“Apostasy”, and Wafa Sultan’s Exchange with an Oxford Educated Muslim on Allah “The Harmer”

Coming soon….


Last evening I read a particularly illuminating anecdote from Wafa Sultan’s forthcoming book (due out October 13th), “A God Who Hates,” which provides an irrefragable counterpoint to the taqiya-mongering drivel on Rifqa Bary’s apostasy case recently spewed forth by the cultural jihadist Al-Maryati.


Let me first digress and dispense with Al-Maryati’s crudely unsophisticated taqiya. Yes, despite Al-Maryati’s denial, apostasy is mentioned in the Koran—Koran 4:89 most prominently—and the punishment is death, as noted for example by two of the most important classical Koranic exegetes, Baydawi and Ibn Kathir, in their commentaries on this verse. Al-Maryati’s crude taqiya fully ignores the fact that punishment by death for apostasy from Islam is firmly rooted in all the most holy Muslim texts—both the Koran, and the hadith—as well as the sacred Islamic Law (the Shari’a). Koran 4:89 states, “They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah’s way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper.”


One of the most authoritative Koranic commentators, Baydawi (d. 1315/16) interprets this passage thus: “Whosoever turns back from belief (irtada), openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard.” (cited in Zwemer, The Law of Apostasy in Islam, 1924, pp. 33-34).” Ibn Kathir’s (d. 1373) venerated commentary on Koran 4:89 concurs, maintaining that as apostates have manifested their unbelief, they should be punished by death.


These draconian judgments are reiterated in a number of hadith (i.e., collections of the putative words and deeds of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, as compiled by pious transmitters). For example, Muhammad is reported to have said “Kill him who changes his religion” in hadith collections of both Bukhari and Abu Dawud. There is also a consensus by all four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (i.e., Maliki, Hanbali,  Hanafi, and Shafi’i), as well as Shi’ite jurists, that apostates from Islam must be put to death. Averroes (d. 1198), the renowned philosopher and scholar of the natural sciences, who was also an important Maliki jurist, provided this typical Muslim legal opinion on the punishment for apostasy (vol. 2, p. 552): “An apostate…is to be executed by agreement in the case of a man, because of the words of the Prophet, ‘Slay those who change their din [religion]’…. Asking the apostate to repent was stipulated as a condition…prior to his execution…”


Even the contemporary (i.e., 1991) Al-Azhar (Cairo) Islamic Research Academy-endorsed Shafi’i manual of Islamic Law, ‘Umdat al-Salik (pp. 595-96) states plainly: “Leaving Islam is the ugliest form of unbelief (kufr) and the worst…. When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostasizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed. In such a case, it is obligatory…to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.”


Back to Wafa Sultan’s book which records her exchange with a Muslim woman interlocutor who was an Oxford University graduate. Wafa and her interlocutor engaged in a discussion about the legitimacy and morality of the offensive attributes of Allah encapsulated by some of the “99 names” conferred upon the Muslim deity, uniquely, during Islam’s advent, including notably, “The Imperious,” “The Humiliator,” “The Bringer of Death,” and “The Harmer.” It is this latter appellation that Wafa finds particularly troubling, and she questions why Muslims refuse to confront the negativism implicit in sanctioning the commission of harm by Islam’s God. She understands the typical stated rationale, “They say: ‘When a person believes in God’s ability to harm he will take care not to disobey him, so as to avoid being harmed by him.’” But Wafa believes this kind of broadly internalized rationalization has extracted a terrible toll on Islamic societies, in conjunction with other flawed ethical conceptions, and debased, rather than elevated their moral standards. She makes very cogent arguments in support of her thesis at some length throughout the book, which I will leave to a subsequent discussion, but her attempt to find common ground with a highly educated Muslim woman on the appellation “The Harmer,” captures a very dangerous conundrum Westerners till now appear almost incapable of appreciating.


The exchange and Wafa’s concluding lament bring us back to the question of “apostasy,” and the unacceptable plight of Muslim apostates in our own Western societies, let alone their native Islamic societies.


“…a Muslim reader from London, an Oxford University graduate with whom I conducted an extensive e-mail correspondence…wrote to me on one occasion: ‘Can you deny that God is capable of causing harm? Could he not destroy the universe if he wanted to?’ She continued” ‘What’s wrong with proclaiming his destructive powers? Isn’t this necessary in order to prevent people from crossing the line and disobeying his commands?’


I replied: ‘A father has the ability to harm his child when he disobeys him, but does he do so? Is that the proper way to educate our children not to overstep the boundaries we set for them?’


The Oxford graduate responded: ‘There’s no comparison! The difference between God’s power and that of a human being is much greater than the difference between a father and a son’s.’


I replied: ‘But shouldn’t God’s wisdom, mercy, and love far surpass the wisdom, mercy, and love of a father?’


The exchange turned into a fruitless quarrel at the end of which I heard only the e-mailed shouts of the Oxford graduate as she described me as a misguided unbeliever and apostate deserving only of being put to death.

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