August 22nd: Apostasy Day
Thoughtcrime today earns death in more than ten countries, each of them Islamic. Blasphemy is punished by another twenty-five.
With the establishment of Apostasy Day, we stand to combat this injustice.
Alejandro Jodorowsky once wrote, “Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.” But today, millions of free-thinkers in the Muslim world are taking flight despite the ever-present threat of religious violence.
Khaled Diab, a journalist, reports about a girl in Saudi Arabia in June:
. . . Maya decided to jettison her faith, but the change was only internal to begin with. “At first, I was still a hijabi while being a non-believer, but after a year I made the decision: I’m no longer allowing this whole society I live in to choose what I wear.” . . . atheists in Saudi Arabia must live in cloistered secrecy, which can be a very lonely existence. “I’m as closeted as ever,” reflects Maya. “It makes me feel anxious and I struggle with myself.”
But it gets far worse. Last month, 48 Shiites were brutalized in Lebanese riots for “insulting Aisha”, and a man accused of blasphemy was shot in a Pakistani court, awaiting what may have been the death penalty anyways.
Under Islamic governments in the last 50 years, thousands have been executed, many more imprisoned, and unknown millions psychologically agonized for crimes of the mind. Disbelief in, disrespect toward, or disagreement with the Prophet Muhammad all constitute blasphemy, and hence apostasy, according to every school of Islamic law. The prescribed punishment – they all agree – is death.
Only a frail, feeble, and fragile god would demand the execution of those who deny him attention, and a similarly insecure prophet who would advise such inhuman violence.
Apostasy and blasphemy laws demand self-censorship and enable violent mania against those who fail to comply, all while crippling reform, canceling individual quests for truth, freezing public discourse, and shattering families. The Qur’an [9:23] reads, “Oh you who believe, do not take your fathers and brothers to be your friends, if they prefer unbelief to belief; whosoever of you takes them for friends, they are the evildoers.”
The implications extend well beyond the popular and personal spheres, however. Earlier this year, Pervez Hoodbhoy announced that Pakistan’s “only well-known mathematician [has] left for the Western world”, citing the nation’s “perverted values”. Hoodbhoy is himself a preeminent Pakistani physicist who was dismissed from his faculty position in 2012 for expressing views critical of religion. Artists are in danger as well – just two weeks ago, a Nigerian singer was sentenced to death for blasphemy.
Lovers of freedom and progress should unconditionally condemn this state of affairs. Apostasy and blasphemy laws guarantee the continued suffocation of cultural, intellectual, and political life in the Muslim-majority countries they possess a chokehold over.
On Apostasy Day, we stand against the muzzling of minds, the ostracization of the unorthodox, those who respond to ridicule with death, all “honor” which is defended with violence, and all “respect” that is extorted rather than earned.