This is a guest post by Fiyaz Mughal
For some, March 14th is a clarion call against religious fundamentalism as the International Day of Action to Defend Apostates & Blasphemers. For others, it may be a day in which to attack faiths themselves as being doctrines that demand loyalty for a deity or deities which science can neither prove nor disprove. Either way, March 14th requires people of faith to stand up for the protection of human life and human rights based on two fundamental foundations; that faiths require followers to do good deeds and protect life and secondly, that the ability to think is a God given blessing that makes us unique from most of the living creatures on this earth. Within these two foundations are based the right for people to believe in God (or not) and the right to life, which people of faith believe only God can take away.
Believers of a faith cannot deny that members that choose to leave a faith, whether Christianity, Judaism or Islam for example, bring up in followers of that faith feelings of anger, sadness and disappointment. To some degree, this is based on the ‘pack mentality,’ where leaving the group is interpreted as individuals having turned their back on what others hold so dear. These feelings will no doubt continue to reverberate within faith communities though the issue that we all need to extract out is that people should not live in fear of their lives if they choose to leave any religion and especially when they outwardly express their feelings having left a faith. Furthermore, this is not an issue of just one faith and it has affected many and all faiths at various times.
As the Director of a national hate crime project to support victims of anti-Muslim prejudice or Islamophobia, I briefly wanted to focus on Islam and its stance on beliefs. Within the Quran, there are clear statements about those who have their different religious beliefs and those within Islam who have their Islamic beliefs. The flow of language within the Quran provides instruction to Muslims to work through and be at ease with those who have different beliefs from theirs. Indeed, the early history of Islam was based in Arabia where there were polytheistic faith traditions, Jews, Christians and those who followed ancient tribal beliefs. This meant that other faith traditions saw Islam and Muslims as a threat and there were many theological and brutal physical attacks against the early Muslims so that they would renounce their faith in One God, His Messenger – Muhammad and other Prophets of God within Judaism and Christianity. With this diversity of belief around the early Muslims, Islamic theological narratives were based on other faiths and beliefs also being a divine gift by God and this therefore became a strong part of scriptural text in Islam; that God had made us different, whether through language, ethnicity, religion or belief, because he had chosen to do so. Islamic scriptural text is also clear that there will be those who choose not to believe and those who choose to believe in the power of God. For those who understand the nuances, the flow of language and the poetry and flow of Quranic text in Arabic, the judgement to maintain the life of a person is God’s and His alone.
Those who call for apostates and blasphemers to be killed no doubt think that they are protecting God and belief in a modern society where there are increasing challenges to faith communities. In fact, they are doing the opposite by placing themselves in a position where they become the ‘judge, jury and the executioner.’ They have no right to call for the death of another, even if that individual actively attacks the faith that they were once part of. It is only through reflection, prayer, discourse and engagement that faiths can survive in an environment which is becoming more cynical of faith itself. I personally believe that the future is one of communities who believe in faith and those who do not. Allied to this will be the dynamic of those who seek to gain more souls for God through proselytising and those who seek to ridicule faith itself. However, this does not mean a future of strife, hate and anger. It means that we all need to take the time to listen to each other more and this March 14th, I hope that many others of faith will support the day as I hope those who choose not to believe will support the right of others to believe in God. This right of choice is a fundamental human right and in the end, either side will have to live with the space of the other in a rapidly changing world.