View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Monday, September 8, 2008

UAE Law about Muslims Leaving the Faith

Recently the Gulf News ran the story of a Saudi man who cut out his daughter’s tongue and burned her to death for converting to Christianity.

There has been much heated discussion about this act and what should become of the father who was taken in custody.

The article said that the Saudi authorities have “decreed that watching these [Christian television] channels or browsing these websites which call for conversion to Christianity by various means is against the teachings of Islam.”

The action in Arabia raises the issue of cruelty and the way that punishment was meted out by the father. Was this a fit of family rage or was it a modern expression of obedience to the Qur’an and its injunction (attested to by the major schools of scholars) that “a sane male apostate must be executed.” (There is a difference of thought on the type of punishment that is appropriate for a female apostate. See this link)

In running this article the Gulf News gave no information on the legal issues to do with apostasy and how this is addressed in Islamic countries, including the United Arab Emirates. If the law on apostasy is different in the Emirates it would be helpful to hear how Emirati scholars now interpret these Qur’anic texts. How do scholars who oppose capital punishment for apostasy interpret the scriptures? When life and death matters like apostasy are not clarified, readers can be left hanging.

The Gulf News has for many years celebrated the testimonies of people who have converted to Islam in other countries (Netherlands 28 April 2007; Georgia, USA, 4 February 2007; Washington, USA, 30 September 2006), as well as in the UAE. However, the same freedom of choice is not applauded or affirmed when people move away from Islam to another faith.

The restrictions on Muslim people being able to walk away from the faith heighten the view of a country that has not fully embraced religious freedom and liberty of conscience. This basic freedom is enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Defending human rights.