CAIR COMMENTARY: ISLAM AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Islam advocates both freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. That position is supported by the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and the opinions of Islamic scholars both past and present.
Islam came to liberate mankind from all types of enslavement, whether political, social or religious. One of the first leaders of the Muslim community, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, once told the governor of Egypt: ‘How dare you enslave people when they were born free?’ In the Quran, God states ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion.’ (2:256) This verse is the foundation for religious freedom in Islam. God also states that He does not compel belief, and warns all of us against the temptation to force faith on others: ‘If it had been the will of your Lord that all the people of the world should be believers, all the people of the earth would have believed! Would you then compel mankind against their will to believe?’ (10:99)
God tells the Prophet Muhammad that the message he is bringing to the people is the truth, but his duty is only to convey that message, not to force compliance: ‘If they turn away from thee (O Muhammad) they should know that We have not sent you to be their keeper. Your only duty is to convey My message.’ (42:48)
Neither the Prophet Muhammad nor any of his companions, the models for future Islamic behavior, ever forced anyone to embrace Islam. The Prophet did not treat apostasy as an offense to be punished in this life. He pardoned a number of people who embraced Islam, then left the faith, and then embraced it again. Islam has no need to compel belief in its divine truth. As the Quran states: ‘Truth stands out clear from error. Therefore, whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks.’ (2:256)
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently called on the government of Afghanistan to release Abdul Rahman, a man facing the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity. CAIR said Rahman’s conversion was a personal matter that should not be subject to the intervention of the state. This conclusion was reached after consultation with Islamic scholars of the Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) Council of North America.
Islamic scholars say the original rulings on apostasy were similar to those for treasonous acts in legal systems worldwide and do not apply to an individual’s choice of religion.