Freedom of religion, really?

holy-quran.jpgOne of the things that has always nagged me about my religion, Islam, is the contradiction of there being “no compulsion in religion” and the fact that Muslims essentially have no religious freedom.

Muslims cannot choose to not be Muslims, that’s called apostasy and is punishable by death under hudud laws. I can understand the value of this law, especially given the context in which it originates. During the time of the Prophet, during the period when he was struggling against the treachery of Islam’s enemies in Mecca and Medina, it would have been convenient for an enemy to claim to be a Muslim to escape punishment or find succor and shelter, only to recant and revert to their original faith once in the clear. Certainly, this couldn’t be allowed, and the punishment had to provide a suitable deterrent.

But in modern times, it does seem that the locus for this law no longer exists; in many cases, criminals would want to deny their Islamicity in order to escape severe punishment! How times have changed. The problem is that the religious laws haven’t.

For Muslims who convert to Islam, you’ll find that very few cases of apostasy exist. The problem doesn’t lie there — these Muslims have either because of needs for marriage, or because they have studied the religion and love it and accept it, tend to be very loyal to the faith. They have a reason, often a very good one, to be a Muslim, and this gives their choice a sense of balance and purpose.

But, the majority of Muslims in the world today are Muslims by birth. By definition, this means that they were not given the choice of their religion, they were born Muslims, and told by their parents (and society), you are a Muslim, accept it. 

Choice is an interesting thing. It only exists if you have options with the implication that you can choose one of several paths. But what choice does a born Muslim have except accept his religion or be executed for apostasy? That’s part of the problem. Most of us never chose to be Muslims, but that’s what we are. In this sense, it seems that our religion treats non-Muslims better than it treats us: at least the Quran forbids us to compel or force a Jew or a Christian to become a Muslim. But it forces all born Muslims to be Muslims.

This is all very relevant to the current case of the boy who was caned for bringing non-halal food to school. Was he a Muslim? His mother says no, but by virtue of his birth to an allegedly Muslim father, perhaps he doesn’t have a choice. Does the boy even know that he is a Muslim? For that matter, does the father?

For the teacher who caned him, and now our politicians who are debating his case, this is the mess that happens when you try to regulate religion. It’s alright to regulate the practice of the religion, the JAKIMs, the JAIS’ — but when you start to try to tell people what they are or what they should be without asking them first, or giving them a choice in the matter, then that’s little better than religious tyrannism.

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15 thoughts on “Freedom of religion, really?

  1. who r u to deny the quranic verse.. either u r a bad muslim or non muslim at all.. why Islam forbid that should not just based on ur own knowledege which i doubt had nothing to do with true Islamic teaching. I do apprecite ur right to voice out but as a muslim we do had our own source to this question,not just post it and let non believers question it too.. Do you??

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  2. Oh my god, what you wrote in this article is what I have been feeling all this time! I completely agree with this!
    No offense to fellow Muslims, this is an expression of opinion, it is nowhere intended to challenge the religion.
    What is said is simply the irony.

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  3. All organizations of compulsion from Nazism, Fascism, Monarchism, Communism have come to fail. This one will too, in time, when the tide of globalization takes its morbid toll.
    What strikes me as a Malaysian living overseas is how dumb my fellow Malay countrymen must be to shout Islam to glory but watch UMNO champions of Islam (whether overseas or at home) do all the hedonistic things that Islam prohibits (including eating crackling pork knuckles in Germany & boinking Mongolian models up the rear end) with money they robbed and plundered at home.
    When the story of this Sarawakian boy bringing Nasi Goreng Sosej Babi is all played out, what will change in the end?

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  4. You have no idea how much pain it has brought me being born Muslim yet not being able to see myself as one. What choice do I have but to accept things as it is, that I be bounded by the dictated lifestyle that I should live by?
    Either that or leave the country.
    Then again how easy is it to leave the country, just to pursue religious freedom when there are so many other factors that makes things complicated?
    Now I have problems trying to look for someone to settle down with, and even if I do find that someone religion will always be an issue. I’ve been keeping everything secret from my family especially my parents and siblings because they can’t possibly understand. They view apostasy like the majority of Muslims in this world…. that it should be punishable by death.
    To whom do I turn to?
    I’ve been plagued by this my whole life and I’m no longer young. I envy seeing my other friends leading normal lives with their wives and kids, imparting wisdom, knowledge, instilling values that they want their children to have.
    I want to be able to do that too.

