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Does True Islam Require Freedom Of Religion, Or Not?

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The case of Christian convert Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan has sharply focused international attention on what may be the most important question in the world today: Does true Islam require freedom of religion, or not?

The government of Afghanistan has been preparing to bring Rahman to trial on the criminal charge of renouncing his former religion of Islam to become a convert to Christianity. According to some authorities, this act of apostasy violates Islamic law and is punishable by death. Other authorities believe that true Islamic law requires freedom of religion and that Rahman and everybody else should be free to follow whatever religion (or none at all) they choose, without fear or penalty.

The importance of this question could not possibly be greater, because if true Islam requires freedom of religion, then there is no theological basis for militant action against people of other religions, merely because of their religion. Islamic Democracy becomes a possibility, and long-term peaceful co-existence for Muslims and non-Muslims seems likely. The supposed justification for terrorism largely disappears, and a new era of hopefulness in the world can soon begin.

But if true Islam does not require freedom of religion, then Muslims are theologically justified in using violence against non-Muslims, Islamic Democracy becomes totally impossible, and anti-Western terrorism can continue, with some apparent theological justification -- all on the basis of spreading Islam, by force if necessary. This would also place Islam in direct opposition to the United Nations' "Universal Declaration Of Human Rights," which guarantees freedom of religion to all people in United Nations member countries.

In the immediate case of Abdul Rahman, the best outcome, with benefit for all people, would be for a high Islamic court to rule that the case should be dismissed because true Islamic law requires freedom of religion. This decision would be based mainly on Qur'an 2.256, which plainly says, "There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Shaitan (note: Satan) and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing."

Source: Qur'an (Koran) as shown at and elsewhere.

This reading from the Qur'an is confirmed by another one, the entire chapter (Sura) 109, called "The Disbelievers," which concludes, "You shall have your religion and I shall have my religion."

The Disbelievers
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

[109.1] Say: O unbelievers!
[109.2] I do not serve that which you serve,
[109.3] Nor do you serve Him Whom I serve:
[109.4] Nor am I going to serve that which you serve,
[109.5] Nor are you going to serve Him Whom I serve:
[109.6] You shall have your religion and I shall have my religion.

The theological basis for the prosecution of Rahman apparently comes from a misreading of Qur'an 16.106, which says, "He who disbelieves in Allah after his having believed, not he who is compelled while his heart is at rest on account of faith, but he who opens (his) breast to disbelief-- on these is the wrath of Allah, and they shall have a grievous chastisement."

Immediately we can see two theological errors in prosecuting Rahman on this basis: First, he is not "disbelieving in Allah." Allah is the creator of the universe, and there is only one Allah. We Christians call Him, "God," or "Heavenly Father." But we are talking about the same One Creator, who has revealed Himself to different people in slightly different ways, for His own good reasons. As a Christian, Rahman still believes in Allah, as do I myself. And second, the "grievous punishment" is supposed to come from Allah Himself, on Judgment Day, not from fallible humans today. Furthermore, everyone should keep in mind that all punishments specified in the Qur'an may be moderated and reduced by applying the oft-stated principle that "Allah is forgiving, merciful," as stated in Qur'an 2.173 and seventy-six other places in the Qur'an. Allah knows your heart. In Islam, if you have a really good reason, Allah will overlook or forgive almost anything.

(Also note that this verse confirms the invalidity of compulsion in religion, when it says, "not he who is compelled.")

So we see that the prosecution of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity, in supposed violation of "Islamic law," is itself a violation of Islamic law, the highest written authority in which is the Qur'an.

But if this is true, then why is there any question? Why does anyone even think that converting from Islam to another religion might be a sin? The reason is that some non-Qur'anic secondary written authorities seem to say that it is a punishable sin for Muslims to convert away from Islam.

These secondary written authorities are called called the "hadith," or "sayings," attributed to the prophet Muhammad, some of which were reportedly heard by his followers, then told to others who then told them to others who then wrote them down. But the various hadith differ widely among themselves, and many are believed by some Muslims but not by others. Some of these hadith do appear to prohibit freedom of religion in some cases. But even the most authoritative hadith is never strong enough to contradict the words of the Qur'an, all of which were reportedly given by Allah to the Prophet Muhammad and immediately written down under his direct supervision. In Islam, the Qur'an comes directly from Allah and is infallible. The hadith come from man and are subject to error. The hadith are sometimes useful in order to clarify the words in the Qur'an, but hadith are never strong enough to contradict the clear words of the Qur'an.

If the government of Afghanistan merely yields to Western pressure in this one case, that doesn't solve anything. The problem will come back again in future cases. And if they make up some phony excuse for not having the trial, like "mental incompetence," that is even worse. The fact is that Abdul Rahman is perfectly competent to stand trial, but the case against him is not justified under true Islamic law.

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Rev. Bill McGinnis is an Internet Christian minister, writer and publisher. He is Director of, a small private think tank in Alexandria, Virginia, and all of its related websites, including (more...)
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