The Absence of Freedom of Religion in Islam
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany
It is customary for Muslims to say that Islam allows freedom of religion. In support of this claim, they quote Qur'an 2:256 “There is no compulsion in religion.” The facts of history contradict that notion. From its earliest days, once a person adopted Islam, there was no way for him or her, to convert to another religion. A Murtad (an apostate) must repent or face the sentence of death.
Having this undisputed fact in mind, I was very impressed by an article that was posted on 30 May, 2010, by an Arab intellectual on a Kuwaiti website: “The Call to Embrace a Religion or to Leave it: Is a Freedom We Don’t Understand.” It was occasioned by an advertisement in the United States that appeared on buses, calling on Muslims to apostatize. Here are excerpts from the article, followed by my analysis and comments.
“When I read the news about certain advertisements that appeared in America on buses calling on Muslims to forsake Islam, I was very disturbed. I couldn’t understand why Americans would manifest such a hostile attitude toward Islam by calling on Muslims to leave their faith! When my emotions subsided, I reflected on the subject and concluded that it was a reaction to the acts of violence that Muslims had perpetrated lately within “Christian” lands. Who can forget the events of 11 September, 2001?
“Ever since that day, the West has been asking: ‘Why do Muslims want to attack innocent people? And why Muslims forbid Christians to engage in mission work in their homeland, when Muslims living in Western countries freely call on people to Islamize? And, why do Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in the West, while adamantly opposing some of their own people the use that freedom and embrace another faith?’
“The fact remains that we, Muslims have always been in conflict with other religions, and have initiated unjustified wars especially against the West. Muslims are obsessed by this antagonism, and are unable to understand the true meaning of the word “hurriyya” (freedom); since it is absent from our dictionaries. So how can we appreciate its value in Western societies? Historically, we have been antagonistic to the concept of liberty; our faith has an ambiguous attitude toward it. The West believes in your freedom to spread your religion in their lands; shouldn’t this imply that you allow them the same freedom? And why be angry when they place ads on buses that call on Muslims to forsake their faith, while you possess complete freedom to call Westerners to convert to Islam?
“Actually, we get quickly upset by any criticism of Islam. This reveals that Islam is weak, and unable to withstand criticism. Whether those ads on American buses succeeded or failed to accomplish their goal, at least those who sponsored them were exercising their freedom of expression. In the final analysis, let’s admit that Islam has always been the beneficiary of Western tolerance; while Christianity has not received any reciprocal treatment from Islam. This is the verdict of history.”
The author of the article deplored the total absence of a quid pro quo in the West’s relation with Islam. While Muslims in the West enjoy complete freedom of religion, including the right to propagate their faith; Christians in Daru’l Islam are forbidden to call on Muslims to convert to Christianity.
It is seldom that an Arab intellectual would go public and point to this anomaly within Muslim lands. I applaud his courage and integrity, and thank the Kuwaiti website for posting it.
Around two months, news regarding the harsh treatment received lately by Christian workers in Morocco began to circulate. Then on 6 July, 2010, this editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal, “Expelled in Morocco: A U.S. ally mistreats American Christians.”
Here are excerpts:
“Morocco has long been considered a bastion of relative religious tolerance in the Muslim world, but since March the government has summarily expelled dozens of Americans for Christian proselytizing. Most were denied any semblance of due process, and some were given only a few hours to pack their bags. The government has provided little or no evidence of proselytizing, which is illegal in Morocco.
“Eddie and Lynn Padilla had been foster parents in the Village of Hope, an orphanage located in the Atlas Mountains east of the capital of Rabat, where they were raising two Moroccan orphan boys under the age of two. The government has long known they are Christians and had granted them a 10-year visa.
“That changed on March 9. After three days of police inspection and interrogation, the Padillas were given a few hours to gather their belongings. ‘It happened so fast that you didn't even really have time to feel the shock of it until later,’ Mrs. Padilla told us in an interview. ‘The worst moment of it all was handing over the boys. . . . These children were abandoned by their birth mothers. We were their parents.’” [Emphasis mine]
On 9 July, 2010, the Moroccan Embassy in Washington, D.C., responded:
“Your editorial "Expelled in Morocco
" (July 6) is wrong about Morocco's recent actions to enforce its laws against religious proselytism. Morocco guarantees its tradition of freedom of worship in its constitution and it applies equally to Muslims, Jews and Christians, people of faith who have lived and worked together for generations. To maintain the balance in its society and protect the public order. Moroccan law also prohibits proselytizing.
“After a thorough investigation, Moroccan authorities were obligated to enforce these laws. Those who want to challenge their repatriations are free to use the legal means at their disposal, including the right to appeal.
“Morocco remains committed to interfaith dialogue, tolerance, freedom of expression, worship and openness.”
Typical with all Muslim apologetics, the Moroccan ambassador evaded the main issue of freedom of religion, by claiming that those strong measures against some American Christians had to be taken in order “To maintain the balance in its society and protect the public order. Moroccan law also prohibits proselytizing.”
In fact, Morocco’s action directed against Eddie and Lynn Padilla, contradict the claim that “Morocco remains committed to interfaith dialogue, tolerance, freedom of expression, worship and openness.” Their hasty expulsion proved the very opposite; actually, true freedom of religion is nowhere to be found in the Household of Islam. As the author of the kwtanweer article was put it, “The Call to Embrace a Religion or to Leave it: Is a Freedom We Don’t Understand.”