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  5. @ GA0 – I shall keep you in my prayers from this day forth till His light shines on you
    I was also a born Malay Muslim & raised in the Muslim faith. I am thankful to my parents who have raised me up and done their job well. But, I can’t help it to notice that, I don’t belong there. I had to follow and I had no choice. I am born to be in this religion. “Don’t question, just follow” or “Don’t question too much or you will be out of Islam”. What nonsense is that??
    Anyway, I have left Islam and embracing Jesus love for me. Jesus never forced us to do anything but just love us all the same. We are the children of God. Muhammad said, “Follow” but Jesus say, “Choose”. Muhammad said, “kill the Jews and you will be rewarded” but Jesus say, “Thou shall not kill”.
    I am thankful to Jesus to give me chance to be out of Malaysia and be free to be who i want to be

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  6. Assalamu’alaikum bro.
    It’s not wrong for us to ‘question’ the Laws in hoping to understands it. As a Muslim, I believe that we should put our thoughts under the jurisdiction of the Quran and Sunnah, and not the other way round.
    Ok putting that in mind, the issue of apostasy is greatly debated between scholars. Some says that it is punishable by death penalty under the dalil from various hadith, but some also says that it is NOT to be punish by death penalty due to the fact that the death penalty was not mentioned in the Quran.
    The majority that I’ve personally met says that Muslims are allowed to change their religion as per what the Quran says that “there is no compulsion in religion” , and that the death penalty is impose only to those who converted into another religion AND attacking Islam in public in which this action would destroy the harmony of the ummah.
    I would help you by furthering my research on this matter, yet I’m no scholars so please don’t blindly follow and believe what I say.
    Allah knows best!

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  7. @Jeanne.
    Please forward your proof, Jeanne. I’ve never come across any words from the Prophet s.a.w. nor the Quran itself that ordered us to “Kill the Jews” , let alone “Kill the Jews and you will be rewarded.”
    if there is, please forward it here so that we can discuss about it in peace.
    If not, then I hope you would apologize for misquoting the Prophet s.a.w..
    Thanks.

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  8. Thanks for your comment Ahmad, you don’t have to be religious expert but your explanation make sense, if only those mainstream Malay politicians think like you, there will be much less religious tension in this country.

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  9. @Paul Ong
    well I don’t really blame those politicians. Ruling a country in which there’s more than one (or two) major races and religion will tend to bring about chaos. As far as I know, there is no country that have at least 3 major races and religion AND lived in harmony and peace without facing a civil war.
    Most probably what our politician lack of is experience. I humbly suggest for them to study the history of the great leaders before us especially Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w) sirah. He (s.a.w) faced different religion and different creed (The Arabs, the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, The Munafiq, The Pagans, and not to mention those minor tribes derived from the Arab)
    Whatever it is, there is no compulsion in religion, and we are to respect other’s religion.
    In fact, there’s a verse in the Quran that clearly prohibits the Muslims from insulting other religion’s deity.
    I hope the misconception of Islam can be at least lessen down by my humble explanations. Please don’t judge Islam according to what the Malays do. Islam is not owned by the Malays, Islam is for everyone.

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  10. People forced to pretend to be something they are not really are the most pitiable people on earth.
    Forced to live a lie everyday.
    Forced to living in perpetual fear that someone else will discover the truth about them.
    Fear of the scorn, curses and rejection.
    Fear of prosecution and persecution.
    Fear of the full weight of ‘just’ laws.
    This applies to all of our societal ‘rejects’ – apostates, gays, transvestites etc.
    I can only offer one tribute to these people – John Lennon’s finest composition – “Imagine”.
    Something we can all hope for, although unlikely to ever happen in our lifetime.
    Imagine there’s no Heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today
    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace
    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

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  11. @Lez
    Though I love that song by Mr Lennon, I gotta disagree with certain aspects of the songs. Few famous leaders even labeled that song as a “soft way to convey the message of communism” …
    I believe that we are suppose to reject the actions, not the people who commits the action.

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  12. @Jeanne
    So, you think Christianity teaches peace? Am not sure how well read you are but some quotes for you from the Bible:
    “And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.” Exodus 32:27 (KJV 1900)
    “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.” Numbers 31:17
    “The LORD is a man of war.” Exodus 15:3
    Other quotes from the Old Testament:
    4: EX 22:20
    5: Psalm 9:6
    6: Zech 8:10
    7: 2 Sam 5:20
    And incase you prefer the new testatment:
    1: Mt 5:17
    2: Mt 10:34
    3: LK 14:26
    Yes, please show me some proof of the wild allegations you threw?

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