Despite a majority consensus within traditional Islamic law that apostasy–abandoning one’s religion—is punishable by death, the Qur’an doesn’t make a single mention of any worldly punishment. There’s also no evidence that the Prophet Muhammad ever imposed the death penalty on apostates. So why is apostasy widely considered to be a crime punishable by death in Islam?
Hudud punishments are a widely misunderstood concept in Islam and have been wrongly enforced by extremist groups and countries like Saudi Arabia alike. Hudud in Arabic means limits or boundaries. Hudud Allah (Divine Limits) in the Qur’an refer to a general set of moral, legal and religious guidelines of acceptable behavior prescribed by God. Over time, hudud replaced the intended Qur’anic meaning with “fixed punishment,” a concept that originated in Islamic law, not the Qur’an.
There is no shortage of misconceptions about Islam that both critics and extremists are quick to claim as uncontested religious practices. A prime example is Islam’s “endorsement” of slavery. The Islamic State religiously justifies slavery, most notably as it applies to Yazidis. However, slavery has no place in Islam, and neither do the groups who espouse it.
Extremist groups have constructed a binary “us vs them” worldview. They have launched a calculated campaign to eliminate the grey zone and force everyone to make a choice. What has transpired over the past 16 years is precisely what they have aimed to achieve: create a divide between Muslims and the West to make the two almost irreconcilable.
The idea to create MyIslam came to me over a year ago while reading The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists by Khaled Aboul Fadl. In the book, Fadl stresses that Muslims must declare a counter-jihad against extremists. Not in the form of violence, but through intellectual activism.
Islam has been plagued with faulty interpretations, misrepresentations in the media, and extremists hijacking the religion. Over the years, I’ve encountered many who are ill-informed about Islam, but express genuine curiosity and an eagerness to understand. The topic of greatest confusion to them is typically reconciling the violent acts of extremists with all other peaceful Muslims.
A widely referenced passage from the Qur’an that's been used to justify killing Christians and Jews is chapter 9, al-Tawbah (Repentance), verse 29. At first glance, the verse appears to be pretty straightforward, basically attack non-Muslims. Read alone, this can be, and has been, a very dangerous verse if and when it’s applied. This is precisely how groups like al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS) have gotten their followers to believe that God has sanctioned the killing of non-Muslims.