Last week Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘called on leading British Muslims to support the right to convert from Islam to another religion’.
Whilst he is right that there is a need for Muslim leaders to speak out, it was very disturbing to observe the rather crass way that Lord Carey characterised Islam and its adherents by stating: “Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with Islam at its core that it cannot allow people to change their religion?”
His concern comes in the light of the tragic case of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a heavily pregnant Sudanese women, who a Sudanese Court recently deemed guilty of apostasy after she converted from Islam to Christianity. She was sentenced 100 lashes for adultery, as her marriage to a Christian man was deemed illegal, and to death for apostasy.
Lord Carey believes that in Islam it is ”accepted doctrine” that apostasy is punishable by death. As a response he has called on Muslim leaders to say, ‘we allow Muslims to become Christians if they wish to’.
I, and other members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, were left dismayed by how unbalanced Lord Carey’s comments were. Had he replaced the word ‘Islam’ with ‘Sudan‘, then we would have been in complete agreement. The decision arrived at by the Sudanese court is clearly outrageous. It is sick. It is barbaric. It is inhumane. In short, it has nothing to do with the true teachings of Islam.
Lord Carey’s divisive analysis assumes that the ruling of a Sudanese court both defines Islam and the beliefs held by Muslims. That simply is not true.
At its core, Islam is a religion based on the Qur’an, the recorded actions of the Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah) and his statements (hadith) – these form the textual and practical sources of the Islamic legal and moral code. Not a single verse in the Qur’an prescribes a punishment for apostasy and nor did the Prophet Muhammad ever punish anyone for leaving Islam.
Furthermore, in the Qur’an and in the Prophet Muhammad’s life we find no hostility directed towards Christianity or Christians. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. The Qur’an holds Christians as an honoured people, forming part of the ‘People of the Book’ and holds both Jesus and Mary in the very highest esteem. It furthermore enshrines freedom of religion within Islamic law, stating categorically that “There should be no compulsion in religion” (Q.2:257) and that each person has a right to leave Islam (Q.4:138) and to enjoy freedom of religious belief (Q.109:7).