Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam
by Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed
Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2004. 227 pp. $99.95 ($29.95, paper).
Reviewed by Ahmed Subhy Mansour
Middle East Quarterly
The apostate is a Muslim who leaves Islam—or who is accused of being an enemy of Islam. The rights and wrongs of this punishment are the subject of the Saeeds' book. What had once been just an internal issue has become an international one since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's edict in 1989 declaring Salman Rushdie, then living in London, an apostate. That said, the issue still has its center in the majority-Muslim countries. For example, Muslim intellectuals accused of apostasy in Egypt alone include Farag Fuda (murdered in 1992), Nagib Mahfouz (stabbed in the neck in 1994), Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid (ordered to divorce his wife in 1995), the feminist leader Nawal al-Saadawy, who has received death threats—and this author, who was fired from his position at Al-Azhar University in 1987 and briefly jailed.
Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam superficially reviews the debate on apostasy in Muslim history. It takes up such matters as the contradiction between apostasy laws and the freedom of belief; apostasy and Muslim thinkers; apostasy law and its potential for misuse; reasons for apostasy; understanding the fear of apostasy among Muslims; and the need to rethink apostasy laws.
Unfortunately, the authors ignored the major books written on apostasy in Islam, the ones that explore its historical roots. These include Murder in the Name of Allah by Hazrat Mizra Tahir Ahmed; Killing the Apostate, a Crime Forbidden in Islam, in Arabic, by the Syrian writer Muhammad Muneer Adelby; and my own Penalty of Apostasy, Historical and Fundamental Study, in Arabic and English.
Another problem: 9-11 dangerously spread the issue of apostasy by providing great support to the fanatic elements in Muslim society. This development implies a need to focus on the role of the Saudi state and its Wahhabi dogma in activating and supporting the punishment for apostasy and its role in the Islamist war against the West and against Muslim freethinkers. This means looking at such topics as the role of on-line websites in urging the punishment of apostates and discussing ways to end the application of this penalty as a core religious reform. But the Saeeds do not take up these vitally important topics.
 Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1989.
 Weston, Ont.: International Publishing and Distribution Co., 1998.
Related Topics: Islam | Fall 2005 MEQ
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