There is no Provision for Apostasy in Law: Comments by Professor Hashem Aghajari

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Translated by Ahang Rabbani

In many Islamic countries last Tuesday, and in Iran on Wednesday, observances were held in celebration of the ‘Id-e Fitr, which marks the conclusion of the sacred fasting month of Ramadan. One such observance took place in Tehran in the office of the Organization to Foster Unity under the auspices of this institute. [This Organization was originally established to strengthen unity between universities and seminaries. However, now it is now a political student organization with reformist and conservative factions. Translator.] It is noteworthy that the theme of this gathering was, “Freedom of Faith and the Rights of Religious Minorities.”

Regarding this seminar, the reason for it and the significance of conducting it on ‘Id-e Fitr, a report has been prepared, and an interview took place with Muhammad Hashemi, a member of the Central Committee of the Foster Unity Organization and one of the organizers of this seminar. My report follows.

The main speaker at this gathering was Hashem Aghajari, a university professor and a political-religious activist, who in 2002 was first sentenced to death for giving a speech in Hamadan University and then after two years of imprisonment was freed. Excerpts from his talk are as follows:

  • “People are different and think differently. Everyone searches after the Truth. But no one may employ the Truth that they have come to believe as a mechanism for forcing, compelling and suppressing others into a homogenous nation.”
  • “Are they [i.e. Iran’s clerical leadership] more concerned with Islam than the Prophet Muhammad was?! Time after time we find in the sacred Qur’an that God directly addressed the Prophet and admonished Him, ‘You are not a sovereign over them; You are not a tyrant and never should become one.” [This appears to be a reference to  Qur’an 50:45, “and thou, O Muhammad, art in no wise a compeller over them, such that you force them to accept faith.” See also Qur’an 6:107 and 39:41. Translator.]
  • “Nowhere in the sacred Qur’an do we find a verse sanctioning the use of force to compel others to a certain belief. If stories of battles and the use of arms are seen in the Qur’an, one should infer that permission is granted to kill the murderer and to exact punishment upon the oppressor, and such. That is, those who have suffered and been wronged are permitted to kill and wage jihad [holy war] when faced with oppression and, for the purpose of removing that tyranny.”
  • “The sacred Qur’an is very clear regarding the situation of the followers of other religions; that is, the followers of the religions of Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and the Mithraists. The Qur’an instructs us to live in peace and harmony with individuals who believe differently than we do.”

In another section of his talk, Aghajari stated:

  • “The traditions of the Prophet are very clear. What did the Prophet do when He arrived in Medina, or entered triumphantly into Mecca at the height of His might?!”
  • “After His migration to Medina, He established a treaty with all other-religious groups of that town and acted in accord with that agreement, which established the corpus of common and civil obligations.”
  • “In the treaty that the Prophet established in His first year in Medina, He did not compel the followers of other religions to become Muslim. The only thing that was forbidden in this treaty was collaboration with enemies against Medina. The government was in the Hands of the Prophet and the Muslims, but He did not impose His will on others.”
  • “A portion of history of the Prophet’ in Medina is about battles. You should study these wars. In which of these did the Prophet engage in battle to impose His religious convictions? The Jews who had established a treaty with the Prophet and were faithful to that treaty enjoyed their rights.”

In another portion of his presentation, Aghajari continued:

  • “Today’s claimants, who in the name of the rule of religion and diffusion of Islam cling to force and compulsion, should tell us  according to which verse of the Qur’an are they using violence as means of imposing their religion and belief on Iranians?”
  • “You surely know how the Prophet treated the Christians of Najran. The Christian sovereignty over Najran remained intact. Their churches in Najran were preserved. Their priests, their religious leaders, would come to Medina and converse with the Prophet. The Prophet used only logic and deduction to confront and converse with them. And when they refused to accept [Islam], they continued to live in their town, Najran, with full liberty and all the rights  they had previously enjoyed.”
  • “In my view, despite the fact that the foundation of Islam in this world at this time is not the perfect manifestation of Islam, and in the experience of Muslims this history comes with distortions and diversions, nevertheless in the same history we see that freedom of belief, freedom of religion and freedom of worship not only were available to followers of all religions, but even to materialists, who not only were not investigated and persecuted, but would freely associate with Muslims and engage Muslim thinkers in discussions.”


[The reminder of article includes interviews with other participants and attendees; since this section does not bear on the main theme of this conference it remains untranslated — translator.]

[This report was posted on Monday, 6 October 2008, on Radio Zamaaneh site by Maryam Mohammadi (mmohammadi@radiozamaneh.com) at: http://radiozamaaneh.com/humanrights/2008/10/post_300.html and appears above in translation. Siyyid Hashem Aghajari (b. ~1957) is an Iranian historian, university professor and a critic of the Islamic Republic. An audio recording of portions of this presentation is attached.]

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