Ask the chaplain

Talk Islam obligingly posted the whole of Chaplain Taha Abdul-Basser’s email message on apostasy. He starts off by laying down some ground rules.

While I understand that will happen and that there is some benefit in them, in the main, it would be better if people were to withhold from debating such things, since they tend not to have the requisite familiarity with issues and competence to deal with them. Debating about religious matter is impermissible, in general, and people rarely observe the etiquette of disagreements.

But this is an issue that necessarily is of pressing interest to all Muslims. They have a natural desire to know if they are to be killed or not if they should ever decide to leave Islam. Therefore it is only natural that they should want to know about it, and if they learn something they don’t altogether like, to argue about it. It seems more than a little unfair to say that that is impermissible. It would be like telling Americans that it is impermissible for us to debate about capital punishment, when we could be subject to it. In the US it is not impermissible to debate about capital punishment.

The preponderant position in all of the 4 sunni madhahib (and apparently others of the remaining eight according to one contemporary `alim) is that the verdict is capital punishment. Of concern for us is that this can only occur in the domain and under supervision of Muslim governmental authority and can not be performed by non-state, private actors.

Of concern for us? Meaning that capital punishment for leaving Islam is not of concern if it is in the domain and under supervision of Muslim governmental authority? Why’s that then? Because Abdul-Basser and the people he’s talking to are all outside that domain and supervision and thus don’t have to worry about it? Well, if so, that’s rather callous. In fact it’s worse than callous: it’s complicit and callous. What it means is that Abdul-Basser is adhering to a religion that kills people who leave it when it has state power, while staying out of reach of such power himself. If he in fact is happy to be safe while still defending the religion that executes other, distant people simply for changing their religion – he’s a nasty man.

Maybe that’s not what he meant. But that is what it looks like.

I would finally note that there is great wisdom (hikma) associated with the established and preserved position (capital punishment) and so, even if it makes some uncomfortable in the face of the hegemonic modern human rights discourse, one should not dismiss it out of hand. The formal consideration of excuses for the accused and the absence of Muslim governmental authority in our case here in the North/West is for dealing with the issue practically. And Allah knows best.

Ah; well that’s consoling. As long as Allah knows best, and everybody knows what Allah wants (but do they? how? how do we know? how do they know? how does anyone know? if everybody knows why does anybody have to ask Abdul-Basser? if anyone doesn’t know then how does everyone know that someone knows and who that is and how to know who it is?) then being killed for changing your religion is no problem. That’s a relief.

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