The recent case of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who converted to Christianity and was sentenced to death for doing so, has made Islamists in the West squirm. The Shari'a is perfectly clear and unanimous about the need to execute Muslims who leave their faith, whether becoming atheists or converts to another religion. If a tutorial in the matter were needed, the Rushdie affair of 1989 provided an ample one. But it's not possible to acknowledge this fact to Westerners who, as one, condemn such intolerance.
So Islamists have come up with various ways of changing the subject or pretending they are shocked. My favorite response has to be that of one Louay M. Safi, writing in a strident Islamist website that goes under the innocuous name of Media Monitors Network (which in the past five years has attacked me over one hundred times, or nearly twice a month). Safi has the audacity to state that "the Qur'an is clear on religious freedom" and instead blames the Islamic practice prohibiting apostasy on Western imperialism. Here is his argument, in part:
The issue of apostasy, like many other issues stemming from the application of shari'ah in modern society, is rooted more in the sociopolitical conditions of contemporary Muslim societies than in Islamic values and principles. More particularly, it is rooted in the incomplete transition from traditional to modern sociopolitical organization. It is rooted in the decision of many post-colonial Muslim countries to abandon traditional legal codes informed by Islamic law (shari'ah), in favor for European legal codes developed to suit modern European societies. The new laws where enforced by state elites without any public debate, and with little attention for the need to root legal code in public morality. …
The apostasy controversy highlights the importance of allowing Islamic reformers more say in public debate about political and legal reforms, and demonstrates the extent to which world powers undercut cultural and religious reforms by backing autocratic regimes the crack down on Muslim reformers in the name of combating political Islam. To legitimize their political rule and enlist the support of religious voices, autocratic rulers often align themselves with traditional religious scholars, who embrace a literalist understanding of shari'ah and perpetuate rigid and anti-reform agenda in Muslim societies.
Comments: (1) Even someone as immersed in the Islamist mindset as myself cannot but be surprised, even wondrous, at the lack of shame displayed in such passages. (2) No doubt this argument will convince some, for the readiness to ascribe all ills to the West runs deep and wide. (March 30, 2006)
Apr. 6, 2006 update: For an in-depth analysis of tawdry, dishonest apologetics on this subject, see Robert Spencer's excoriation of a article in the Chicago Tribune by M. Cherif Bassiouni, professor of law at DePaul University and president of the International Human Rights Law Institute.
Sep. 4, 2013 update: Here's a useful map outlining the apostasy and blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries, produced by Set My People Free, a Christian organization.