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Now is the Time

 

 

Islam & Apostasy - Opportunity for Deeper Dialogue

Prefatory Note: Since 1986 The Tandem Project has built support for human rights and freedom of religion or belief simultaneously from the top down and the ground up. In 1986 it was the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and now its successor the U.N. Human Rights Council.  In 2010 after three years of contentious debate the U.N. Human Rights Council achieved consensus on the Mandate for the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (A/HRC/RES/14/11). Tolerance for others, common sense and understanding by all sides is needed in these turbulent times to calm fears that may lead to discrimination and xenophobia. All religious and non-religious beliefs, in all countries and cultures, have elements of intolerance and discrimination based on apostasy and proselytism. This article points to the seriousness of the impasse in 2007 and positive progress in 2010 by the U.N. Human Rights Council as an opportunity for deeper dialogue by all governments and religions or beliefs on this complex and sensitive issue.

THE TANDEM PROJECT
http://www.tandemproject.com.

UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

Separation of Religion or Belief and State

IN DEATH’S SHADOW – ISLAM AND APOSTASY
THE RIGHT TO CHANGE RELIGION OR BELIEF

Issue: The Right to Change One’s Religion or Belief is an Inviolable Principle of Human Rights. 

For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
                                                                                                                                                                             
Review: In Death’s Shadow – Islam and Apostasy, is a supplement to The Economist Briefing on Religious Conversions,July 28 to August 1, 2008.

Excerpt

“If there is any issue on which Islam’s diaspora – experiencing the relative calmness of inter-faith relations in the West – might be able to give a clearer moral lead, it is surely this one. But even in the West, speaking out for the legal and civil right to “apostasise” can carry a cost. Usama Hasan, an influential, young British imam, recently made the case for the right to change religions – only to find himself furiously denounced and threatened on Islamist websites, many of them produced in the West.” 

In Death’s Shadow: Islam and Apostasy
The Economist, July 26th-August 1st 2008.

“Can a person who is Muslim choose a religion other than Islam?” When Egypt’s grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, pondered that dilemma in an article published last year, many of his co-religionists were shocked that the question could even be asked.

And they were even more scandalized by his conclusion. The answer, he wrote, was yes, they can, in the light of three verses in the Koran: first, ”unto you your religion, an unto me my religion” second, “whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve;” and, most famously,” There is no compulsion in religion.”

The sheikh’s pronouncement was certainly not that of a wet liberal; he agrees that anyone who deserts Islam is committing a sin and will pay a price in the hereafter, and also that in some historical circumstances (presumably war between Muslims and non-Muslims) an individual’s sin may also amount to “sedition against one’s society.” But his opinion caused a sensation because it went against the political and judicial trends in many parts of the Muslim world, and also against the mood in places where Muslims feel defensive.

In the West, many prominent Muslims would agree with the mufti’s scripturally-based view that leaving Islam is a matter between the believer and God, not for the state. But awkwardly, the main traditions of scholarship and jurisprudence in Islam – both the Shia school and the four main Sunni ones – draw on Hadiths (words and deeds ascribed with varying credibility to Muhammad) to argue in support of death for apostates. And in recent years sentiment in the Muslim world has been hardening. In every big “apostasy” case, the authorities have faced pressure from sections of public opinion, and from Islamist factions, to take the toughest possible stance. In Malaysia, people who try to desert Islam can face compulsory “re-education.”

Under the far harsher regime of Afghanistan, death for apostasy is still on the statute book, despite the country’s American-backed “liberation” from the tyranny of the Taliban. The Western world realized this when Abdul Rahman, an Afgan who had lived in Germany, was sentenced to die after police found him with a Bible. After pressure from Western governments, he was allowed to go to Italy. What especially startled Westerners was the fact that Afghanistan’s parliament, a product of the democracy for which NATO soldiers are dying, tried to bar Mr. Rahman’s exit, and that street protests call for his execution.

The fact that he fled to Italy is one of the factors that have made the issue of Muslim-Christian conversion a hot topic in that country. There are several others. During this year’s Easter celebrations, Magdi Allam, an Egyptian-born journalist who is now a columnist in Italy, was publicly baptized as a Catholic by Pope Benedict; the convert hailed his “liberation” from Islam, and used his column to celebrate other cases of Muslims becoming Christian. To the delight of some Catholics and the dismay of others, he has defended the right of Christians to proselytize among Muslims, and denounced liberal churchmen who are “soft” on Islam. 

Muslims in Italy and elsewhere have called Mr. Allam a provocateur and chided Pope Benedict for abetting him. But given that many of Italy’s Muslims are converts (and beneficiaries of Europe’s tolerance), Mr. Allam says his critics are hypocrites, denying him a liberty which they themselves have enjoyed.
 
