What the Islamic Scholars Forgot To Tell The Pope

Islamic scholars recently sent a letter to Pope Benedict lauding the common bonds between Muslims and Christians. Patrick Poole warns that the institute sponsoring the letter also issues fatwas condemning apostates and religious freedom.

Last October, the international media establishment was abuzz over a letter sent by 138 Islamic scholars representing the elite of the worldwide ulema to Pope Benedict, entitled “A Common Word between Us and You”, in response to his papal address at Regensburg in September 2006. The letter extols the common bonds between Muslims and Christians, and their common belief in the love towards neighbors. It further declares that “justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbor.” Many Christian leaders have responded by welcoming this effort and affirming the Islamic scholars’ letter.

The letter was the product of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan, and its chief scholar, Sheikh Said Hijjawi, was one of the 138 signatories (#49). In fact, according to the introduction, the letter was presented by the Institute to the Islamic scholars gathered at a conference held at their facilities in September 2007.

There is one thing, however, amidst all the flowery overtures, theological discussion, and representations of religious pluralism that the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute and the 138 Islamic scholars forgot to mention: The Institute, which operates a website, AlTafsir.com, which it calls “the largest and greatest online collection of Qur’anic commentary, translation, recitation, and essential resources in the world,” includes in an “Ask the Mufti” section a number of fatwas on apostasy issued by the Institute’s chief scholar, Sheikh Hijjawi, that call for the death of Christian reverts (Christians converting to Islam and then returning to the Christian faith) and Muslim apostates. Further they state that if the Christian reverts and Muslim apostates are not killed, they should be deprived of all rights and accorded the status of non-persons.

This glaring contradiction between the proffer of dialogue with Christians on the basis of allegedly shared common beliefs in freedom of religion and human rights, while simultaneously denying those very fundamental freedoms and recognition of rights to those Christians and Muslims who choose to exercise their freedoms, was first noted by an Australian Anglican cleric, Dr. Mark Durie, in a blog post last week [HT: Andrew Bostom]. Rev. Durie, a noted scholar on comparative theology who spent years studying the culture of the Acehnese in Indonesia and is fluent in Arabic, also is a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and senior associate of the Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. He previously served as the head of the Department of Linguistics and Language Studies there.

His analysis of the 16 apostasy fatwas that were posted on AlTafsir.com by Sheikh Hijjawi, who previously served as the Grand Mufti of Jordan and mufti in Oman, finds that they consistently rule that “there is no freedom of Muslims to choose whether to believe in Islam, and no human rights for Christians who have left Islam.” Durie notes that Sheikh Hijjawi’s apostasy fatwas cite a number of verses from the Koran and hadiths of Mohammed in support of his rulings.

And for those Christians and Muslims who are not killed, the fatwas condemn such to a living death as a non-person. Rev. Durie translates some of the punishments to be imposed according to Sheikh Hijjawi’s fatwas:

  • His marriage is annulled by virtue of his apostasy.
  • He cannot inherit the wealth of any of his relatives — whether they are Muslims or not — because the apostate is legally regarded as dead.
  • None of his actions after apostasy has any legal validity (as the apostate is a legal non-person).
  • An apostate cannot be remarried, whether to a Muslim or a non-Muslim.
  • He cannot be a guardian for anyone else, so he loses custody of his children, and an apostate father has no say over his daughters’ marriages.
  • An apostate must not be prayed for by Muslims after his death and must not be buried in a Muslim cemetery.
  • If a male apostate comes back to Islam and wishes to resume his marriage, he must remarry his wife with a new ceremony and provide a new dowry for her.
  • The apostate’s wealth and possessions are to be entailed upon an heir. If the apostate repents and returns to Islam, he receives his wealth back. If he dies while still an apostate, his wealth is inherited by his Muslim heir, but only the amount which he had at the time of his apostasy. Any wealth which accrued after he had left Islam is considered fay (and thus the collective property of the Muslim community).

Needless to say, the implications of this finding in light of the singular leading role played by Sheikh Hijjawi and the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute in drafting and promoting “A Common Word” could very well be catastrophic for the attempted efforts to convince the international Christian community of their sincerity and amity. Rev. Durie arrives at this very conclusion:

It does not seem to be the case that the signatories of “A Common Word” understand concepts such as justice, loving one’s neighbor, and “freedom of religion” in the same way that most Christians would. The Chief Scholar of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, who was a highly prominent signatory of the Common Word letter, is calling for Christians who have converted to Islam to be killed, or else they should be deprived of their rights and treated legally as “dead men walking.” Indeed, because these fatwas are available over the internet, the former Grand Mufti and the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute are effectively calling for the death of Christians day after day, and will do so until this material is taken down from the site.

The implications were apparently not lost on Sheikh Hijjawi or the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute either. Just hours after Rev. Durie’s blog post had appeared, the apostasy fatwas were promptly removed (the fatwas had appeared here). In fact, the entire AlTafsir.com website was down for most of the following day, perhaps in an effort to scrub the site of this damaging information.

That the Institute has removed these fatwas without any acknowledgment of the previous presence is yet another incident in a seemingly endless procession of evasions, duplicity, and outright hypocrisy by the so-called religious leaders in the Islamic world. It should be observed that the Institute’s list of 99 senior fellows, many of them signatories to “A Common Word,” reads like a “Who’s Who” of the international Islamic religious establishment.

And yet these Islamic leaders hail from countries that as a rule are among the worst offenders of religious liberties and human rights in the entire world (one only need to consult the annual reports issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for abundant proof). The fact remains that under the very noses of these Islamic leaders, Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities (not to mention many Muslims themselves) are officially harassed, brutalized, and murdered in numbers so vast that the collective misery would stagger the imagination.

Meanwhile, Christians, Jews, and Muslims continue to flee the Islamic world for the West in one of the greatest human migrations recorded in human history — all in an effort to find refuge in the freedoms and liberties they have never been able to find at home. These clerics have thus far been unable or unwilling to address the virtual absence of religious liberty in the Islamic world from Nigeria to the Philippines (saving, of course, the freedoms enjoyed alike by Jew, Christian, and Muslim in Israel). With this in mind, Christian leaders should be wary of sheikhs and muftis bearing “interfaith” letters proclaiming “common words.” If these Islamic scholars are serious about establishing a dialogue with the global Christian community they could demonstrate their sincerity, not by offering meaningless letters and hypocritical statements on religious freedom and human rights, but instead approaching Christians on their knees in repentance, contrition, and shame.

Patrick Poole is a regular contributor to Pajamas Media.