A widespread view among Nigerian Muslims is that apostates should be put to death. This has to be challenged and ultimately changed.
A tweet describing the popular Nigerian journalist, Kadaria Ahmed, as “a walking corpse” who is supposed to be killed for converting to Christianity has generated widespread criticism and condemnation. Many people have asked the security agencies to arrest and prosecute the person who issued the tweet for inciting violence and for putting the life of this eminent journalist at risk. Others have responded by trying to correct the misinformation in the tweet. They stated that Ms Ahmed had always been a Muslim and never converted to Christianity at any point in her life. In other words, they noted that the Islamist who published the tweet was mistaken for describing her as a Christian convert and an apostate. In my own opinion, those who have reacted to this hateful and fanatical tweet did not go far enough in highlighting the outrageous implications of the message therein. They refused to tackle the main elephant in the room: the issue of killing apostates as an acceptable Islamic practice in contemporary Nigeria.
Whilst it is pertinent to correct the misinformation contained in the tweet and ensure that this bloodthirsty jihadist did not have his way by using fabrications and falsehoods to endanger the life of Kadaria Ahmed. It has become necessary to interrogate the idea of executing apostates or those who renounce Islam. This is because the sentiment expressed in the tweet is widely shared among Muslims in Nigeria and beyond. So it has become imperative to critically analyse the form of Islam that sanctifies the murder of those who exit the religion, and sees killing unbelievers as a religious duty.
The person who issued the tweet made it categorically clear that a Muslim who converted to Christianity was an apostate and should be murdered. He did not state this as a personal opinion. No, not at all. According to him, Islam holds that an apostate be killed, apparently, by anyone who could do so. So what he tweeted was a declaration of faith, of Islamic faith, and a tacit invitation to fulfil an Islamic duty.
Now the critical question is: Why should an apostate be killed? What makes it desirable for any Muslim to murder or to sanction the execution of anyone who leaves Islam or converts to any other religion? Let’s assume that for some reason Kadaria Ahmed converted to Christianity at some point in her life. And yes, she is an apostate. Why should she be executed for that? What makes converting to Christianity a crime? And a crime against who? How should such a vicious act be justified as a tenet of Islam by any stretch of religious imagination in this 21st century? What does killing apostates say about Islam in Nigeria and elsewhere?
These questions are important in order to put into perspective the practice and profession of Islamic faith especially at a time of growing attacks and persecution of Muslims and by Muslims in Nigeria and in many places around the world.
First of all, Islam is a foreign religion that Arab scholars and jihadists introduced to Africa over a thousand years ago. Islamic religion owes its spread to centuries of preaching and violence, to coercing people of other religions to convert. So how could a religion that has grown by converting people of other faiths criminalise and penalise with death the conversion of its members to other religions? What kind of religion is that? If non Islamic religions punished by death those who converted to Islam, would Islam be the dominant religion that it is today in Nigeria and around the globe? In fact the person who posted the tweet might have been born into a non-Islamic faith, Christianity or the indigenous religion as the case may be.
Furthermore, killing apostates is not consistent with the narrative that Islam is a peaceful religion. What is peaceful about a religion that sanctions the murder of its members who leave the faith or those who convert to other religions? Is executing somebody who renounces a faith an expression of peace? In addition, the idea of killing Muslims who convert to Christianity is incompatible with the notion that there is no compulsion in Islam.
Now if actually there is no compulsion in Islam, why should a Muslim who converted to another religion or who renounced his or her Islamic faith be harassed, threatened or killed? Why is apostasy a crime under sharia law? Making apostasy a capital offence is a way of compelling Muslims not to convert and to continue to profess Islam even when they believe otherwise. By criminalising apostasy, Islam holds Muslims hostage. In fact the tenet that apostates be killed is a potent expression of compulsion in Islam.
So the time has come for Muslims to reject this obscene doctrine and urge to murder apostates. Apostates are not criminals. Apostates are citizens and should be protected, and not punished. Apostasy is a human right that states should guarantee and uphold. It is an exercise in freedom of religion or belief that should be respected. Those who live in a free society are entitled to profess their religion, change their religion or profess no religion at all without fear. An Islam that sanctions death for Muslims who convert to Christianity or any other religion or belief system is incompatible with a free society and has no place in 21st century Nigeria.
Leo is a blogger, human-rights advocate and a Humanist from Nigeria.