The ongoing saga of Rifqa Bary — the teenager who fled from Ohio to Florida, citing fears that her Muslim parents would murder her for becoming a Christian — has underlined the dangers associated with leaving Islam. A 2008 Islamist Watch article summarizes the problem:

All major schools of Islamic jurisprudence stipulate that a sane adult male must be put to death for abandoning Islam, though varying interpretations persist on whether females should be killed or merely imprisoned. Many Islamic states outlaw apostasy and seven list it as a capital offense. However, freelancers such as angry relatives present the greatest danger to ex-Muslims, as Sunni and Shiite scholars largely agree that Shari'a empowers individuals to punish converts. This tradition has followed Muslims to the Western world.

A related menace is that Islamists often employ accusations of apostasy as weapons against moderate Muslims. Given the perils faced by converts from Islam, such charges are meant to intimidate anti-Islamist Muslims into silence — or worse.

Islamic scholar Khalid Durán was an early Western target; in 2001 a Jordanian cleric deemed him an apostate following an attack on one of his books by CAIR. Two recent events indicate that Islamists continue to use similar tactics against those whom Durán would term "critical Muslims":

  • Taj Hargey — a British imam who has opposed the niqab, endorsed the marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslim men, and promoted gender equality in mosques — won a lawsuit in April against the Muslim Weekly, which had asserted that he belongs to a splinter sect whose members are considered by Islamists to be apostates. (On a side note, last year the same paper apologized for defaming Daniel Pipes.) Hargey lamented that "iconoclastic thinkers, liberals, and non-conformists who dare to challenge this self-assumed religious authority in Islam by presenting a rational or alternative interpretation of their faith are invariably branded as apostates, heretics, and non-believers."
  • Souad Sbai, an Italian MP and prominent activist for Muslim women's rights, went to court in June to testify against a man charged with appealing for her death. "I have heard very bad things about you and you have thus been exposed as a Christian," he wrote. "The claim by Akrane is an accusation of apostasy," Adnkronos International reported, "which under Islamic law calls for the death penalty, which can be carried out by any Muslim at any time." Sbai also criticized anti-terrorism police for "underestimating the 'Islamic value' of his words."

Why do Islamists label Durán, Hargey, Sbai, and other moderates as apostates? Because they fear them. We must respond by working not only to protect anti-Islamist Muslims from violence, but also to support and amplify their vital message of reform.