Editor’s Note: This is a translation of an editorial titled “What is apostasy, and are Baha’is apostates?” written by Mohammed Shebl, printed in an Egyptian newspaper “Al Qahirah” (Cairo) on May 5, 2009.
The treatment of Baha’is has occupied my thoughts and has disturbed my peace. You might be surprised, but when I see tyranny and oppression inflicted on Baha’is, and increasing on a daily basis, I feel a heavy load on my shoulders.
On one hand, National Identification Cards for Baha’is have not commenced being issued yet; but on the other hand, there are discussions about passing a law in the Egyptian parliament categorizing Baha’is as criminals, and deciding on the charges to be levied against them for their alleged apostasy.
To date, I have not heard whether arson charges have been brought against those who set the homes of a few Baha’is on fire. I also do not know the fate of the Baha’is who had to flee from their burning homes.
God, should anyone who accepts a different religion be subjected to so much cruelty? Is this what has become of human beings who were created noble by their creator, a creator who sends messengers with heavenly books and has given his creatures the freedom to choose their own path, and only requires that they be responsible to their Lord?
What I see in the Qur’an is the glorious verse: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” [Qur’an 2:256]. What is clearly evident from this verse and from the entire Holy Qur’an is that neither entering Islam nor exiting from it, nor even following or not following its commandments is compulsory. However, there are ignorant clergy who believe that the freedom to choose is limited to entering Islam, while exiting is prohibited and punishable by the death penalty.
I consider it necessary to address a question that has been of utmost importance in recent days. The question is: “What is apostasy, and are Baha’is apostates?” I want you all to listen carefully with open minds to what is offered here. Even though this topic has been documented in scriptures for ages and ages and has been accessible to all, historically it has been overlooked.
Before starting the discussion, I should clarify that the verses in God’s book are the first guideline for the establishment of laws. I would also like to share a tradition from Moaz Ibn Jabal who says that the Prophet Mohammad addressed him saying, “If you are asked to make a judgment, what would you base your judgment on?” He responded, “First I refer to God’s Holy Book for guidance; if I cannot find a reference, I will refer to the Prophet’s traditions; and if I still cannot find the answer, I will use my own judgment”. The Prophet Mohammad praised him and said, “Praise be to God that you have succeeded in carrying out the will of God”. Consequently, if the response to the question of apostasy was documented in the Holy Qur’an, there would be no need for referring to other sources of information.
Let us investigate God’s commandment in the Qur’an in relation to apostasy. The law is cited in the verse: “Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be Companions of the Fire and will abide therein” [Qur’an 2:217].
Regarding the implications of these verses and the meaning of “fire”, we read the interpretation of Shaykh Muhammad Rashid Reza (1865 -1925), pupil of Imam Muhammad Abduh: “at the time of weakness and fewness of Muslims, non-believers adhering to oppression and torture were forcing Muslims to recant their faith. This is how they made Emar Ibn Yaser and his family, Balal, Sahib, and others renounce Islam. When Muslims migrated from Mecca to Medina and their numbers increased, they initiated a war against non-believers, and God, praised be his name, revealed the verses stated above. The word “infidel” was mentioned when Muslims were declaring their belief through holy war, indicating that all the good deeds of those exiting Islam would be wiped out in this world and in the world to come, since turning away from religion is turning away from the three main tenets of the faith.
All messengers of God have confirmed these three principals. No one who has recognized and accepted these principals will cast them away, unless he is corrupt and filled with hatred. Such a person will have no abode but hell and will eternally remain therein.
Let us continue discussing our serious and important question: “Have Baha’is abandoned the three principals?” I leave this judgment to the readers. However, if you were to ask me, I would say that Baha’is believe in God and believe in the next world. With respect to good deeds and moral conduct, I should say among them are those who adorn themselves with goodly deeds and those who do not, just as with the followers of all the other religions.
In summary, based on the Qur’an, apostasy is conversion from the belief in God and of the Unity of God to disbelief. Only a person who changes his belief in God to denial and negation of God, and to disbelief in the continuation of life in the next world, can be labeled an apostate.
The Holy Qur’an clearly promises the Lord’s reward to all those who believe and conduct their lives based on the three principals: “Those who believe (in the Qur’an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, and who believe in Allah and the last day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” [Qur’an 2:62].
In conclusion, we know that many label Baha’is as apostates. Even if we were to accept that accusation, the law of God concerning such individuals is that they are condemned to remain in hell eternally, but no tyranny and oppression should be inflicted on them in this world. We can only say: “Ye have your religion and I my religion” [Qur’an 109:06].
 The three principals are:
a: the world is created by a mighty and powerful Creator, and He is the only One Who should be worshiped,
b: belief in the next world and life after death,
c: practicing goodly deeds and seemly conduct that will benefit the individual himself and all the creation of God.
[Published on May 5, 2009 at: http://basmagm.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%87%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D8%AF%D8%A9/. Translation by Iran Press Watch.]