Doha, 27 March (AKI) – Under Islam, apostasy – or renunciation of former religious beliefs – is not punishable by execution but “only in the afterlife,” radical TV cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has told the IslamOnline website. He was reacting to the case of the Afghan man, Abdul Rahman, whom an Afghan court earlier this month charged with rejecting Islam and has been facing possible execution unless he re-converts to Islam.
“Islam doesn’t allow punishment for apostasy if the convert does not publicise their conversion and does not seek to proselytise. Punishment will be meted out on the day of judgement, should the convert die repudiating his orignal faith,” said al-Qaradawi. Mohammed Salim al-Awwa, secretary general of the Union of Islamic Ulemas shared al-Qaradawi’s view.
As the imam of the Omara mosque in the Qatari capital, Doha, head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) and European Council for Fatwa and Research, al-Qaradawi is best-known for his appearances on the Al Jazeera satellite channel.
Rahman refuses to re-convert to the Muslim faith, and has said he is prepared to die for his religious beliefs. However, following intense international pressure on the Afghan government from many of its allies, including the United States and Germany, on Sunday, Afghanistan’s Supreme Court announced it was dropping the case due to “gaps in the evidence” against Rahman.
The convert is expected to be freed while his case is being reviewed by the attorney-general, although details of his release are being kept secret as feelings amongst religious hardliners in the country are running high. More than a thousand protesters took to the streets on Monday in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, demanding Rahman’s execution.
Observers say executing a converted Christian would be a significant precedent as a conservative interpretation of Sharia law in Afghanistan. Rahman’s case is thought to be Afghanistan’s first such trial, reflecting tensions between conservative clerics – who four years after the Taliban were overthrown still dominate the judiciary – and reformists.