First of all, thanks for all the comments. An overall view clearly seems like the netters missed the woods for the trees.
The essence of the statement is to say that state has NO business whatsoever in matters concerning faith. Faith is a personal issue and state should abstain from trying to enforce its authority in such matter. The Qur'an was silent on the worldly punishment for apostates. So any forms of punishment is deemed against the spirit of the Qur'an as the main principle is "There shall be NO coercion in matters of faith" [2:256]
One can never find in the Qur'an any support for the apostasy (riddah) penalty. According to an authentic Tradition, the Prophet did NOT take any action against Muslims who committed riddah. [Ibn Hisham, as-Seerah an-Nabawiyah]
As asserted by many contemporary Muslim scholars including Syaikh Taha Jabir al-Alwani, Dr Jamal Badawi and Dr Louay Safi the penalty can only be executed when there is evidence of treason and sedition. Again, treason and sedition are state issues, not an act of personal conviction. State can only interfere when it involves state matters.
Syaikh Taha Jabir al-Alwani elaborated in detail with regard to this issue in his book “La Ikraha fid-Deen” which has been translated by Institut Kajian Dasar [IKD] as “Tiada Paksaan dalam Agama” [ISBN: 9838440875]. IRF and IKD had a joint book dissection event at JW Marriott Hotel last Ramadan together with the al-Azhar graduates who translated the book. The issue of freedom of religion was discussed and debated in detail.
Our stand on this matter has always been clear and consistent. This is the stand taken by many contemporary Islamic scholars and it exhibits that Islam is a very compassionate religion that calls people to reason and not to blind faith.
With regard to our comments on the high-handedness of the police and JAIS, we have no qualms in repeating that any act of intrusion into a private event without any valid warrant is an uncivilized act. The Bar Council, Human rights NGO Suaram and the organization of former Suhakam commissioners, Proham, also said that the lack of a warrant during the raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church makes it unacceptable.
It was reported in Malaysiakini that Proham also expressed concern over the role of the police in the raid. According to Proham, while the police have indicated that they merely accompanied JAIS officers, the presence of the police and their visibility implicates them as being part of the raiding party, thereby leaving the Christian community without an independent enforcement unit to appeal to.
Proham even calls on the inspector-general of police to review the role of the police in such action as this negatively implicates PDRM. Any organizations that have high regards for civility and human rights will stand up against such an uncouth manner. Does such criticism make all the organizations above as PR members?
IRF has been consistent in its stand in whatever issues that involved any display of authoritarianism. In Nov 2009, I personally drafted a press statement on behalf of the Board Members of IRF and MPF on Ustaz Mohd Asri Zanul Abidin’s debacle with JAIS. Numerous online portals carried out the press statement.
Below is the press statement as a proof of our consistency. We speak up direct to the face of injustice whoever it may be and whenever it is being committed irrespective of creed and belief.
Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa
IRF/MPF Joint Statement on Dr Asri’s Debacle
The arrest of former Perlis Mufti, Dr Asri Zainul Abidin by officials of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) at a private function in a residential area on November 1 brings into question again the intellectual freedom in Malaysia, vis-à-vis Islam.
The excuse given by JAIS that Dr Asri did not have the religious credentials from JAIS to teach Islam runs counter to the spirit of intellectual freedom in the history of Islam. It also gives ammunition to JAIS’s detractors and critics over the years that the Department is nothing more than a tool of a small group of religious scholars who are bent on imposing their views on others. By raiding a religious talk by someone who was once a government Mufti, and who, to say the least, has the necessary academic qualifications to explain Islamic beliefs, JAIS has only shown that it is ill-equipped to take on its critics on an intellectual platform, and has to resort to high-handed tactics.
We also regret that certain quarters have been too liberal in labeling and branding Muslim scholars on the basis of their opinions, with a view to disparage the person instead of countering their opinions with proofs and arguments based on the Qur’an and Sunnah. By invoking the age-old argument of protecting the Muslim community in Malaysia from confusion, these groups have exposed their inability to grasp the spirit of Islam and have only created a hole for them to hide into every time they are intellectually challenged.
If one were to look back into history, the reason the Islamic world flourished during the earlier period was an early emphasis on “freedom of speech”, as summarized by al-Hashimi (a cousin of Caliph al-Ma’mun) in the following letter to one of the religious opponents he was attempting to convert through reason:
"Bring forward all the arguments you wish and say whatever you please and speak your mind freely. Now that you are safe and free to say whatever you please, appoint some arbitrator who will impartially judge between us and lean only towards the truth and be free from the slyness of passion and that arbitrator shall be Reason, whereby God makes us responsible for our own rewards and punishments. Herein I have dealt justly with you and have given you full security and am ready to accept whatever decision Reason may give for me or against me. For "There shall be no coercion in matters of faith" [2: 256] and I have only invited you to accept our faith willingly and of your own accord and have pointed out the hideousness of your present belief. Peace be with you and the blessings of God!"
Every person has the right, guaranteed by the Qur’an, to freely follow and express his convictions, irrespective of whether he is right or wrong. By emphasizing people’s right to follow their conviction, the Qur’an reiterates a long standing position, which it traces back to one of the earliest known Prophets, Noah: “Said [Noah]: O my people! What do you think? If [it be true that] I am taking my stand on a clear evidence from my Sustainer, who has vouched safe unto me grace from himself – [a revelation] to which you have remained blind – [if this be true] can we force it on you even though it be hateful to you? [11:28]
Muslim Professionals Forum and Islamic Renaissance Front call upon JAIS to be sincere in discharging their duties as protectors of faith. Otherwise, JAIS will be just another among a long list of official institutions that need to be thoroughly revamped in order for Islam to reclaim its rightful status as a religion of reason and knowledge. We also call upon Muslim groups to respect the right to dissent and to uphold freedom of expression, and to argue based on wisdom and not on hearsay or personal attacks, as it is the only Islamic way of dealing with issues affecting the Ummah.
Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa
Dr Sheik Johari Bux
Dr Mazeni Alwi
Dr Musa Nordin
Dr Jeffrey Hassan
Board of Directors
Islamic Renaissance Front [IRF]
Muslim Professionals Forum [MPF]