful than the Word of God.

'There should be no compulsion in religion'.

Further Reading: Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, by Sir. Muhammad Zafrulla Khan

Monday, May 12, 2014

No reform please. We are Muslims.

Luton's 'Preservation of the Finality of Prophethood Forum' has finally published a rebuttal to the Ahmadiyya Muslim advert which had reportedly offended the Muslims of Luton. This is a paid advert published in this week's Luton on Sunday.

And the point is?
I was pleased to see that the writers of the advertisement have used civil language which is a remarkable achievement by itself. I am sure that the hate speech laws would have caused many edits before the piece was sent to the printers.

I say this because in my experience, all 'Khatme Nabuwwat' (Finality of Prophethood) organizations are known for their venomous language against the Ahmadiyya Muslims. This language often breeds violence against the community, the most recent example of which was in Hyderabad, India, where a drunken mob attacked the Ahmadiyya Mosque during the Friday prayers.

It is refreshing to see that Luton's anti-Ahmadiyya Mullahs are willing to share their beliefs with the community without inciting violence and hatred.

How does their definition of a Muslim help any of the readers is another matter.

When did the finality of prophethood become one of the central tenets if Islamic beliefs?

The committee of 22 Mosques in Luton would struggle to find a verse in Quran to justify this belief. They do present a verse in the advert

' Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets.' (33:40)

The term used here is 'Khataman Nabiyyeen', translated by the classical translators like Pickthal, Yusuf Ali and Arberry as the Seal of Prophets. This term has been understood by the commentators to mean the best of the prophets. But since the founder of the Ahamdiyya Muslim Community claimed to be a subservient prophet to Muhammad (peace be upon him), his opponents have rejected the more sublime understanding of the verse in favour of a pedestrian one.

Before the inception of Ahmadiyya Islam, classical Islamic scholars had no doubt about the coming of a prophet within Muslims who would reform them and teach them the true wisdom of the Quran. He has been referred to in the Hadith as 'Eesa Ibn Maryam', Jesus, Son of Mary. Muslims have been, and most are still waiting for the Promised Messiah.

Herein lies the great dilema for our friends at the Finality Forum. How can they declare an end to the institution of Prophethood when their own advert claims that 'Lord Almighty in His Grace, never left mankind without any religious guidance'?

What they don't share with their readers is the unanimous belief of all the 22 Luton mosques, and the Muslims around the world that Jesus will descend from the heavens and he will be a prophet for the Muslims. A hadith in Tabarani, quotes the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him)

'And remember, there is no prophet between me and him (the Promised Messiah)'

There are many other prophetic sayings (Ahadith) which refer to the Promised Messiah as a prophet.

There is no difference of opinion between the Ahmadi Muslims and the rest about the absolute supremacy of the Quranic message until the end of days. i.e., Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the Seal of Prophets. His era continues until the day of judgement. The hadith quoted in the advert 'there will be no prophet after me' only refers to a new prophet bringing a new book or a new law.

But what becomes of the Muslims when they lose their way? When some of them start using their distorted understanding of the Quran to usrup the rights of mankind? When the quest of scientific knowledge is deemed sinful and difference of opinion is met with fatwas of heresy? Don't they need reform? And a prophet is, as the advert points out ' a reformer and an orthodox humanitarian'.

Whether or not you accept Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's claim to be a prophet is not relevant here. The fact that you need to contradict yourselves to counter his claims reveals the stubbornness so symptomatic of a people in dire need of reform.

Luton's 22 mosques belong primarily to the Barelvi (sufi) sect. Ibne Arabi, the great Sufi mystic, known as the Seal (Khatam) of Mystics by many, saw the coming of a prophet in Islam as an absolute necessity. He awaited the second coming of Jesus in a 'new body' who will follow the law of Quran.

But Ibne Arabi is considered a bit of a heretic himself by the more puritanical Wahabi Muslims. A great Indian scholar, Shah Waliullah of Delhi, highly regarded by the non-barelvi sects as an authority in Quran and Hadith states that only prophethood with a new law has come to an end. He also wrote that the Promised Messiah will be a true image of Muhammad himself.

For any Deobandi Mosques in Luton, I present the definitive statement of Qasim Nanotawi, the founder of Deoband sect in India, who said that the coming of a new prophet after the Holy Prophet does not break the 'Seal'. This has been a hotly debated issue between the Barelvi and Deobandi sects, each blaming the other for agreeing with the 'Qadianis'.

How unorthodox of the orthodoxy. A newfangled definition of a Muslim? That is the last thing one expects from them.

Despite the contradictions I have pointed out above, the advert is a step in the right direction.

By promoting their own cause and desisting from hate speech, the forum has taken a leaf out of the Ahmadiyya book. I urge them not to stop here. Please copy the whole book. Lets start by being more inclusive and less dogmatic. Lets remove any notions of a separatist, ghettoised interpretation of Islam from our minds and show more loyalty and commitment to the country we call our home. And above all, let us share the humanitarian, tolerant message of the Quran in our towns and cities.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

My faith, My crime.

I remember clearly the moment when I realized for the first time that I was a criminal.

It was the autumn of 1993 in Rawalpindi, where I went to college. It was the living room of a friend of mine. We must have been having our usual contests of who can impress the other with the best trivia and unusual facts as teenager do, when my friend triumphantly stated

'If an Ahmadi says Azan (the Muslim call to prayers) he can be jailed for three years'.

I must have left a long gap between his trivia and whatever astonishing fact he expected me to return.

'Its in a book in my father's library'. He said. Obviously thinking that I didn't believe him. 'Its in the Pakistan Penal Code.'