If there is any issue on which Islam’s diaspora – experiencing the relative calmness of inter-faith relations in the West – might be able to give a clearer moral lead, it is surely this one. But even in the West, speaking out for the legal and civil right to “apostasise” can carry a cost. Usama Hasan, an influential, young British imam, recently made the case for the right to change religions – only to find himself furiously denounced and threatened on Islamist websites, many of them produced in the West. 


 International Service for Human Rights (ISHR):
Note: report on resolution (H/HRC/6/L.15/Rev/1) not passed by consensus.

The Human Rights Council resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief by three years (A/HRC/6/L.15/Rev/1) was the only resolution not passed by consensus. An attempt was made for consensus by leaving out 24 out of the original 40 paragraphs. According to the International Service for Human Rights report, “Portugal (on behalf of the EU) introduced the draft, regretted that despite intensive consultations since the end of the September part of the 6th session, consensus could not be reached. It said that the negotiations efforts were exhausted and it had no other option than bringing the draft to a vote. However, it pledged that it would take up the negotiations again; hoping that consensus on the issue could be re-established soon.” Before the vote, a total of 71 Member States and Observer States endorsed the Special Procedures resolution.

Based on these disagreements, the OIC called for a vote, and said it would abstain. A large number of OIC members of the Council then took the floor to align with the statement by Pakistan, and, while regretting the failure to achieve consensus, announced their abstention as well.” Eighteen Human Rights Council members abstained on the resolution.”

  • The OIC wanted a clearer denouncement of recent stereotyping of religions, their adherents and prophets in the media and by political parties in some societies.
  • It wanted to see the respect for all religions or belief enshrined in the resolution. They disagreed with the approach taken by the EU, which calls for the promotion of diversity and tolerance instead.
  • It called for the “respect for norms about the right to change one’s religion”. The EU draft explicitly urges States to guarantee the right to change one’s religion or belief, a requirement the OIC could not subscribe to.
  • The resolution urges all Governments to respond favorably to requests by the Special Rapporteur. The OIC was of the view that States should only “consider responding favorably” to such requests.

U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ACTIONS

In June 2010 the U.N. Human Rights Council achieved consensus on the resolution for a three year mandate of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (A/HRC/RES/11/14). This is a breakthrough for universality of human rights and multiculturalism after three years of no consensus on the 2007 mandate (A/HRC/RES/6/37).  The lack of consensus on the 2007 mandate was over Article 9 (a) the right to leave a religion or belief  and Islamophobia, a fear of Islam. Phobia’s are intense, abnormal or illogical fears. Any phobia religious or otherwise causing discrimination based on religion or belief is a violation of international law.
  
2007 Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief (A/HRC/RES/6/37): Article 9 (a).
9. Urges States:

  • (a) To ensure that their constitutional and legislative systems provide adequate and effective guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief to all without distinction, inter alia, by the provision of effective remedies in cases where the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, or the right to practice freely one’s religion, including the right to change one’s religion or belief, is violated;

HRC web broadcast: 18 countries abstained based on the objections from Pakistan, spoken on behalf of the 57 country Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that norms in Muslim countries prohibit leaving Islam as a religion, and were not being honored in the draft resolution. Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU) said over 40 paragraphs in the draft resolution was eliminated in an attempt at consensus with the abstaining states, but consensus over the right to leave one’s religion or belief was an inviolable principle of human rights and could not be compromised.

The Resolution (A/HRC/RES/6/37) with recorded votes can be viewed by clicking on this link:
http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/HRC/resolutions/A_HRC_RES_6_37.pdf

Positive achievements in the 2010 consensus draft resolution on the three year Mandate of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (A/HRC/RES/14/11).  The reference to Article 9 (a) of the 2007 draft resolution was dropped from the 2010 resolution and expressed in the resolution in other ways.

QUESTION: how Article 9 (a) is implemented in the future will be key given the ongoing existence of religious intolerance worldwide.

6. Expresses concern at the continued existence of instances of religious intolerance, as well as at  merging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief, inter alia: (a) Instances of intolerance and violence directed against members of many religious minorities and other communities in various parts of the world;

(b) Incidents of religious hatred, discrimination, intolerance and violence, which may be manifested by the derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief;

(c) Attacks on religious places, sites and shrines in violation of international law, in particular human rights and humanitarian law, as they have more than material significance on the dignity and lives of members of communities holding spiritual or religious beliefs;

15th Session of United Nations Human Rights Council September 13-1 October, 2010

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief will not report to the 15th U.N. Human Rights Council session. The mandate (A/HRC/RES/14/11) will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly 65th Session beginning on Tuesday 14 September 2010.  The draft resolution is not available in Documentation at the time.

One Documentation Report to the 15th Session that pertains to (A/HRC/RES/14/11) is available at this time. Complete documentation reports will be available after 13 September 2010.

Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (A/HRC/15/53) Githu Muigai

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/15session/A.HRC.15.53_en.pdf

The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

Attachments: New York City - Forum for Places of Worship; Morocco - Forum for Academic Discourse on Human Rights & Proselytism; United States - Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief; Morocco - Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief