Why Don’t US Islamic Groups Stand Up for Persecuted Former Muslims?
In trying to cast their faith as tolerant and accepting of others, many Muslims like to point to the Koran’s verse 2:256. It begins with the phrase, “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.”
While dawa, a form of proselytizing, is a key element of the faith, this piece of scripture makes it sound as if there are no repercussions for those who do not accept Islam
But many times, in scripture and in practice, this simply is not true.
Verse 25:11, for example, warns: “But they have disbelieved the Hour (the Day of Judgment) and for those who disbelieve the Hour, We have prepared a flaming fire.” Verse 4:151 similarly, promises “the disbelievers a humiliating torment.”
Right now in Malaysia — which is often held up as an example of a moderate Muslim-majority nation — some government officials want the police to “hunt down” non-believers through state-mandated re-education programs, and “fix their faith” if they once were Muslims.
All of this was reportedly instigated by a photograph posted online on August 2 of dozens of young people who are part of the Atheist Republic, a social media group with more than one million followers worldwide. Founder Armin Navabi created the group while still living in Iran, one of 13 Muslim-majority countries that punishes apostasy with death.
The group’s recent meeting in Kuala Lumpur “was such a blast,” the Facebook post said. “Atheists from all walks of life came to meet one another, some for the very first time…each sharing their stories and forming new friendships that hopefully will last a lifetime! We rock!”
They did harm to no one. But Malaysian cabinet minister Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim learned of the gathering, and saw a threat to Malaysia’s national well-being. He called for authorities to “hunt down” those present, noting that Malaysia’s constitution is silent about atheists. “This clearly shows that the group goes against the Constitution and basic rights,” he said.
While Malaysia is one of the countries that can carry out the death penalty for apostasy, no government official is using such terms. So far. The country’s social media sites, however, are filled with death threats against the Malaysian atheists.
“Advise them and tell them that Islam is not to be played with,” Danizaynal Dani wrote. “If they refuse to repent we burn them alive. An apostate’s blood is halal for slaughter.”
“It is better to die from hanging for murder, than to die as an apostate,” wrote Irfan Samsuri.
Navajo — who founded the Atheist Republic — also co-hosts a podcast with other ex-Muslims, called, “Secular Jihadists from the Middle East.” In an emotionally-charged special episode on Tuesday night, he said that the police had already visited at least one of the people in the photograph. Navabi was surprised by the reaction of Malaysian authorities — but he was less surprised by the lack of attention that Western news outlets and supposed liberal activists have given the situation.
“If this was happening to any other group, any other group, there would be an outcry right now,” he said. “If this was a group of Muslims being treated like this, if this was a group of Christians being treated like this, the whole world would be reacting to it right now.”
Navabi’s observation leads to the simple question: Why isn’t this attack on freedom gaining more attention? None of the Islamist activist groups in the United States, which would organize protests and marches if the targets were Muslims, have said anything. The same groups have pushed the “no compulsion in religion” argument, though, so it might be difficult to acknowledge the rights of ex-Muslims in Malaysia without grappling with some uncomfortable realities.
Unfortunately, the same also can be said for a series of other cases in which Muslim-majority countries prosecute or persecutes people for thought crimes. One hears very little about these cases outside of the interest groups directly affected.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has jailed writer Raif Badawi for more than five years for the crime of writing about secularism. His sentence also includes 1,000 lashes, the first 50 of which nearly killed him. His wife described the scene that she later saw in an online video:
But I saw clearly that he was striking Raif with all his might. Raif’s head was bowed. In very quick succession he took the blows all over the back of his body: he was lashed from shoulders to calves, while the men around him clapped and uttered pious phrases.
In Bangladesh, a series of brutal machete attacks have led to the deaths of at least 11 secular and atheist bloggers since 2013. One, Avijit Roy, was an American citizen. His wife was severely injured — but she survived, and continues to speak out about freedom of speech there.
Regardless of one’s views on religion, these Malaysian people’s plight — like Raif Badawi’s and like the slaughtered Bangladeshi writers — is about the right to free speech, free thought and peaceful assembly. These ideals are the foundation of a free society.
It would be nice if more people — of any or no religion — called out these human rights abuses.