I changed the subject. I must have thought of something to say. I can't remember much from that day, apart from a sense of anxiety that I usually felt in certain situations.

My friend did not know that I was an Ahmadi.

I told him about my faith a few months later. Surprisingly enough, he was OK with it. He was one of the rare few who remained my friends after knowing about my faith.

Such situations came way too often in my life. My family had to move from town to town due to my father's job. And each new move brought with it new classmates, new neighbours and new friends. All of whom would start wondering why I don't go to the nearest mosque for prayers. I suppose the grown-ups soon figured out the reason. It was however far too tricky for us children.

Most of my friend found out about my faith through gossip. I seldom had to volunteer the information and not many asked me directly. Being an Ahmadi in the post-Islamization Pakistan was dangerous. You could get beaten up or bullied in schools, by both the teachers and your classmates. I remember a classmate who would just casually walk up to me and punch me in the back saying that it was an act of 'sawab' (to be rewarded by God) to hit a 'kafir' (infidel). It was of course done as a crude joke, so I did my best to avoid him.

In another school, our science teacher would spend a whole hour explaining to us that Qadianis (Ahmadis) are kafirs. He knew fully well that there was a Qadiani 12 year old in his class. Fortunately, not many in my class knew that it was me. Funny thing is, that I liked that teacher because I like science and he was good at teaching it.

I knew that the dictator, General Zia had passed laws against us Ahmadis, and due to these laws, our 'Huzoor', the Khalifatul Masih had to leave Pakistan. We used to listen to his sermons through audio-tapes which were played at various prayer centers and Mosques that we used to attend for our Friday prayers.

But I was not aware of the real implications of these laws until I heard my friend pronounce the three year jail term for reciting the Azan.

I must have recited the call to prayers hundreds of times in my childhood. It is one of the first things we Ahmadis are taught as children. A Muslim must know the words as without the Azan, a congregation cannot offer any of their five daily prayers. I also learnt how to read the Quran, even memorizing some long passages. I offered my prayers in the manner no different to my Sunni friends. I went to the Ahmadiyya Mosque which looked no different than the Sunni Mosques. Our Imams read the same Arabic prayers before and after their sermons. We had two Eid celebrations, a month of fasting which started and finished with all the other Muslim sects.

But according to the Pakistan Penal Code, I was a criminal since April, 1984. I was a non-Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution by birth, thanks to Bhutto's 2nd amendment in 1974.

It would only require one police report to ensure I was thrown in Jail. At 17 years of age, I was a habitual criminal. I broke the Pakistani law on a daily basis. This realization dawned upon me on an autumn day while I was having a cup of tea in my friend's living room. This realization did not leave my mind for the next decade or so. I finally got free of its burden by leaving Pakistan.

You can understand that I was never a fan of General Zia, The architect of Afghan 'jihad' and the benefactor of the monstrosity that we now call the Taliban. He took it upon himself to rid the country of this 'cancer' of Qadianiyat which was a threat to both his version of Islam and his idea of Pakistan. The 2nd amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan had already paved the way for his ordinance XX. His aim was to decapitate the Ahmadiyya organization by going after the office of the Khalifatul Masih, the worldwide spiritual leader of the Ahmadi Muslims. The verbage used in the law was obviously aimed to target the Khalifatul Masih. His plans were foiled when Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV, Mirza Tahir Ahmad left the country before a reason could be created for his arrest.

Zia died in a plane crash in 1988. But his laws survived the plane crash and the democracy which followed. No one dared touch any Islamic laws that Zia had enacted, including the notorious blasphemy and the Hudood laws. Even the liberal dictator, General Musharraf left these laws well alone. A dictator can suspend the constitution as many times as he likes, but its Islamic clauses remain valid at all times.

Some so-called liberal Pakistanis think that these laws have no real impact on the majority of the Ahmadis living in Pakistan. How wrong they are!

Since 1984, no new Mosques have been allowed to be built by the Ahmadis, hundreds of criminal cases brought against them for using the Islamic greetings or other Quranic texts in speech or in writing. Many more cases have been registered against Ahmadis for 'hurting the feelings' of the Muslims. Hundreds of Ahmadis have been murdered and their murderers walk free in most cases. These laws have made it impossible for Ahmadis to seek or even expect Justice in the courts of law.

In addition to this, Ahmadis are fair game for the notorious blasphemy laws too. An Ahmadi, just by being an Ahmadi is automatically guilty of blasphemy. How dare they believe in a prophet after the Last Prophet? How dare they believe in revelation after the Quran?

 Ordinance XX bars me from defending myself when such allegations were thrown at me. Any attempt to explain my beliefs were to be taken as proselytisation, which is a crime.

We cannot print books or sell and distribute them to non-Ahmadis. We cannot hold debates or seminars to share our ideas with others. We cannot print advertisements in newspapers or even expect them to print unbiased news regarding us. Even when we are massacred in our hundreds, the press struggles to report it as a human tragedy. But all care is taken to ensure that our mosques are not referred to as mosques in their reports.

Ahmadis have been relegated to a sub-human category of creatures in Pakistan.

I often think what will it take for Pakistanis to take a decisive step in correcting this grave injustice in their name? I think of all my non-Ahmadi friends I left behind in Pakistan and wonder what they thought about these laws really. Not many had the courage to condemn these laws. They thought that this was a religious matter and should never be discussed between good friends.

But this is not a religious matter at all. These laws were the menifestation of demagoguery of the clergy and arrogance of a ruthless dictator. If anything, these laws are an insult to the religion of Islam.

To help repeal these unjust laws, I urge you to sign this petition.


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