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Freedom of religion, apostasy, and Islam
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Aldershot, Hants, England : Ashgate, 2004
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PSZ JB 30000003584509 BP173.65 S23 2004 Open Access Book
PSZ JB 30000010236555 BP173.65 S23 2004 Book

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Debate on freedom of religion as a human right takes place not only in the Western world but also in Muslim communities throughout the world. For Muslims concerned for this freedom, one of the major difficulties is the 'punishment for apostasy' - death for those who desert Islam. This book argues that the law of apostasy and its punishment by death in Islamic law is untenable in the modern period. Apostasy conflicts with a variety of foundation texts of Islam and with the current ethos of human rights, in particular the freedom to choose one's religion. Demonstrating the early development of the law of apostasy as largely a religio-political tool, the authors show the diversity of opinion among early Muslims on the punishment, highlighting the substantial ambiguities about what constitutes apostasy, the problematic nature of some of the key textual evidence on which the punishment of apostasy is based, and the neglect of a vast amount of clear Qur'anic texts in favour of freedom of religion in the construction of the law of apostasy. Examining the significant challenges the punishment of apostasy faces in the modern period inside and outside Muslim communities - exploring in particular how apostasy and its punishment is dealt with in a multi-religious Muslim majority country, Malaysia, and the challenges and difficulties it faces there - the authors discuss arguments by prominent Muslims today for an absolute freedom of religion and for discarding the punishment of apostasy.

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This work traces the elaboration of Islam's law of apostasy from its earliest formulation up to the end of the 20th century, and calls upon Muslims to undertake a systematic rethinking of that law so as to bring it into line with modern human rights legislation. Much has been written on the law of apostasy by both Muslim and Western scholars. However, A. Saeed (Univ. of Melbourne) and H. Saeed (Attorney-General of the Maldives) are among the first Muslim scholars to carry out a systematic and rigorously critical examination of Islamic law as it bears on the question of apostasy. In 13 well-researched chapters, they argue persuasively for the rejection of capital punishment in all such cases and a reformulation of Islamic law so as to render it fully compatible with the right to choose freely in matters of belief. This is a bold and trailblazing work that deserves the attention of all who are concerned with contemporary Islam and legal reform. It contains an extensive bibliography and a glossary of technical terms. ^BSumming Up Highly recommended. Public libraries with a serious interest in contemporary Islam and all academic collections serving lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers. M. Swartz Boston University

Table of Contents

Introduction, Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed
Part I Abdullah Saeed
The context of the debate on apostasy: freedom of religion in the modern period
The historical context of the debate on apostasy and the roots of intolerance
Apostasy and related concepts
Punishment for apostasy in Islamic law and the evidence
Evidence against capital punishment for apostasy
Apostasy and the position of Muslim thinkers in the modern period
Apostasy law and its potential for misuse
Reasons for apostasy and understanding its fear among Muslims
Part II Hassan Saeed
Religious freedom in Malaysia: overview and restrictions
Apostasy laws in Malaysia: approaches of the two major political parties
Apostasy laws in Malaysia: jurisdiction and constitutionality
Apostasy laws in Malaysia: the future
Part III Abdullah Saeed
The need to rethink apostasy laws
Part IV Appendices