Does Islam need a reformation? – iERA: Don’t hate, debate!

I recently attended a discussion in London hosted by iERA. It was entitled “Does Islam need a reformation?”  I was pleased that, as I expected, the iERA crew were very friendly with me.

The whole video can be watched here. If I recall correctly, the discussion basically went like this

  1. Question about Islam
  2. Answer: Islam is already great, if we did more of it then everything would be brilliant. PS, look at how bad the non-Islamic world is (a.k.a. “The West”).

After lots of persistent hand waving I was finally granted permission to ask a question. At 1 hour 16 minutes and 45 seconds I got to make the following statement.

On the question of modernity and reformation, isn’t it more of a case of “Does Islam need to avoid stagnation?” For example, in Surat Al Baqara verse 282 , it talks about how [you should] get a man as a witness but if you can’t then use two women so one may remind the other if she errs. Now, in modern times I can’t really see how that’s an issue because most people in society can read and write; they can recognise their own signature on a piece of paper; there’s nothing for them to actually remember!”

[Chapter 2 verse 282]

Then on to my question

The four main schools of jurisprudence, and the founders; there’s Maliki, Shafi, Hanbali, Hanifi all say that if someone openly admits that they no longer are a Muslim they should be killed. In a modern caliphate would that be an acceptable position, has that position already been reformed, or does Islam need reforming?

The first thing to note is how quickly the chair, Lauren Booth, decided to summarise the question, even though the question itself was actually very short. She said

I’m just going to summarise that before you come back. I think we want to keep it here in the UK. I just want these last few questions to remain about life in the UK rather than in a fantasy caliphate.

I didn’t ask about a fantasy caliphate. The purpose of my question was to establish whether the punishment is still considered to be valid, if it has already been reformed, or if the panel thinks it should be reformed. Which of these options would a “true Islam” caliphate choose? Yet as soon as I asked a question the principles of the political / legal side of Islam my question was somewhat ridiculed as a fantasy, something that isn’t in the real world.

After some discussion about the comment I made before the question itself, Tom Holland brought the subject back to my question and asked if Muslims should be free to apostatise. I wish I had discussed my planned question with Tom at the start of the talk, because I deliberately avoided the word apostasy for a good reason. Having spoken to Abdullah Al Andalusi for a number of hours in the past I was already well aware of how slippery he is when it comes to this question. I knew there were two methods he uses to avoid having to answer this question:

  1. Claim the word “Apostasy” is a western invention, and that Islam is actually talking about treason.
  2. Claim that we are all free to think whatever we like because Muslims are not able to read our thoughts.

To prevent slippery escape #1 I used the words “no longer a Muslim”, and to prevent slippery escape #2 I used the words “openly admits”. The schools of jurisprudence I mentioned all say that someone who outwardly manifests behaviour of transitioning from Muslim to non-Muslim can be killed.

When Tom Holland used the word “apostasy” he left the gap in the door of opportunity slightly ajar and enabled Abdullah Al Andalusi to slither his way out of it. But, just to make sure the truth of the situation wasn’t accidentally told, Lauren Booth (who probably hasn’t heard Andalusi wriggle out of this before) decided to change the question for a second time. 4

So I think actually, putting it in the context about the reformation of Islam…if we are living in Britain do the rules about apostasy apply and do they need changing…

Britain is not an Islamic country and Muslims have to abide by our British law system on the death penalty regardless of what their Islamic law is regarding Muslims leaving their religion. The purpose of this shift was clear, it was to give Muslim panellists the opportunity to answer in a way that gives the impression there is no death penalty for leaving Islam, without having to admit that it is only a version of Islam crippled by British law that makes this the case. Of course those who leave Islam should not be killed (because British law forbids it).

And then in came Mr Andalusi. Would he answer the question I asked, or would he monopolise on the get-out clauses he had been awarded both deliberately and accidentally?

He started “The old chestnut of apostasy is always brought up. I’ve always said the same thing, and I’ll say it again”. At that point I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he was going to take the opportunity to dodge my carefully worded question.

First he says there is no law under a caliphate or in the UK that creates an inquisition that will check everyone’s beliefs and see if they have left Islam or not. That is true. As long as one continues to pray, fast, and never mention to anyone that one’s faith in Islam has gone then the Islamic state will leave you alone. However, according to those four main schools of Jurisprudence if one refuses to perform obligatory religious practices such as praying, or if one openly admits they no longer believe, then they to be killed unless they go back to pretending they are still Muslim.

It’s at this point I shouted out in protest “That’s not what I asked!” (1h 20m 30s). I wish iERA hadn’t edited the video to show the audience at this point, because my memory of what happened next was Andalusi looking me straight in the eye, sheepishly, as he deceived his way through his answer. I silently mouthed “Shame! Shame!” at him, and shook my head in disappointment.

Next he went on to explain how the Arabic word Irtidaad is really about treason, and not about someone who just changes their mind… their own head, and that’s it. Even in his dodging he has to add his own clause in order to ensure he is being accurate in his answer even if not entirely truthful.

Andalusi goes off on a tangent for a while, and even in bringing him back to the subject of the question Lauren Booth once again puts forward a question with the “in the UK” clause that offers him the opportunity to get off the hook while leaving non-Muslims and cultural-Muslims feeling that political Islam is all nice and fluffy and people living within a caliphate are free pass gaily through life not having to worry about what might happen to them if ever they change their mind about being a Muslim.

At 1h 22m and 12s I shouted out the request for him to answer my question. Lauren Booth refused, saying I had already asked a question. I shouted out that he is obfuscating, and she replied “I don’t think he is, I have asked him twice.” – Unfortunately she asked him her own question twice, not mine.

At 1h 38m and 43s onwards a Hindu guy asked a question, and refers to my question as having been “neatly dodged”. At 1h 45m 20s a member of the audience says

There’s been a lot of obscurantism on the part of, in particular, Abdullah Al Andalusi when it comes to the matter of apostasy.

I think the point was made very clearly. The ex-Muslim cat is out of the bag, the British public are being made aware of it, and hopefully it will encourage more Muslims to reject Hadiths if not Islam itself.

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