Meriam Ibrahim is 27 years old, eight months pregnant, and is to die by hanging for leaving the Islamic religion. This week a judge in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum told her, “We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death.”
Unless amended, the sentence will be carried out within two years of the birth of her child. She will also receive 100 lashes for marrying a Christian, which is illegal under Sudan’s sharia system. Ibrahim maintains the she was never a Muslim and had been raised as a Christian since childhood by her Christian mother. Her Muslim father left them when she was six years old.
While the veracity of Ibrahim’s testimony may be of concern to the court that condemned her, it is immaterial to anyone who values religious freedom or common decency. As repulsive as Sudan’s penalty for leaving Islam is, it is in complete accord with the teachings of Muhammad, who founded, according to the popular refrain, a religion of peace.
In the Hadith — a collection of teachings and sayings attributed to Muhammad — apostasy is punishable by death:
The Prophet said, “The blood of a Muslim, who confesses that there is no god but Allah, cannot be shed except in three cases: 1. Life for life (in cases of intentional murders without right i.e., in Al-Qis̩as̩ – Law of Equality in punishment); 2. A married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse; and 3. The one who turns renegade from Islâm (apostate) and leaves the group of Muslims.” – Sahih al-Bukhari 9:83;17
Muhammad not only demanded death for apostates, but also that women be subservient to men and beatings for those women who were not. In the Quran, men are told to the proper way to deal with women:
Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. – Surah, 4:34
While the world is rightly horrified by Ibrahim’s death sentence, no one can be surprised that following a religion with such intolerance for those who leave the faith and so little respect women resulted in such a despicable decision.
At this point, some might object that most Muslims do not think apostasy should be punishable by death (even though many do). But if that is the case, then clearly they are not adhering to the Quran in this respect. The passage above leaves no room for interpretation, so decrying the Sudanese judge and those like him as “extremists” is simply tantamount to saying that they follow the foundational teachings of Islam. If indeed most Muslims disagree with the above passage, then those Muslims are clearly morally superior in this regard to the very man they claim is their prophet.
As Sudan’s information minister told the AFP, “It’s not only Sudan. In Saudi Arabia, in all the Muslim countries, it is not allowed at all for a Muslim to change his religion.”
He’s half right. In Saudi Arabia — a U.S. ally — apostasy is punishable by death, but not all Muslim countries mandate death for this crime. About 14 of them do, mostly in the Middle East.
The death sentence given to Ibrahim may not be the norm for apostates in some countries where Islam is the main religion, but it is not a radical departure from the faith. It is not, as many Western Islamophiles like to claim, some type of deviation from an otherwise peaceful norm put forth by Muhammad in the seventh century. These apologists can try to portray the action of the Sudanese court as a type of literalist outlier, but if true, all that’s saying is that the court actually followed what Muhammad said.
Those who insist the Quran shouldn’t be taken so literally, and point out that it was written in a very different epoch and in a way that reflect the cultural norms of Muhammad’s time, effectively admit that the faith is nonsense. It implies that it is an outdated relic of a less civilized era in human history. But the Quran is the supposed unerring and timeless word of god and is to be followed as such. It is not a book of hints from Heloise to be taken at one’s whims.
I implore people, especially liberals who understandably seek to defend Islam against the sort of ignorant frothy-mouthed bigotry that casts aspersions on all Muslims, to see this religion for what it is: one of the many blights on humanity. Like all religions it is first and foremost, false. But Islam is uniquely responsible for a disproportionate share of the violence that is carried out in the name of religion in this world. And yes, most Muslims are not violent, and many Muslim men treat women as equals. But their behavior is not guided by the Quran, but a far keener sense of right and wrong than Muhammad could have ever imagined.