The quality of mercy

It’s a very merciful religion if you try to understand it – we’re told. Is that right?

A community debate over religious freedom surfaced in Western Pennsylvania last week when Dutch feminist author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who has lived under the threat of death for denouncing her Muslim upbringing, made an appearance at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. Islamic leaders tried to block the lecture…They argued that Hirsi Ali’s attacks against the Muslim faith in her book, “Infidel,” and movie, “Submission,” are “poisonous and unjustified” and create dissension in their community.

Thus artfully demonstrating just how open to discussion and criticism ‘the Muslim faith’ is, at least according to them.

Imam Fouad ElBayly, president of the Johnstown Islamic Center, was among those who objected to Hirsi Ali’s appearance. “She has been identified as one who has defamed the faith. If you come into the faith, you must abide by the laws, and when you decide to defame it deliberately, the sentence is death,” said ElBayly, who came to the U.S. from Egypt in 1976.

Of course Hirsi Ali didn’t ‘come into the faith’ in the sense we would normally understand that: she was born into it; that is, she was born to Muslim parents and raised as a Muslim child; that’s a physical kind of coming into it, but it’s hardly an intellectual kind. And that’s even before you get to the question of whether any intellectual commitment should be irrevocable on pain of death, to which I would with all due modesty and uncertainty answer ‘No.’

Although ElBayly believes a death sentence is warranted for Hirsi Ali, he stressed that America is not the jurisdiction where such a crime should be punished. Instead, Hirsi Ali should be judged in a Muslim country after being given a trial, he added. “If it is found that a person is mentally unstable, or a child or disabled, there should be no punishment,” he said. “It’s a very merciful religion if you try to understand it.”

That’s an interesting idea of mercy.

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